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Notes from the Campaign Trail: TrinityVote Dominating Debates
by Sam Merten    Mon, Oct 8, 2007, 02:29 PM

After the Vote No! press conference Sept. 18, the toll road campaign was officially underway. One week later, the two sides debated in Oak Cliff. Both sides have been debating all over the city since then and I’ve been following along the campaign trail.

If you haven’t read my story from the Oak Cliff debate, it will give you an in-depth look at the arguments from both sides. As I mentioned in that post, the crowd was more vocal on the Vote Yes! side. Angela Hunt and Sandy Greyson got the laughs and applause while Tom Leppert and Veletta Lill got laughed at and received little support from the audience. Hunt and Greyson also did a much better job of delivering their message.

After attending debates in different parts of the city, this has not changed. No matter who is speaking for Vote Yes! or Vote No!, the crowd support is clearly on the Vote Yes! side. TrinityVote has an all-star lineup of debaters while the opposition can’t get one person to do a good job of selling this road.

Of course, the only reason to go to these debates isn’t to gauge who is getting the most support, but how the arguments and strategy change. Before I get into the rest of the debates, I want to point out one very interesting thing that changed from the press conference to the Oak Cliff debate. At the end of the press conference, Mayor Leppert told me he felt “comfortable” that the price of the toll road would be $1.2 billion. Only one week later in Oak Cliff, that number was suddenly $1.3 billion.


On Monday (Oct. 1), Councilmember Jerry Allen hosted a debate in Lake Highlands at the Freshman Center where approximately 100 people attended. The deck was stacked against the Vote Yes! side as Allen is a co-chair of Vote No! and former council members Bill Blaydes, Donna Halstead and Alan Walne spoke in favor of the road. Only former council members Sandy Greyson and Donna Blumer were there from the Vote Yes! campaign. Council members Dave Neumann and Sheffie Kadane were in the crowd along with Sam Coats, who told me he was joining the Vote Yes! campaign.

Before the two sides gave their opening statements, Allen introduced Rebecca Dugger, director of the Trinity River Project, and said she was going to give “just a factual presentation.”

As you may know, I have questions about Dugger. Her PowerPoint presentation only gave me more questions about why the city is allowing her to give presentations using city-owned PowerPoint slides. As for it being “just a factual presentation,” I disagree.

After several slides describing all of the aspects of the project as a whole, Dugger eventually began talking about the road. The first slide was titled “Did the voters know the Trinity Parkway would be a toll road?” Then she showed clips from The Dallas Morning News before the election that called it a toll road or tollway.

My favorite one was the ad from opponents of the 1998 bond program, which calls the road a tollway. However, what is interesting about that ad is it says, “Proposed eight-lane tollway inside the levees would increase pollution.” If this ad was supposed to be what voters were relying on in ’98 to be educated about the road, then shouldn’t the fact that it said the road will increase pollution also be true?

Dugger also showed a slide called “Will the parkway flood frequently?” that is also being used in Vote No! campaigns. A slide labeled “Do we need this toll road?” mentioned how Project Pegasus and downtown improvements depend on this road. TxDOT has only said Project Pegasus needs a reliever road, not this road. Another one said if the referendum passes, the only alternatives for the parkway are Industrial elevated, at-grade or no build.

Sandy Greyson opened with a PowerPoint presentation of her own and talked about the sailboats on the lakes sold to voters in ’98. She said the term parkway was used on the ballot intentionally because it makes people think about a green, meandering park road and not a toll road. Greyson showed pictures of what real parkways in Dallas look like such as Garland Road and Turtle Creek Boulevard. She mentioned how those roads have lower speed limits, stop lights and direct park access -- things the toll road won’t have.

Greyson also brought up Mayor Leppert’s quote about the design drawings being what voters will get “depending on what your definition of exactly is.” She said both sides are not getting the same access to information because Angela Hunt has to submit open records requests to obtain her information. Greyson’s best moment came when she said four out of every five cars on this road would be using it just to get past the city.

“Why do we want to take our world-class park and put a high-speed toll road in it to move suburbanites from one end of our city to the other end of our city?” Greyson said.

In the middle of the audience applause, Allen began asking a question to the other side when Greyson told him, “I wasn’t through.”

Donna Halstead, president of the Dallas Citizens Council, opened for Vote No! and thanked everyone for coming instead of watching Mark Cuban on Dancing with the Stars. She played the Trinity Trust video and NTTA video and then talked about all The Dallas Morning News stories that mentioned the word tollway or toll road. Halstead claimed there were 18 articles referring to the road as a tollway and another two dozen other references in ads and other places before the election.

Halstead didn’t bring anything new to the table, but Alan Walne and Bill Blaydes touched on issues I hadn’t heard before. Walne said this road will be free for Dallas taxpayers as the NTTA will pay the city back its $84 million once it repays its debt for the road. He said this is mentioned in the ILA, which is the Interlocal Agreement between the city and the NTTA.

Walne also said that he was against the park component of the ’98 bond program, but was in favor of the flood control and transportation components.

“I personally thought it was silly to put all that stuff down there that was gonna flood into the park. I had my way on two things, but I didn’t have my way on one. And it did pass and it passed closely,” Walne said. “So I’ll tell you today if there’s a bait and switch on this, the bait and switch is that someone is trying to pull one of the things away that I voted for.”

Later in the debate, Walne addressed the park issue again.

“My wife [Joan] is on the park board,” Walne said. “I love parks.”

Bill Blaydes took the stance that this debate isn’t about having a road or not having a road, it’s about the speed of the road. He made it appear as though TrinityVote was suggesting to build a 35-mph parkway when in fact, they are simply putting restrictions on what kind of a road could be placed inside the levees. Blaydes said the difference between the roads is that taxpayers would have to pay for the 35-mph parkway while only users would pay for the high-speed toll road.

Although a road like this has never been built in a floodway, Blaydes said “it’s not unusual.” He also was the first one I heard to admit that trucks will be using the toll road.

“Trucks are gonna use it,” Blaydes said. “Trucks are gonna use it because it is the fastest route of getting through a metroplex that is growing at the rate of 3,000 people a day.”

Donna Blumer of Vote Yes! was a great compliment to Greyson and she helped rebut some of the comments from the other side. Walne brought up the county commissioners threat to pull $6 million in bridge funding and Blumer correctly said that the agreement only states that a reliever road had to be built and didn’t specify where it needed to be. Blumer stressed that Dallas is taking a big chance by doing something that has never been done before.

tom_leppert9.jpgOn Tuesday (Oct. 2), the Dallas Democratic Forum sponsored a debate at the Fairmont Hotel. Approximately 50 people attended and it was moderated by KERA’s Sam Baker. This debate featured Angela Hunt against Mayor Leppert.

Leppert opened by holding up a copy of The Dallas Morning News with a front-page story about traffic problems in Dallas.

“If we don’t address traffic, we’re going to be failing not only ourselves, but our children,” Leppert said.

Leppert said other options have been looked at and the opposition isn’t providing an alternative place for this road.

“If we move it, we’re never going to see the project. We’ll push it too far out. In essence, we’re going to be at the same point,” Leppert said. “This is all about do we want to have the park or not because if we don’t address these issues, we’re not going to have a park.”

Leppert closed by jumping off the platform and grabbing audience members in a human example of the floodway, which I talked about in a recent column.

Angela Hunt asked why there is such a focus on traffic issues as opposed to quality of life. She said any road that is built eventually becomes congested and that the road will add smog. Hunt also addressed a statement made by Leppert at the Oak Cliff debate when he compared this project to the Eiffel Tower.

“This is no Eiffel Tower, Mr. Mayor,” Hunt said. “This is a challenge that has increased costs dramatically because we were never meant to shoehorn a toll road into our park.”

Hunt said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers doesn’t have the best safety record and it hasn’t even approved the road yet. She said the tolls on other NTTA roads could go up to help pay for the large amount of money it is contributing to the project. Hunt also said putting this road in Dallas’ premiere park doesn’t make sense.

“When have you ever visited a city because you thought, ‘Honey, you’ve got to see this city; you’ve got to see this toll road. It is glorious!’” Hunt said. “No, but you said, ‘Let’s go to New York City and visit Central Park, I’ve gotta visit San Antonio’s River Walk and gosh darn it, I want to jog around Town Lake in Austin. It’s beautiful.’”

I had questions for Leppert after the debate, which I covered in a previous post. This was my second attempt to get straight answers from Leppert. My first one came after the Vote No! press conference.

linda_koop.jpgOn Thursday (Oct. 4), the North Dallas Neighborhood Alliance sponsored a debate at Brentfield Elementary where approximately 35 people attended. Greyson paired with Sam Coats, who was debating for the first time, against council members Ron Natinsky and Linda Koop. Council members Jerry Allen and Sheffie Kadane were in the audience along with Donna Blumer.

Greyson opened again with her PowerPoint presentation. One of the slides showed a picture of the recent flooding in Dallas, which opponents say would not have touched the road.

“Who are you gonna believe, them or your lyin’ eyes?” Greyson said.

Greyson also pointed to the pictures of the road brought by Vote No! and said what people aren’t seeing in those pictures are the toll booths, overhead signage, and other things that will be part of the toll road.

Councilmember Koop opened by playing the Trinity Trust video. During her voice over, she mentioned how she spent eight years on the park board with the City of Dallas saying, “There probably is not a more park-friendly person sitting in this room.”

Also during her voice over, Koop said this about the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge.

“I hear this is an absolutely enormous span right here going upward in height," Koop said. "I can’t remember how tall it is.”

Greyson immediately said the span is 400 feet.

Koop also went into a PowerPoint presentation and then handed things off to Natinsky. During the presentation, he showed a slide that had the current cost at $939 million when the cost is at $1.3 billion, according to the mayor. In the debate, Natinsky provided more false information about the ordinance and Project Pegasus, which I revealed in a previous story. He also said the ballot language was written by Angela Hunt, which was shown to be false after I contacted the assistant city attorney.

Natinsky said it is ironic that Hunt’s district has the worst traffic congestion as the city continues to grow. He blamed lawsuits for the delay in the project saying, “If anyone is responsible for the delays, it’s the people who brought the lawsuit.” Natinsky also said that if the Industrial alignment is chosen, there will be a significant loss of taxable land value. However, assuming those businesses relocate, the taxes would be recovered.

sam_coats2.jpgSam Coats was sharp in his first debate. His opening statement was reminiscent of his likeability in the mayoral debates.

“Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Sam Coats and I’m nobody,” Coats said.

Coats said this issue is a matter of trust and it’s unfortunate that fear aspects have crept into the debate. He stressed that the Corps has not approved this road yet and attacked the opposition claim that this road will improve air quality.

“One hundred thousand diesel trucks and cars going through the heart of downtown Dallas in a floodway, that by definition is going to flood, is not going to improve our air quality,” Coats said.

Coats said there are very powerful real estate interests with a different viewpoint on this issue. He said after turning around companies like Continental Airlines and Schlotzsky’s, he found that the people who get a company into trouble are not the ones to get out of trouble because they are so emotionally invested in decisions made in the past.

“The people were so invested in putting that darned toll road inside the levees, they can’t see the forest through the trees,” Coats said. “There are other alternatives, ladies and gentlemen.”

groundhog_day.jpgOn Sunday (Oct. 7), Leppert and Bob Meckfessel faced Hunt and Coats at Temple Emanu-El. Approximately 250 people attended the debate moderated by Dr. Richard Wasserman. Although this was in Councilmember Mitchell Rasansky’s district and he is a co-chair of the Vote No! campaign, he was noticeably absent. Council members Ron Natinsky and Jerry Allen were in the audience along with Sandy Greyson and Donna Blumer.

Leppert and Meckfessel opened. Meckfessel, who looks like the character Ned Ryerson from the movie “Groundhog Day,” is an architect and a board member and past president of the Trinity Commons Foundation. (One quick side note: Stephen Tobolowsky, the actor who played Ryerson, was born and raised in Dallas and went to SMU.)

Leppert talked about how he and his wife were recently looking at a picture of his son from when the bond was passed and now his son is a sophomore in college. He said the delays made it so that he can no longer take him to the park.

Leppert made a statement that contradicted one from the Fairmont Hotel debate when he said “we’re not going to have a park” if this referendum passes.

“This issue isn’t about a park or a road,” Leppert said. “We’re gonna have a great park.”   

So I’m left confused if Leppert thinks we’ll have a park or not, which isn’t the only thing I wonder about. He had a hard time explaining the cost difference between the Frisco extension and this road in the past and offered this after mentioning that oil has increased 4.7 times while the road has only increased tripled in price.

“That was in early 2000 dollars. These projections are in 2010-plus dollars. You look at cost of construction with inflation, the value is $265 and takes it 2.65 times.” Leppert said. “The $1.3 billion has $300 million worth of contingencies built in. There’s an extra $88 million worth of right-of-way that we’re paying for that Frisco didn’t pay for. There are five times the amendments. There are seven times the amount of dirt work that has to be done. When you come to all of this, it’s the same darned price. Those are the numbers. That’s what’s important in understanding and getting the facts on the table.”

Leppert made a potentially offensive remark when he was talking about the eminent domain associated with relocating 300 businesses as part of the Industrial alignment. It appeared to me that Leppert was stereotyping the audience, which was made up mostly of Jewish people.

“Any of you attorneys wanna guess how much litigation we’d get and how much time that takes?” Leppert said.

Things weren’t going well for Leppert and Dr. Richard Wasserman’s handling of him during the debate made things much worse. Wasserman, who described himself as having “no dog in the fight,” asked him how the toll road will address downtown as far as making it a tourist center.

Leppert tried to take over the lectern, but Wasserman told him it would be better for him to “just do it from the chair.” Leppert then talked about traffic congestion, the downtown support by different chambers, how four area mayors told him to support this road and how there is no alternative plan.

“I have to admit, I completely missed the point in the way this makes downtown work,” Wasserman said. “The question was how does the toll road in the park make the immediately adjacent downtown area revitalized? I’d like you to address that question.”

After some laughs from the audience, Leppert responded, ”And this is the challenge because when you talk about traffic congestion and air quality, they aren’t very fun subjects to talk about.”

Wasserman jumped in and said air quality is an issue that is dependent on the state, not the city.

“We [the state] already have a program on air quality and I really can’t let you say that the air quality is primarily impacted by the mixmaster because air quality is primarily impacted by state regulations on vehicles,” Wasserman said. “So let’s move on from there.”

Leppert then talked about cars idling in traffic and said the road with vital to getting businesses to come downtown.

In another question, Wasserman asked him what percentage of the money committed to the project as a whole is going to the road as opposed to the park.

“The better question is are the taxpayers of Dallas going to be better,” Leppert said.

The crowd grumbled at Leppert.

“Well, you know, actually, before we get to the better question, I’d like for you to suffer my incompetence and answer the question I asked,” Wasserman said.

“If you look at where our money has been going, for the most part, our money has been going into the park and the recreation component,” Leppert said.

“That wasn’t my question,” Wasserman said. He then restated the question.

“I’d have to add it up,” Leppert said.

Wasserman later issued the best quote of the day after the debate when he was discussing Leppert’s behavior at the lectern.

“I’m all about being congenial, but not when a stranger touches me,” Wasserman said.

As for Meckfessel, he didn’t add much to the debate. He talked about how the Balanced Vision Plan is an award-winning plan. Meckfessel described the BVP as “top quality” and said it’s “essentially intact.”

One of the ideas proposed by Hunt was to look at Loop 12 as an alternative. Meckfessel said Bob Thomas, Bill Eager and Michael Morris each looked at this and said it doesn’t have the traffic capacity to solve the problem.

Hunt explained the ordinance by TrinityVote, which was applauded. She said the Loop 12 alternative has not been seriously considered. Hunt also said while Leppert says Vote Yes! doesn’t have a plan, a plan that does not have a budget or engineering plans also is not a plan.

Hunt asked why Dallas should be “$1.3 billion guinea pigs” for something that has never been done before. She also said the Sierra Club, America's oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization, is backing Vote Yes! based on the road creating more pollution and smog.

Sam Coats agreed with Hunt, saying alternatives that move road away from downtown haven’t been seriously considered. He warned the audience that the Vote No! side was using a lot of fear in their campaign. With respect to TxDOT stopping Project Pegasus because the road is taken out of the levees, Coats said that would be irresponsible because the funding is in place.

Coats also read from Sunday’s Dallas Morning News story about the toll road debate, saying this was “one of the few times I agree with the Morning News on this.” This is what he read:

“The questions can't be answered precisely or completely, mostly because no final design for the road has been produced. The North Texas Tollway Authority, which would build and operate the Trinity Parkway, is months, maybe a year, away from those final plans (assuming voters on Nov. 6 don't render the question moot). After that, it could be another year before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has authority over any project in the floodway, weighs in on the NTTA's plans.”

Coats also said he thought Leppert would be a good mayor after this election, noting that he “beat me like a drum” in the mayor’s race. Coats’ signature phrase has become, “Who’s gonna come see a honkin’ toll road?”

Leppert closed once again with his human floodway example. Since I wasn’t a part of it this time, I was able to grab some footage. David Coats, Sam’s son, was caught in the middle this time.

So far, things are unraveling for the Vote No! side as they are getting dominated in the debates. Leppert’s appearance Sunday was his worst yet. For a mayor who has been in office for just a few months, you’d think he was someone headed on their way out.

Leppert appeared extremely condescending and the crowd enjoyed Wasserman’s ability to put him in his place. Again, the absence of Mitchell Rasansky also spoke volumes.

He also has been unable to find a capable partner. Hunt can go with Greyson, Coats or Blumer as her sidekick -- all extremely effective in the debates -- while Leppert is struggling to find someone who can help sell voters on this toll road.

Leppert talks about all the support backing the Vote No! campaign, but Hunt has shown her support to be much more impressive. Toss in 90,000 registered voters and you have a tough team to beat.

What I’d like to know is where is Dave Neumann? He is supposed to be all-knowing about this project since he was named chair of the committee. It’s time to throw him out there and see what he’s got.

There is still almost a month left until the election, but if things keep going this way, it’s only going to get worse for Mayor Leppert and the Vote No! campaign.

Here are some quick reads you may have missed last week:

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Comments (16)add comment
written by Mike , October 08, 2007

Great job once again, Sam.
As for your closing comments, I don't give a flying flip what old Wick Allison thinks about this issue. The last thing the people of this city need is another Highland Park "genius" telling Dallas what it should and should not do with its money.
And I am never sure what Mr. Tomaso is trying to say, except to satisfy the dictates of his masters, the Decherd/Moroney tribe (speaking of Highland Park "geniuses").

written by HSH , October 08, 2007

Well, the push polling has begun in earnest. I just received the call from "Public Insight". Two questions -- first do you plan to vote November 6th? Second a far too long narrative, i.e., Angela Hunt is evil....this will raise our taxes....end the world as we know it....cause global warming....yadda yadda yadda.

At the end, I gleefully said I was voting YES and told the young woman I hoped she was making good money (which she said she was) because I wanted them to blow through lots of cash before they got trounched on November 6th.

Boy was that fun!

written by Nathan , October 09, 2007

Where is Neumann? A few months back the 'votenopavethetrinity' gang did a poll to feel around public opinion a little. I have a feeling the speakers that you are seeing are the ones that either registered positively with respondents or are well known around town.

Neumann was in one of the more controversial runoff races last spring. Additionally he is a former board member of the infamous Trinity Commons Foundation, those wacky cats who paid the petition blockers. I think the 'voteno' crew is probably keeping him on a short leash because it would be too easy for audience members and panelists to impeach his credibility at a debate. Hence Veletta stood in for him when the debate was taken to district 3. (Not the wisest move based on the video posted on pegasusnews.)

written by annie , October 09, 2007

I heard Ron Kirk destroy angela Hunt at a dallas assembly lunch a few weeks ago.
Leppert should get him out more.

written by Joe Dawg , October 09, 2007


Ron has no time...he's too busy lobbying for Exxon Mobile and environmental polluters of America through his high paid gig at Vinson and Elkins.

written by dave c. , October 09, 2007

extra $88 million worth of right-of-way!
What is this about? Where is that money going? Any idea, Sam?

written by Sam Merten , October 09, 2007


I am working on getting an answer from the project director from NTTA, Chris Anderson. Hopefully he can shed more light on what Leppert was talking about and give a better explanation as to the cost difference between the two roads.

written by East Dallas Eccentric , October 09, 2007

The Lakewood Advocate's unscientific poll shows 77 percent for removing the toll road, 14.4 for keeping it, and 8.6 percent undecided.


written by Nathan , October 09, 2007

Sam, I don't think that you are going to find favorable information from TXDoT, DART, or the NTTA. The boards of these agencies are appointed by the same politicians who are so intent on building this road to satisfy their campaign contributors.

I have a feeling that the NTTA will try and spoon feed you whatever information is necessary to get your readers to believe that this highway is the end all of the DFW metroplex's transportation needs.

written by john k. , October 09, 2007

I wish everyone would just forget it. Just remember, that many of the trees that are in the Trinity River now are Rookeries for Egrets and are sanctified locations are not to be screwed with.

written by Richie Sheridan , October 10, 2007

In Sunday's Dallas Morning News (10/7/07) lied about/covered up the FOURTH ALTERNATIVE STEMMONS BYPASS HIGHWAY.

In Sundays paper Tomaso, or "Tomato Face" stated that there are only three Stemmons bypass alternatives, totally ignoring the tunnel bypass highway which was publically discussed in a debate with Tom Leppert in Oak Cliff two weeks ago. D Magazine's Tim Rogers wrote about it, stating it was a good idea.

Leppert, responding to my question (If New York has tunnels, why can't Dallas) stated that he would build a tunnel bypass highway in a minute but it was too costly. THERE GOES SOUND BITE LEPPERT AGAIN!!!


1. Providing the added needed flood protection at little or no extra cost.

2. Providing a compromise solution that both sides would readily accept, UNITING OUR CITY!!!

3. Giving us the opportunity to truly build a World Class park with the non-flood land that would be created by burying the bypass highway in the floodway, just south of the north levee. We could have a strip, or ribbon of dry land, between 300 to 800 ft. wide, 7 miles long to build a San Antonio/New Braunfels/Venice like park....WITH A 7 MILE LONG TOWN LAKE!


This is real folks!

written by Mary , October 10, 2007

Sam, As spokesperson for the League of Women Voters (deemed "abominable" by Ron Kirk in '98), we carefully watched the NTTA negotiations that were put into place just before the ballot voting in 1998 --so the public would clearly NOT know that a toll road was planned. It is interesting to note that someone thinks the ciity would be paid back the $84M that was earmarked for the NTTA to "study" the feasibility of partnering with the city for the road. At that time, we asked Jerry Hebert, then head of the NTTA if the $84 would be paid back per the city's resolution with them, and he replied, "we usually never give mony to anyone, we MAKE money, and in this case the agreement with the city is to pay back the $84M WHEN the road is finished and WHEN we start to make a profit..." In other words, never.

written by Richie Sheridan , October 11, 2007

"Save the Trinity" is not only an Oxymoron, but DEVIOUSNESS AT ITS WORSE!

The powers to be in Dallas want the voters to believe that they will "Save the Trinity" by putting a high speed highway in the new Trinity Park. In this effort they will run out of lipstick trying to cover up this pig.

We need to save the Trinity from the "Save the Trinity" group!

written by Joe Dawg , October 11, 2007

The Dallas Floodway Extension Report of 1999 written by the Army Corps of Engineers -- Page F-12 states the following:

“The “Future Without Project Alternative” would cause no significant adverse impacts to air quality within the proposed area. Regional trends in air quality indicate that regulated pollution levels are slightly increasing. Flooding episodes and flood plain regulations imposed by the City of Dallas within the proposed project area would restrict further urban and commercial development. In the absence of urban and commercial growth, mobile and stationary pollution emitting sources would decrease as would their associated pollutants. Addition of Parkways planned by others along existing and proposed levees could result in increases in pollutant levels.”

written by dave c. , October 12, 2007

Sam, some hack working for DMN is trying to help Ron Natinsky spin out of the lie he told. Looking at the responses it doesn't seem to be working. Those reporters at the "News" have really lost credibility in my eyes because of their slanted reporting on this issue.
[URL shortened by editor]

written by john k. , October 15, 2007

The next thing that would solve many problems would to put a 300 foot wide comcrete runway parallel to the Trinity River. Ten to fifteen thousand feet long for another airline that is locked out of Love Field by the Wright ammendment and subsequent changes. Money would start comming into the city much sooner than any tollway.

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