Conventional wisdom in Texas politics says that a mayor can’t make the jump to winning a statewide race. Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert is trying to break that conventional wisdom and has quietly moved into the number two slot behind Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. I sat down with him and discussed a wide range of issues and campaign strategy.
As for strategy, he really hasn’t changed anything major since the first time we chatted about it. He is still following the plan of using his strong name recognition in North and East Texas to get him to a runoff with the Lt. Gov. and then, as he says, anything can happen. He has run some targeted television spots in West and Central Texas to boost his name id. And he attends most of the candidate forums around the state, getting his message out to the grassroots even though he rarely reaches double-digits in the straw polls after most of the forums. When I questioned that strategy as a waste of time, he just smiled and said that he tries to get one or two attendees to support him at each meeting and that if you add them all up, it has been worth it.
In the endorsement arena, Mr. Leppert has locked up a surprising number of mayors. It may seem odd given that Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and Ted Cruz have gone after high profile endorsements but you have to remember that mayors invariably have a strong local network of supporters versus the high profile endorsements that depend upon free or paid media to get the word out. And mayors typically have a strong sense of the ability of someone in politics to get stuff done, not just talk about it.
But I suspect that the main reason that he is in a good position to reach a runoff is his record as Mayor of Dallas. There are the usual critics out there but when people look at the facts, they realize that he did manage to implement a conservative agenda that is still benefiting the city today. Two areas stand out.
The first area that stands out is the fact that he added more officers to the Dallas PD and reduced the crime rate. It seems like a no brainer but in these lean times, adding officers is an extremely hard task. Mr. Leppert did it by cutting workers in other, non-essential areas, or, as Mr. Leppert calls it, refocusing priorities. And it worked, as Politifact attests.
The other area in which he was successful, and which most likely helped reduce the crime rate, was in cleaning up abandoned buildings, both commercial and apartments. He did this by multi-functional teams and going into the abandoned properties, writing code violations, and notifying the owners that they had 30 days to clean them up or they would be fined. Mr. Leppert told me that in one case, the fire department crews wouldn’t enter the property without full haz mat suits. This may not sound like much to those who sit in glass houses for a living but if you have one of these crime-sores in your neighborhood, you instantly understand what Mr. Leppert was trying to do and appreciate it.
Of course, campaigns are dynamic and do not operate in a vacuum. Some of Mr. Leppert’s climb is no doubt due to the recent stumbles of the Ted Cruz campaign. Stuff like his calling the CFR a pit of snakes, his staffer bullying a young “tracker” to leave a meeting, only talking to “pro-Cruz bloggers”, and getting caught with his pants on fire for claiming Lt. Gov. Dewhurst supported a personal income tax, a ridiculous notion. His campaign had run very smoothly all last year but I guess pressure gets to everyone. And he obviously knows that he has slipped to third because he is now attacking Mr. Leppert whereas before he was completely disciplined and focused only on Lt. Gov. Dewhurst.
But the gains at Cruz’ expense are small. Most of the gain is simply because of more people hearing about Mr. Leppert’s successful record as Mayor of Dallas and his constant focus on the issues and having specific plans to address the economy and jobs.
And really, isn’t that as it should be?
Ivan Thompson says
David Jennings’ articel compeletly aligns with my own positive experience as a citizen of Dallas who not only voted for Tom Leppert, but benefited as a Dallas resident, from his effectivenes as our mayor. I have met Tom at public functions a couple of times and he always impressed me as sincere, humble and sincere. I wish him well in his quest for a seat in the US senate.
Pickles Sorrell says
I spent 40 years in the trenches working for GOP candidates in my homestate of New York before retiring to wonderful Texas. But New York and Texas have one thing in common: the endorsement from a Mayor in the Republican primary is just a fart in a stiff wind. No one cares.