Jeff Siegel: A ‘last word’ to Advocate readers

Dallas city manager Mary Suhm, who gave new meaning to Teflon and drove me crazy in the process, has retired. Long-time neighborhood gadfly Avi Adelman has moved. Angela Hunt, perhaps the sanest voice on the city council in the past 20 years, is back practicing law.

You think they’re trying to tell me something?

Yes, a joke, but also a little more than that. This is my final column for the Advocate, 22 years after we started this thing in Wamre’s garage — and when he was the only one who thought it would work. That’s another joke, and one I’ve told often and probably too much, but worth repeating one final time. We’re still here, and the competition when we started, all the magazines and newspapers that were supposed to be smarter and better, aren’t.

I like to think I’ve had something to do with that, and not just because I helped deliver the magazine (then a newspaper broadsheet) when we started. Dallas is the kind of city that uses the emperor doesn’t wear any clothes approach to government, and where most of the people and institutions that are supposed to point out that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes do just the opposite. How are they going to get cut in on the next real estate deal otherwise?

Lakewood and East Dallas have thrived despite a City Hall that ignored us when it wasn’t trying to turn us into a four-lane highway to the suburbs.

Hence my always useful fashion advice for the Downtown elite — or, as a reader once described me, “the guy with the baseball bat at the back of the magazine.” Good journalism is about perspective, about offering a point of view that the bosses don’t want to know about. Because, of course, they’re the bosses, and they’re always right. Agree with me or not (and plenty of you didn’t), I offered that perspective — that Dallas is more than construction cranes and big buildings and pompous speeches by old men in suits. It’s about its neighborhoods and the people who live in them and their quality of life — that they pay taxes and are entitled to cops and firefighters and libraries and parks, just like the pompous old men in suits.

And the funny thing is that we’ve made tremendous progress in that direction over the past 22 years, despite the many and infuriating setbacks. This is a much different city than it was in 1991, one that its residents have made better despite the setbacks. City Hall has been trying to revive Downtown for two decades, throwing tax subsidies at anyone who asked, and Downtown is pretty much the same as ever. Lakewood and East Dallas, on the other hand, have thrived despite a City Hall that ignored us when it wasn’t trying to turn us into a four-lane highway to the suburbs. What happened here, and what is happening today in Oak Cliff, is generational change, brought on by new and younger residents who want a better quality of life and who aren’t impressed by construction cranes.

Why am I leaving? The reasons are many: Other writing that needs to be done, including a couple of books, as well as the sense that I’ve accomplished much of what I wanted to when I started the column (the first one was about abuses in the city’s animal control department) in April 1991. I’ve been writing professionally since I was a junior in high school, and few things have given me as much pleasure as writing for the Advocate.

Most of the people in this business never know if anyone reads their stuff, and too many stop writing for their audience and write for themselves. That has never happened here, because I heard about what I wrote, whether in emails or letters or even in the grocery store — and that’s one of the best things that can happen to a writer.

It’s no wonder that the Advocate is one of the two things I’m most proud of in my career, and I’d do it all again. How many of us can say that?

Looking back
Jeff Siegel published his first column, “Man’s Inhumanity to Man’s Best Friends,” for the Advocate in 1991.

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