Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Concern Over Growth Sparks A Revolution In Richardson

Elections in Richardson have long followed the pattern of most suburban cities: low interest, low turnout, and long tenure for incumbents.
This [year], however, the status quo in Richardson was radically reshuffled. After an unusually spirited campaign, voters dumped three incumbents.
Source: D Magazine.
Just kidding. That D Magazine story is not from this year. Or 2015. It's from 1987. But it's worth reading. It's like seeing Richardson in a funhouse mirror, an alternate universe where the Palisades scandal resulted in the defeat of Mayor Maczka and key council members in their re-election bids in 2015. But in our reality, in case you forgot, Mayor Maczka and four council members ran unopposed in 2015. The issue in 1987 was a familiar one. Only the electoral outcome was different.

The issues that sparked the Richardson revolution are familiar to most Dallas voters: how to balance rapid growth and its attendant headaches with the need for a thriving economy and a healthy tax base. Newcomers [Charles] Spann and Mary Ann Fraley are past presidents of the Canyon Creek Homeowners Association; along with challenger Ken Bell, they campaigned against a council they claimed was inaccessible and too friendly to developers. The challengers were particularly frustrated by a council decision in October that gave twenty-nine million square feel of development rights to Herbert and Bunker Hunt in exchange for the right of way necessary to complete proposed Slate Highway 190.

In his campaign literature, Spann warned of the "Canyons of Concrete" that would engulf the city if the pro-development trend continued. Fraley boasted that she was "not afraid of stepping on toes, however powerful or influential."
Source: D Magazine.
What adds a healthy dose of irony to the story are the names. That Ken Bell, who "campaigned against a council they claimed was inaccessible and too friendly to developers"? He's none other than the Ken Bell who serves today as treasurer of the Richardson Coalition PAC, the political action committee whose reputation is synonymous with development and growth.

And the development they opposed in 1987? Today, the "proposed State Highway 190" is called the President George Bush Turnpike. Texas Instruments has a mega-fab there now, soon to be two. State Farm has three high-rise office towers. Raytheon has a sprawling campus. And there are more apartments than you can count. The development greatly exceeds the rights granted to the Hunt brothers in 1987.

No matter who you supported in this year's election, know that it doesn't always matter in the end who wins. Many revolutions are followed by new regimes indistinguishable from the old regimes. New king same as the old king. That's the outcome predicted by the author of that story, John Keohane, all those years ago.
The new council will probably chart its own course on development in Richardson. Developers will be granted fewer blank checks, but it’s unlikely that any anti-business clique will dominate the council. All the new members are in business themselves: two of them. Bell and Gary Slagel, are executives at Texas Instruments.
Source: D Magazine.


donham said...

Mark, so ironic with the then and now quotes. Just what we needed to see. Working with Janet DePuy to help get more action on developers than we have seen. Many thanks, Carl

Unknown said...

Not surprised Ken Bell turned out to be on the side of developers while campaigning to stop them. As a fresh college graduate in 1981 he worked hard to stymie my career at T. I. because I refused to be sexually harassed by his protege Pierre A., whom later was found to have given a clean audit report on what was a $150,000 defalcation. — Dana Atchley Hall

John Keohane said...

I knew all of them. Charles Spann, Mary Ann Fraley, Buddy Dean, Ken Bell, Gary Slagel. Ken Bell was very helpful to us in Richardson Heights. Charles took the campaign seriously. I told him, about two months before the election that he needed to meet with his main supporters, his team, if you will, every week at his home. A key item which is left out in what's written here is that part of the reason the newcomers won was that we developed our own PAC, political action committee. If we were to spend less than $500, and I believe we did, there were very limited reporting requirements. We did one piece of literature. It wasn't mailed, we went door to door and talked to people. It had all the names on it. Seven were to be elected, city-wide. There was one case of no contest. In another spot, the only challenger was the widow of a Methodist minister. Some of our number (the PAC was started by about 10 of us, including Slagel before he became a candidate, and John Laine who became our PAC treasurer and responsible for reporting, which I think was both to the city and the state, as well as my wife, Cynthia, and I. At our organizing meeting someone suggested the name Committee on Richardson Environment. Almost everyone was Republican, except the Keohane's, who were Democrats, but it was my wife who put the kibosh on that one, CORE had been a strong civil rights organization for blacks, and we needed to appeal to a largely Republican electorate, thus the name Project Quality Richardson, PQR. Our one piece of literature had names on it for five of the seven council members. In four of those places, there was only one challenger. In the fifth place, Slagel, Glen Cook, and two others. Four won outright, Spann, Fraley, Bell, and Dean. Slagel later won a runoff with Zook. That council elected Spann as mayor (it was seven council persons, to choose one of their number as mayor). Our home was a 735 Scottsdale Drive in Richardson, Heights. A church at the corner of Floyd and Beltline bought up lots of houses, on two sides of a nearby street, and wanted to have the street blocked off for a parking lot. That church had already succeeded in doing that with another street. It was councilman Ken Bell who alerted me about this, and we had a coffee with Ken in our home, with at least 30 people. Our house was so crowded I didn't even notice everyone who came. We fought that fight successfully, helping keep Richardson Heights a good place for families to live. Our new city council looked at the city charter. It appointed a 12 member charter review commission, of which I was a member, but the distribution of members included representing some of the old guard, as well as upstarts like me, and went through and suggested changes that strengthened Richardson. PQR's one piece of literature, with the name of our candidates, had emphasized low rise high tech, as opposed to high rise low tech (read such things as call centers for insurance companies). In Texas terms, "we done good", those who were candidates, those active in PQR, those going door to door and talking to voters, and the voters of Richardson who elected our slate. I'm proud of what we did, and you should be too. My wife and I moved to Austin in 2003. You can reach me by email at keohane@prodigy.net John Keohane

Mark Steger said...

John Keohane, thanks for the feedback and the look back at campaigning in 1987. Your grassroots effort then is still a good blueprint for people who want to win elections now.