Some good things must have occurred in 1991, and the first person who can think of one is exempt from having to put up with 1992.
Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad.
But any year that combines a war, a recession and a gangland-style triple murder on Swiss Avenue doesn’t have much to recommend it.
In that respect, it won’t be hard for new Mayor Steve Bartlett to make 1992 better than 1991 for everyone who lives in Dallas. But whether Bartlett turns out to be Fiorello LaGuardia with a Texas twang is another, more complicated question.
Never in Dallas’ history has so much hope been placed on one man. It’s almost embarrassing to hear voters—intelligent, educated people who ordinarily wouldn’t trust someone with Bartlett’s background— talk about Bartlett as the City’s last, best chance.
These people expect Bartlett to become a committed, progressive and powerful mayor who worries about the entire City. This, to more cynical minds, is expecting a lot from someone whose last job was representing Addison in Congress. But some insist it’s possible.
For Bartlett to fulfill their wishes, two sets of obstacles must be overcome. First, the problems imposed by the City charter, which makes it all but impossible for the mayor to do much more than the much-maligned Annette Strauss did; and second, Bartlett’s record, which doesn’t exactly scream his support for the people and neighborhoods south of Northwest Highway.
To be fair, it’s not surprising that a congressman from North Dallas would never have worried about roads and schools in East Dallas. But it might be even more surprising if someone with Bartlett’s background suddenly became a neighborhood activist. After all, there aren’t many neighborhoods in Addison.
Bartlett could adapt. What will be harder to adapt is the City’s weak mayor, city manager form of government, which makes the mayor little more than a city councilman with a fancy title— but without a constituency.
The mayor can’t veto legislation, can’t hire and fire City employees, and can’t prepare a budget. It is that system, and not Strauss’ inability to control City Council meetings, that is one of the main reasons Dallas is in such pitiful shape.
It’s hard to believe that if Strauss had been able to keep Council meetings less than two hours that crime would be under control and the schools wouldn’t be crummy.
Bartlett’s challenge will be to manipulate a system that doesn’t lend itself to manipulation.
Contrast him with Dick Armey, the former economics professor turned Republican congressman. Each served in the House of Representatives at about the same time, yet Bartlett is little known outside of Dallas, and Armey is a national figure.
Armey— or, as the news magazines call him, “Dr. No”— learned how to use a wieldy, awkward system to advance his agenda (particularly reprehensible though it may be). There’s no indication Bartlett learned a similar lesson.
It’s too early to tell if the purge that cost city attorney Analeslie Muncy her job is a sign that Bartlett can overcome the aforementioned obstacles. Muncy’s deposition could just as easily have been a one-shot deal to appease the City’s various factions as a genuine attempt to form a bipartisan coalition.
Only the rest of 1992 will tell whether Bartlett lives up to everyone’s expectations.
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