One of the great mysteries about the Trinity River toll road referendum is that the people who run the city have done such a surprisingly bad job in getting their point of view across. They have money, they have access to all sorts of marketing geniuses, and they have the support of Dallas’ Only Daily Newspaper. Nevertheless, these people have not just shot themselves in the foot — they have blown off their arms and legs, riddled their corpses, and even put a bullet between their eyes.

Their faux pas are almost too numerous to mention. They said the road must be built as quickly as possible; otherwise, it would delay the park project. This turned out to be not really true. Then they said the toll road needed to go inside the park because there was no route for it outside the park. Which also turned out to be not really true. Finally, because nothing else seemed to work, they called their opponents a bunch of names. All this did was annoy those of us who oppose the toll road, and it turned out to be as counterproductive as it was childish.

I actually almost feel kind of sorry for them. They obviously don’t understand what they’re up against, what the role of voters are in a democracy, and the like. So I visited an old pal from Chicago, Ward Heeler, to see if he could give the pro-toll road people a few pieces of advice. (Hey, those of us who oppose the toll road are compassionate types — and with a tip of the fedora to Mike Royko.)

“I can tell ya da first mistake dey made,” Ward said. “Dey didn’t ignore de petition drive.”

“What do you mean?”

“Dey should have ignored it. Paid no attention to it. Let it run out of steam on its own. Do ya know how hard it is to get signatures, and especially this many signatures? Almost impossible. Dese tings almost always fade away. Does anyone down dere even know when de last referendum was?”

“That’s true. There were two or three recall petitions against Laura Miller that never got anywhere.”

“Exactly,” said Ward. “Instead, de bosses held news conferences and went on de radio and said de referendum guys were wrong and didn’t understand and all of dat. Den dey hired dose guys to block de polls. How dumb was dat? De last ting you want to do is motivate your opponents. Give dem a reason to work harder. Hizzonner de mayor, de late great Richard J. Daley of blessed memory, always ignored his opponents. He always said what he was going to do for de voters, and never once paid attention to his critics or his opponents. Ya don’t get to be mayor for 21 years by paying attention to gnats and fleas, which is what dis petition drive was at the beginning.”

“It isn’t gnats and fleas any more. It’s almost more people than voted in the last mayoral election. What can the pro-toll road people do to fix their mistakes?”

“Agree wit da referendum people.”

“Agree with us?”

“Yep. Of course, dere is agreeing and dere is agreeing. If dat mayor you had and her cronies had said, ‘Ya know, dere is a serious issue here, and we need to study it and appoint a committee’ and then let da ting play itself out, none of this woulda happened. De shoulda done da same ting now. Dat new mayor, da one from Hawaii, as soon as da signatures were okayed, he shoulda called a meeting with the referendum people and said, ‘What can we do ta fix dis?’ And what kind of a lurch would dat have left the da referendum people in?”

“So why didn’t they do that?”

Ward sighed. “Pal, youse just a dumb newspaperman, right?”

I nodded.

“And you had da good sense to ask me?”

I nodded again.

“And dey didn’t. Which means dey is even dumber than a dumb newspaperman.”


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