- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2002

DALLAS This year's Senate race in Texas isn't like several in recent memory with the usual social and political arguments and a generally expected result.
Republican state Attorney General John Cornyn, 50, probably wishes it were that simple. But his November opponent, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, 48, is more than just another Democrat.
Mr. Kirk was the first black mayor of Dallas, and would be the state's first black U.S. senator if elected and only the third in the Senate nationwide since Reconstruction ended in the 1870s.
The Democrat will likely raise as much money as Mr. Cornyn. Much of that money will come from minority groups and liberal organizations outside the state who consider Mr. Kirk to be an emerging national political figure particularly if he captures retiring Sen. Phil Gramm's seat.
Mr. Kirk has another plus: The Democrats have a Hispanic gubernatorial candidate, Tony Sanchez, who has already energized Hispanic voters.
As of June, the wealthy Democrat had spent more than $31 million, most of it his own money. The final tab will be twice that, advisers predict, and Hispanic voters who in recent elections have favored Democrats are expected to turn out in record numbers.
In the Senate race, Mr. Cornyn and Mr. Kirk have millions left to spend in the final weeks. Mr. Cornyn will benefit from not only from national party coffers, but from a likely campaign appearance by President Bush.
The White House isn't commenting on how much, or even if, Mr. Bush will campaign for Mr. Cornyn. But it would be a blow to Mr. Bush's prestige if a Democrat wins the seat Mr. Gramm has held for four terms in a state where all 37 statewide officeholders are Republicans.
"That would be almost the ultimate embarrassment," said one Houston political consultant.
The race card has been already played in the Senate race subtly, but still noticeably.
When the Democrats in April bragged about their "Dream Team" a black, a Hispanic and a white vying for the top three jobs of senator, governor and lieutenant governor one of Mr. Cornyn's top aides, David Beckwith, denounced the strategy as "cynical," saying it was based on "a racial quota system."
Three days later Mr. Cornyn denounced Mr. Beckwith's statement as "shocking and inappropriate."
Speaking at the state Republican convention in June, Mr. Gramm brought the crowd to its feet by roaring, "The Democrats think that they can divide Texas based on race."
Since then Mr. Gramm has done anti-Kirk commercials, saying Mr. Kirk harshly criticized Mr. Bush's tax cuts and, in effect, was a tool of the liberals within the Democratic Party.
Recent polls show Mr. Kirk has a slight lead, generally one to four percentage points.
The Democrat's strengths include a quick wit and charismatic demeanor. Mr. Cornyn was a former prosecutor and judge before becoming attorney general.
Mr. Kirk's record as mayor of Dallas will likely come under scrutiny in coming weeks. Mr. Kirk, first elected in 1995, has often touted his six years as mayor the main reason he should be elected to the senate.
"We turned Dallas around," he has often said. "I have a record of getting things done. If you want to know about Ron Kirk, check my record in Dallas."
Mr. Kirk inherited a bickering City Council when he arrived at City Hall, and almost immediately forged the council into a smoother, more responsible body.
Many civic leaders and a handful of developers were excited as Mr. Kirk spearheaded a drive for the city to build a massive new sports arena, the American Airlines Center.
They responded similarly to a $543 million Trinity River Development program, a project approved by voters narrowly but trumpeted by Mr. Kirk as one of his prime achievements. That project has been mired down in extensive dealing with the federal government, which is paying part of the cost.
Under Mr. Kirk the city tried to lure Boeing here and failed. Its bid to host the 2012 Olympics was rejected in the first round. There was also a police scandal in which narcotics officers paid several hundred thousand dollars for "cocaine" that turned out to be plasterboard. The city's first black police chief, Terrell Bolton, swept into office and fired or demoted several top-level assistants, eventually costing more than $10 million in settlements.
City services suffered, especially roads, says one Dallas official.
"He didn't fix one road, not one creek, one ditch," said former City Council member Don Hicks.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide