- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2005

DALLAS — A move to strengthen the powers of Dallas’ mayor has become a no-holds-barred fight replete with charges of racism, chicanery and Nazism.

The mayor now is a figurehead, with no more power than each of the 14 elected City Council members. Dallas, Phoenix and San Antonio are the only cities in the nation with a population of more than 1 million that operate under a city manager/council system, where the hired manager exercises most executive powers.

Voters will decide in a May 7 referendum whether to amend the city charter to grant greater powers to the mayor. Supporters say the measure would make city government more effective and accountable. All 14 council members oppose the measure, which would erode their power.

Race is an underlying issue: Half of the council members are black or Hispanic, and the mayor is white.

Laura Miller, a former council member who is now in her second term as mayor, is scorned in the black community.

Before she became a politician, Mrs. Miller was an investigative reporter who wrote critical articles about some council members, including the popular Al Lipscomb.

Mrs. Miller questioned the longtime civil rights leader’s honesty and integrity.

In 1999, Mr. Lipscomb was convicted in federal court on 65 counts of bribery and was forced to leave the council. He admitted taking cash in sealed envelopes from the owner of a major cab franchise, and records showed he voted several times to benefit the cab firm’s owner. However, some blacks blamed Mrs. Miller for Mr. Lipscomb’s troubles.

As a council member, Mrs. Miller often clashed with the city’s first black mayor, Ron Kirk, during his 1995 to 2000 term.

One issue was Mr. Kirk’s 1998 proposal for the city to fund 50 percent of the cost to build the $420 million American Airlines Center. The Kirk-led referendum won narrowly, with heavy support from the black community. Mrs. Miller argued that the city gave away too much in tax abatements, support and infrastructure.

Dallas has been plagued by city government scandals, as well as a rising crime rate and eroding municipal services.

The city paid millions of dollars to settle lawsuits after Terrell Bolton, the city’s first black police chief, demoted several top assistants days after he started the job. Millions more in settlements were paid as the result of a “fake drug” scandal, in which innocent people were framed. Mr. Bolton was fired in 2003 by the city’s first Hispanic city manager, Ted Benavides, but many in the black community blamed the white mayor.

Now Mr. Lipscomb, whose bribery conviction was overturned on a technicality in 2002, has returned to torment Mrs. Miller.

“Even the Holocaust started somewhere,” he told City Council. “Hitler — he was one man obsessed with the need of more power. A power-crazed brute.

“The mayor’s office of Dallas is not for you alone, Mrs. Miller, and your cronies. Shame. Shame. Shame.”

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