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Dallas Elections Show Civil Rights Power

The Dallas elections supervisor reported unprecedented turnout in African-American and Latino districts during the May 7 local elections. Minority voters were credited with a stunning defeat of a "strong-mayor" proposal that would have moved most municipal power away from the 14 City Councilpersons and to the Mayor. The councilpersons are each elected from their individual districts, and the Mayor is elected city-wide.

Before a federal judge forced the City to accept the present 14-1 system, city-wide elections controlled all aspects of city government. Only token representation of Blacks or Latinos was permitted. Dallas civil rights activists saw the current "strong-mayor" proposal as a reversion to the older and less just system in which rich businessmen controlled the expensive, city-wide elections to keep Dallas on the side of Right and White.

Apparently, those rich businessmen are more afraid of the present mayor, fiery outsider Laura Miller, than they are of the 14 Councilpersons, because they took the "no-vote" side against the proposal she supported, while the Dallas Morning News, ordinarily a key leader of their Citizens' Council, split from them and called for a "yes" vote. As is always the case in Dallas, the Citizens' Council far outspent their opponents. "Vote No" signs sprouted all over the Southern Sector.

Longtime Dallas watchers are wondering what will come next. Part of the "no vote" victory was attributed to a maneuver by the Citizens' Council and some of the Councilpersons. They promised to offer a "much improved" strong mayor proposition in November. It remains to be seen if they actually will, or if the new proposal doesn't turn out to be even less democratic than the one just defeated. Also, Mayor Miller will probably stand for election in 2007, and she is seen today as greatly weakened by the 2005 vote. It is entirely possible that the Citizens' Council's big contributions will buy them the "strong mayor" they actually want in 2007. On the other hand, stirring up a big minority vote is perilous for them!

For Dallas progressives, it was difficult to side with the shadowy Citizens' Council on any issue, even when they were split from the right-wing editors at the News, but the overriding concern, preserving civil rights, guided them to the "no vote" side. The labor movement chose to sit the issue out, but they endorsed several candidates for City Council. Of 8 endorsements, they won 6, lost 1, and continued to back another in a runoff election. The Morning News, normally a good indicator of ruling class direction, endorsed 13. Their candidates won 7, lost 1, and made it into 4 runoffs. Their candidate is running against labor's candidate in District 2 on June 4.

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