Don’t mind my grousing. I’m just one of the plebian.
The phone rang, and I recognized the voice on the other end: “Siegel, it’s me. Will B. Hustle. When are you going to wise up?”
This was, of course, a rhetorical question. Will B. calls me periodically, and he knows I’m never going to wise up — hence the reason for the calls, which is to rub it in.
“People like you and that old guy at the Observer, Schmitz or whatever his name is. You don’t get it at all. All that whining and moaning about city government and how it’s supposed to work and deliver services. Like anyone cares.”
Will B.’s point, as it always is, is that city government is about making money. Doing deals if you’re part of the business elite. Getting re-elected if you’re on the council. Protecting your perks if you’re a city hall bureaucrat. Those of us who think it’s about picking up the garbage or fixing potholes or keeping cops on the street are kidding ourselves.
One of Will B.’s favorite subjects is the Calatrava Bridge, which stands out on the Downtown skyline like a golden arch that’s lost its McDonald’s. Drive up Stemmons from Oak Cliff, and you’ll wonder how anyone could think that it was postcard worthy, let alone worth the millions and millions that it cost.
This sort of perspective annoys Will B. to no end.
“What does it matter if it’s ugly? The people who paid for it are happy. The people who wanted it built are happy. Why do you think they care about you? You’re not part of the equation, pal. Can you put cash in their pocket? Can you give them something to boast about when they’re at the first tee with their country club buddies?”
But shouldn’t city government work differently? I ask. Shouldn’t it reflect what’s best for the city and its residents?
“You make me crazy when you say do-gooder crap like that,” says Will B. “You keep saying you’re a smart guy, and you sound like some turnip truck driver from Yahoo-ville. This is Dallas, where limp wrists like you don’t get to say what’s best for the residents. You don’t have any skin in the game. What land have you developed? What buildings have you built? No, you sit there at your keyboard and tell people who know better than you what they should be doing, which is about the absolute dumbest thing in the world. Which is why you’re not a smart guy. At all.”
Then explain it to me, I say. Teach me how to be a smart guy. Explain to me why it’s better for the city that an elite make decisions about how Dallas is run because it’s best for the elite, and not for the 99 percent of the city that is the rest of the us.
“Because they can,” says Will B. “Why do you even have to ask? With an attitude like that, you’ll never learn anything.”
Maybe. But answer me this: Isn’t that short-term thinking, the kind of approach that pays off now and costs more in the long term?
Will B. laughs. He laughs at me a lot, actually. “The long term is irrelevant,” he says. “You make your money and you take your profit, because that’s the only thing that matters. You know what your problem is, Siegel? You ask these stupid questions because you figure we owe you some some sort of answer. And we don’t owe you anything.”
Will B. is right about that, if nothing else. The people who run the city do act like they don’t owe us anything. And, for whatever reason, we let them get away with it.
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