Mayor won’t make endorsement but says councilman supported “‘strong-arm’ tactics by city
Dallas Mayor Laura Miller won’t say whom she wants to take her place at the horseshoe when she steps down after the June 16 runoff election.
“No comment,” she said in an e-mail this week, “because I don’t want to get in an endorsement situation of any sort.”
But based on what she had to say in a earlier telephone interview, it’s a pretty good bet it’s not Ed Oakley.
Responding to a question about her thoughts on the mayor’s race, Miller said Oakley’s initial support of an agenda item recently brought before the City Council by Councilman Bill Blaydes had alarmed her. The agenda item, if it had been approved, would have forced a rezoning hearing on a 16-acre piece of business property against the owners’ wishes.
The plan was to rezone the property occupied by Hollywood Door, which has operated on the Northeast Dallas site for a half-century, from its current commercial industrial zoning to something more complementary to the single-family houses that now surround it. The owners, Jack Pierce and his family, would have been forced to sell the land and move their business of building industrial overhead and garage doors to another site if that had been accomplished.
“I have a huge problem with that,” Miller said. “I was very dismayed.”
Miller said she asked Oakley, who had signed on to the agenda item with Blaydes and three others to override her wishes, to take his name off the measure. He refused, she said.
Miller said items had been placed on the agenda over her objections only a handful of times during her five-year tenure. The mayor said she considered Oakley’s support of the measure reckless because it involved using “strong-arm techniques” by city officials against a property owner.
“When you run for mayor, you are on your very best behavior, but he did this anyway when everyone is watching,” Miller said
The council voted down the measure, and Oakley was one of the members voting against it. But Miller claims Oakley “flip-flopped” and voted against it at the last minute only after he had failed to convince property owner Pierce to agree to some sort of rezoning during the meeting.
“Oakley was trying to do a deal,” Miller said. “It was just embarrassing. It was terrible.”
In response to Miller’s criticism, Oakley said during a telephone interview this week that he was mystified by the mayor’s “attack.”
“I don’t know why Laura is attacking me on this,” Oakley said. “I don’t really understand why she got so agitated. Bill was asking for the reauthorization. Now, she’s attacking me for what Bill did, and it had nothing to do with me.”
Oakley said Blaydes called him several months ago to tell him there was a piece of land in his district that a neighborhood would like to see rezoned and asked him to support a hearing on it.
“He just called out of the blue,” Oakley said. “If any one of my colleagues had done that I would have said OK.”
Oakley said he did not go look at the property and examine the case before it came before the City Council because he had been so busy.
“If I had taken the time to look at it, I probably would have said, “‘Bill, this is not something I can go along with,'” Oakley said. “It was a single owner in the middle of a neighborhood, and the neighborhood got built up around him.”
Oakley said once he examined the case during the council meeting, he realized it would be wrong to force a rezoning hearing on it.
“Bill said he was doing what the neighborhood wanted him to do, but I told him I could not support doing that,” Oakley said.
But that’s not how the property owner Pierce interprets what happened at the council meeting. Pierce said in a telephone interview he now believes that Oakley tried to trick him in the council meeting into agreeing to some sort of rezoning agreement.
Pierce noted that after it was all over, Oakley approached him and told him he had made the correct decision to stick with his current zoning.
“He laid the technical stuff on me during the session,” Pierce said. “I think later I decided he was trying to trick me.”
In response to Pierce’s remarks, Oakley said he is as baffled by the businessman’s impression of him as he is by Miller’s criticism.
“I wasn’t trying to trick him at the horseshoe,” Oakley said. “I was trying to understand if he fully understood what he was engaged in, and he didn’t.”
Oakley said he attempted to explain to Pierce that he might be able to negotiate a rezoning for more density and greater height that could benefit him and his heirs in the future if they ever decided to sell the land.
Miller said that she is now concerned Oakley’s campaign promise to remove 2,000 crime-infested apartment complexes from Dallas if he is elected mayor will involve similar tactics as were seen in the Hollywood Door case. The mayor said she is concerned that Oakley’s plan will involve big tax breaks for developers.
“I’ve know ever since he got on the council he is too close to developers,” Miller said. “He always gives too much away to developers. I think we give too much tax money away to developers who don’t need money.
“But this is going way beyond that. It’s very troubling to me, and I think it is wrong. And it is scary to me.”
Oakley called Miller’s speculation “beyond” him. In the past, the councilman has defended his support of tax subsidies to developers as necessary to improve Dallas’ economic base and the city’s quality of life.
“This is just total fabrication,” Oakley said. “There are no strong-arm tactics. You’ve got to send a developer out to buy at market rates. We’re not engaging the city. We’re not doing any eminent domain. We can’t do that.”
For Pierce, the experience at the horseshoe has been life-changing, he said.
“I’ve generally led my life apolitical unaware, not a good citizen, unaware of the issues,” Pierce said.
Pierce said he hadn’t planned on voting in the mayoral election, but he’s changed his mind now. The businessman said he would vote for Leppert, and that it has nothing to do with Oakley being gay.
“If he’s honest, has integrity, treats all factions fairly, then he’s my man,” Pierce said. “I’m not sure that’s what I saw of him.”
Oakley said he is flabbergasted by the reaction of Miller and Pierce to his role in the proceedings.
“I’m amazed not true,” Oakley said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 1, 2007.