HER HONOR. Dallas mayor reflects city's new diversity
For decades the mayor of Dallas has been selected from the buttoned-down confines of the city's super-serious downtown. This year, however, voters picked the candidate whose master's degree is not in business administration, but in psychology and sociology. And, for the first time, Dallasites chose a woman.
Annette Strauss had chalked up decades of community involvement and 15 years' experience in city government before defeating a prominent former local Republican Party official in an April runoff. Her election should not be seen as an aberration, however, but more as part of the gradual opening of the nation's seventh largest city to its own growing diversity. Mrs. Strauss is not so much a departure from the city's past as a continuation with a broader outlook; a mayor the Chamber of Commerce should find right to its liking, with perhaps a little bigger heart.
``We've always had business leaders [as mayor],'' says Strauss, ``and they've done a wonderful job. But with new problems, and cutbacks in federal help, we have to take on the problems that are more prevalent now.''
Or maybe it's just that Strauss plans to bring a new emphasis to issues - she mentions the homeless, drug addiction, the city's growing minority communities - that are not really new, but that some in Dallas say have not received the attention they should.
Not that the new mayor expects to overlook the more traditional concerns of her predecessors. Seated in her fifth-floor City Hall office, with its view of the still-changing Dallas skyline - the last entrants into the city's early-'80s downtown office boom are just now being completed - she cites economic development and crime as her two major concerns.
``Reducing crime and creating jobs - those are our two greatest needs today,'' she says, a jewelled bee, which she calls ``the bee in my bonnet,'' riding the shoulder of her gray suit. ``But what we need to remember is that those two are tied together. People who need jobs are also those who have the highest crime rate.''
As one means of specifically addressing these issues, Strauss is calling for creation of a ``center for profit management,'' which she wants to see set up in Dallas's poorer, minority-populated south side. ``The idea would be to provide technical assistance for businesses that are starting out, but have the potential for growing and creating jobs,'' she says. Such help should reduce the risk of starting businesses and give them greater exposure, and that in turn should make it easier for the new businesses to get private financial assistance, she says.
Help in providing tax, legal, and management assistance to new business would come in part from the private sector, something Strauss says Dallas does particularly well. ``Cooperation between the private and the public sectors is something a lot of cities have, but I really think Dallas is unique in the degree to which it goes on here,'' she says. ``It's part of an intense pride in the city, mixed with a can-do spirit.''
As an example, she points to a shelter for homeless families recently opened downtown. Private donations made up the $375,000 it took to renovate a building the city leases for $85,000 a year. On crime, Strauss zeros in on two needs: to increase the size of the city's police force, and to improve relations between the police and the city's minority communities.
The Dallas crime rate has soared in recent years, tied to a downturn in the city's economy and the unemployment and frustration that have resulted. The city is 23rd in its per capita spending for law enforcement. It has less than half as many police officers as Detroit, the number one per capita spender, although the two cities are close in size.
Tensions between the city's police and minorities were in the spotlight recently when a congressional committee held hearings in Dallas to study police use of deadly force. ``It's a problem we know we have, and we're not hiding from it,'' says Strauss.
She adds that many of the committee's recommendations - for more minority police, a better system of promotions, revision of the training and deadly force policies - were already being done. ``The hearings have only reemphasized a lot of things that were already a part of our action program,'' she says.
Dallas has one of the worst records in the nation of police shootings of civilians. The shooting of an elderly black woman last year prompted the May congressional hearings. An elderly black man who had been a ``crime watcher'' at his housing complex was shot and killed by police only days after the hearings.
Strauss describes the recent shooting as ``tragic.'' But she says she does not agree with those who say the shootings are a symptom of a still prevalent old-South attitude within Dallas law enforcement towards blacks and other minorities. ``I don't believe most people feel that way,'' she says.
Although her term is short (just two years) Strauss says she hopes to see specific accomplishments within that time. ``I expect we will have decreased the tension that exists between our minorities and our police,'' she begins, ``and I want to see our crime rate come down.'' Beyond that, she'd like to see the city's 7 percent unemployment rate decrease, progress on a proposed downtown arts district, and the first rail line of the city's $2.8 billion, 93-mile rapid-transit system under construction.
``It may sound like a lot,'' she says, ``but in the end it all has to do with the people. The main thing is getting their concerns addressed.''