In the early 1990s, the City spent considerable time and money on a plan to spend $46 million to develop Haskell Avenue between Lemmon Avenue and Fair Park. The goal was to turn Haskell into a six-lane boulevard with wide sidewalks and trolley tracks — something that would do more than paint over urban blight, but that would be active and aggressive in redeveloping a part of town that not only needed it, but would pay long-term benefits to the neighborhood, to Fair Park, and to the City.

Today, more than a decade later, Haskell looks exactly as it did then — a one-way street full of potholes that runs past boarded up buildings and empty storefronts.

The failure of the Haskell development plan is what this month’s strong mayor election is about. Forget about the personalities, be they the mayor or her opponents. Forget about the strange and peculiar coalitions that have been formed to fight this election, that Steve Bartlett, Laura Miller and Boone Pickens are on the same side (to say nothing of agreeing with me). Forget the name-calling and the mud-slinging that each side has deployed to paint the other as either Park Cities carpetbaggers or small-minded, parochial rubes.

Ask yourself this question: Is the current system capable of doing things like developing Haskell? If you think it is, then vote against the strong mayor proposal. But if you think it isn’t — and the evidence seems pretty conclusive whenever I drive down Haskell — then it’s time to vote for the strong mayor proposal.

I don’t know that a strong mayor will solve all of Dallas’ problems, if only because the city is, and will likely remain, deeply divided over what our government should be. There are probably a considerable number of voters, even down here in more progressive East Dallas, who think spending $46 million to develop Haskell is a waste of the taxpayers’ money. But for those of us who do believe that government must do more than try to cut taxes every year, who believe in libraries and parks and health insurance for city employees, a strong mayor makes sense. That would give us at least one person we could hold responsible when none of those things happen. Right now, no one is responsible except the city manager, and I can’t vote to throw her out of office.

The question I always ask those who oppose the strong mayor system is to offer one example in the past 20 years of the council addressing a citywide concern, and then passing legislation to deal with that concern (with the proviso that the pooper scooper and no smoking ordinances don’t count). It just doesn’t happen. When Velleta Lill wanted to raise taxes a smidgen in this year’s budget to pay to pick up the garbage at city parks, her proposal was beaten so soundly you’d have thought she had asked the council to run naked through the streets.

And, in keeping with the almost surreal nature of the strong mayor election, the person who led the opposition to Lill’s proposal was Laura Miller, who issued more than one “over my dead body” proclamation against the plan. In fact, much of the strong mayor debate is tied up with Miller’s unique style and qualities, and that confuses the issue even further. Far more shrewd observers of the Dallas political scene than myself, like Jim Schutze, have noted that many voters will support the strong mayor not because they like it or know much about it, but because Miller is for it. And those of us who wouldn’t vote for Miller will vote for the plan despite her support for it.

Because, in the end, it comes down to Haskell Avenue. If we’re going to spend the time and money to develop a plan, then let’s spend the time and money for the development. And if we’re not going to do either, then give me someone I can vote for — or against — to show my displeasure at the way the city is run.