U of Wisconsin radical assumes power in Big D

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Madison Capital Times Feb 19, 2002


UW grad takes City Hall war to next level

By John Nichols

When she graduated from UW-Madison 20 years ago, Laura Miller was determined to make mayors miserable. And she did just that as the political columnist for Dallas' alternative weekly newspaper - arguing, for instance, that the city's immediate past mayor "whittles away his political capital, running hither and thither, obsessing about what he can do today to help H. Ross Perot Jr. increase his net worth."

Throughout the 1990s, Miller's columns for the Dallas Observer newspaper illuminated the cozy ties chief executives maintained with that city's economic royalty, revealed evidence of City Hall subservience to billionaires like Perot and the Hunts, and reminded readers that the squandering of precious resources on the pet projects of Dallas' economic royalty meant the city's commoners had to put up with potholes and pool closings.

Now, as the new mayor of Dallas, Miller will get a chance to turn her populist penmanship into public policy. Though her candidacy was opposed with vigor and venom by the city's oily elites, the outgoing mayor, most of the City Council and the powerful Dallas Morning News newspaper, Miller won 55 percent of the vote in a runoff election Saturday.

Before a crowd that chanted "It's Miller time!" the winner immediately distinguished herself from her predecessors. While past mayors promised to build arenas or bring the Olympics to town, she announced that she would dispatch dumptrucks to clean up garbage around a local recreation center.

If that doesn't sound glamorous, well, that's the point. After years of reporting on city officials who were more interested in constructing expensive projects favored by the city's billionaires, Miller ran for mayor on a pledge to "get back to the basics" of fixing neighborhood streets, filling empty pools and cleaning up parks. "We've done a sports arena for millionaire basketball players," Miller said. "Now let's give our young people basketball hoops in their neighborhood rec center."

Miller's campaign gave voice to sentiments that are not unique to Dallas. In cities across the country in recent years, neighborhood activists have battled downtown business interests to define municipal priorities - arguing, as Miller did, that when cities use limited resources to help private interests build stadiums and downtown projects, they cheat the public interest by drying up funds for schools and basic services.

A hell-raiser since the days when her incendiary columns provoked a high school principal to suspend publication of the school paper, Miller parlayed her UW journalism degree into jobs with the New York Daily News, Miami Herald, Dallas Morning News and Dallas Times Herald. Times Herald editors decided her fearless writing - she called the police chief a "liar" - was inappropriate for a respectable daily newspaper. So Miller switched to the Observer, where she kept stirring up trouble but started feeling frustrated.

"I have 14,000 documents in my office that show just how crooked, how manipulated this system is," Miller said of her reporting. "But nothing changes."

So, in 1998, she made a change. Borrowing a page from Upton Sinclair, the crusading journalist of the early 20th century who got so mad at politics as usual that he made things unusual by running for governor of California, Miller closed her notebook and got into politics. Unlike Sinclair, this crusader-turned-candidate won.

Elected to a council seat, Miller started muckraking inside the corridors of power, pushing for tougher ethics standards and raising hell about policies that favored downtown elites over neighborhood needs. Even as she fought and beat breast cancer, Miller kept banging away at the special interests that controlled City Hall. She made enemies among the political and business establishment and most of them opposed her mayoral run this year. But the journalist-turned-politico succeeded in getting her message to voters like Janet Weachock. After casting her ballot Saturday, the woman told a reporter why she liked Laura Miller: "She will blow up in the face of the good-'ol-boy network."

-- (lars@indy.net), February 19, 2002


The first decree will be free beer at all firing squad events. Off the pig, power to the people!

-- (lars@indy.net), February 19, 2002.

Sounds great to me (radical that I am). Go, Go Go.

-- Peter Errington (petere7@starpower.net), February 19, 2002.

My enthusiasm expressed above was for the contents of the article, not for the hopelessly steeped in cynicism observation of Lars, who needs to rediscover the potential for hope and uplift residing in the intelligent center of American politics.

-- Peter Errington (petere7@starpower.net), February 19, 2002.

I strongly believe in the potential for hope and uplift residing in the intelligent center of beer, regardless of nationality.

-- (lars@indy.net), February 19, 2002.

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