- The Washington Times - Friday, January 18, 2002

DALLAS This city goes to the polls tomorrow to name a new mayor, and unlike most campaigns of the past, there is a strong probability the downtown business community won't be pleased with the outcome.

Three major candidates lead the pack to replace the city's first black mayor, Ron Kirk, who quit several weeks ago to run for the Senate seat that will open this year when Republican Sen. Phil Gramm retires.

The odds-on favorite to lead Saturday's balloting is a 43-year-old former journalist who has fought the "good ol' boy" system in Dallas for years first as an outspoken critic in the tabloid Dallas Observer and the past three years as a lonely voice on the City Council.

Laura Miller, even her detractors concede, is an almost-certain winner tomorrow. The question now is whether she can win without a runoff.

A Dallas Morning News poll published yesterday showed Mrs. Miller at 37 percent, Tom Dunning with 29 and Domingo Garcia with 14 percent, and 18 percent still undecided. The newspaper said its New York-based polling firm had reached 601 likely voters.

"Miller has a lead," said pollster Mickey Blum. "Her lead is not insurmountable."

Meanwhile, both Mr. Dunning and Mr. Garcia have increased attacks on the front-runner, depicting her as a shrill, name-calling City Council member who will not help build coalitions.

Mrs. Miller, who as an investigative reporter often chided councilmen and the mayor for backing big-ticket projects rather than improving deteriorating city services, found herself frozen out of most council doings.

But she built a strong following among those who resented the Kirk-led council's hustle for big corporations like the city's unsuccessful courting of the Boeing Co. last fall and its effort to become an "international city," recently bidding unsuccessfully for the 2012 Olympics .

For months, she railed against the $420 million downtown sports arena, American Airlines Center, and suggested city plans to channelize the Trinity River were too costly. Tax revenue used to fund those two projects should instead be used to improve life for residents already here, she argued.

Mr. Dunning, 59, an insurance millionaire backed by the city's establishment, has chaired numerous city commissions and boards most recently as chairman of the commission that runs Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.

In 1995 he wanted to run for mayor, but it became clear early on that Mr. Kirk was the choice of the business community. So Mr. Dunning stepped aside and campaigned vigorously for Mr. Kirk. The outgoing mayor strongly endorsed Mr. Dunning in this race, and city businesses have given generously to his campaign.

At one time Mr. Dunning led in contributions by 3-to-1 over the other two candidates combined, but his campaign has not caught fire with voters.

Mrs. Miller appealed to voters by suggesting that Dallas needed to curtail some of its big-ticket spending and shameless courting of major corporations and begin to make the city more livable for present-day residents.

Referring to Dallas' unsuccessful bid to lure Boeing here last year, she said at one forum: "The Boeings will only come if we have a city that takes care of the people who are already here. I don't know when the last time you saw a street sweeper was, but I've never seen one. I don't know the last time you saw a dog catcher, but I've never seen one."

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