Thursday, March 21, 2013

Only in America ...

Only in America can some things happen.  People have their chance to rise to positions where in other countries it would not be possible. City, state and country leader can come from the “wrong” background and become civic leaders. The son of a poor farmer can become president. Someone with the “wrong” background can become a mayor.

D-Magazine, on 3/18/2013, put together an article about the political changes in Richardson, changes the “old guard” seems to be fighting tooth and nail. Trying to dig up some dirt, these “old guard” types are preparing their mud patties for the campaign of mud they are about to launch. Really? Calling the ex-wife of a candidate?

D-Magazine presents a good story about our little town the prints a few things that should make the citizens of this town think twice about who they are voting for during this election. After  the jump, their story.

from D-Magazine 

It was at a gala more than a year ago, at the Hotel InterContinental. The decor had a Taiwanese theme. Guests were wearing formal attire, sipping from champagne flutes, nibbling hors d’oeuvres. Most of the Richardson city government was there, as well as the town’s most powerful movers and shakers. An older man approached two-term City Councilman Amir Omar and wanted to talk. Omar, believed to be the first Muslim elected to any municipal office anywhere in North Texas, doesn’t want to give the man’s name, but he describes him as “a strong supporter of mine, until then.”

They stepped outside for a minute. The older man wanted to talk about something troubling a lot of the city’s residents. It had nothing to do with race or religion. This was about the issue of a directly elected mayor. Since the city’s charter was passed in 1956, Richardson’s City Council had always selected the mayor among themselves, a model employed by about 20 percent of city governments in the United States. But now the issue had come up in several public forums, and some people even wanted the Council to put it to a vote. The man had heard that Omar was in favor of changing the city charter, in favor of the residents of Richardson directly electing their mayor instead of the way it’d been done for decades. The conversation was tense. “He was respectful,” Omar says, looking back, “but he wanted to let me know that he really, really disagreed with me.”

Though he was an outsider, and he doesn’t fit the demographic of the city’s all-white Council, this was the first time the young councilman had disagreed with anyone in what he calls “the old guard of Richardson.” By the end of the discussion, the older man was red in the face, shouting. Omar felt awkward, but no less resolute. The two didn’t speak to each other for the rest of the party.

Now, by the “old guard,” Omar is primarily referring to the Richardson Coalition, a well-financed group of concerned citizens that includes Charles Eisemann, for whom the city’s $50 million performing arts center is named. In the last two city elections, Coalition-supported City Council candidates—a group that has twice included Omar—were undefeated, 14 to 0. The position of mayor in Richardson is largely ceremonial—the only powers the mayor has that other City Council members don’t involve running meetings and cutting ribbons—but the members of the Coalition worried about losing power and control of the city, and they strongly opposed the idea of a directly elected mayor. The older man at the party was so worked up because he saw his way of life changing and he felt helpless. For many, the debate epitomized the struggle between “new Richardson” (young families interested in urban development and things like parks and the new Alamo Drafthouse) and “old Richardson” (mostly white retirees more interested in bringing new corporations and big office buildings).

A few days after that tense conversation at the party, the Council voted on the issue. Opponents at the time claimed that the old system fostered a better working relationship between the mayor and the Council. In his support of the change— even when he knew he would lose and thought the issue would be dead—Omar argued that “the voters of Richardson are just as smart as the voters in Frisco or Plano, where they directly elect their mayors.” The vote was six to one, with Omar as the only dissent. The Council declined to change the city’s charter to allow for a directly elected mayor. Omar figured that would be the end of the directly elected mayor talk.

But within weeks, a citizen had a petition circulating. There was an Austin-based consulting firm involved and young people paid to go door to door. (Omar says he was aware of the operation, but that he wasn’t involved.) Soon there were enough signatures to get the issue on the November ballot. And when election day came, more than 75 percent of the voters in Richardson wanted to change the city’s charter and get rid of the older system. The people wanted to pick the face of their city themselves.

So Amir Omar is running for mayor. The election is next month, and if he wins, he’ll be the first Iranian-American directly elected mayor anywhere in the country. (There have been a few other Iranian-American mayors, but only in systems like Richardson used to have—never elected by popular vote.) But this time, after butting heads on the direct election issue, Omar will not have the support of the Richardson Coalition. Whether it’s old-school politics, grudge holding, or the fact that Omar is simply too unpredictable (read: uncontrollable), the power establishment is supporting Laura Maczka.

Maczka serves as mayor pro tem, and she was expected to take over as mayor if the city charter hadn’t changed. She points out that if she’s elected, she’ll be only the second woman mayor in the town’s history. And while Omar is a popular new face in town, Maczka has lived in Richardson for more than 30 years. Her parents live here, and she wants her kids to live here when they grow up. She’s on a state commission, appointed by Governor Rick Perry himself.

“I have a history of working well with the other members of the City Council,” she says.

So far Omar has attracted nearly three times as many donors as Maczka has for his campaign (and raised more money). It’s contentious, but only in that polite, clean suburban way. Maczka describes Omar as “an excellent council member,” and he says the same of her.

Of course it would be an inspiring American story if Omar won. It would fit so many celebrated political tropes: he’s the son of immigrants, an Iranian mother and a Palestinian father. She was rich; he was poor. One was Sunni; one was Shi’ite. But they met in college in Arizona, married, and moved to South Texas, where they raised Omar. He went to Texas A&M, where he started his own laundry business, then moved to Dallas to work in telecom.

“This could only happen in America,” he likes to tell people.

In his two terms on the Council (he was reelected by a two-to-one margin in 2011), he’s been active—everything from organizing the city’s first triathlon for kids, to literally becoming the poster boy for the local YMCA (“You know what the ‘C’ stands for, don’t you?” he says with a smile), to being selected by the nonprofit One Man Dallas as the one adult male “who represents the best of DFW community engagement.” But his biggest project, the one he talks about most, is planting trees. He is the force behind Tree the Town, an initiative to plant and care for 50,000 new trees in Richardson over the next 10 years.

Yes, he’s had to deal with racism. There have been “whisper campaigns,” he says. One time someone sent back one of his mailers with Omar’s name crossed out and “NO TO SHARIA LAW!” written in the comment field. He’s hesitant to even discuss it for fear of empowering such a tiny fraction of ignorant people. He doesn’t expect it to be a factor in the election.

The biggest issue in the race is still the fact that it’s even taking place. Maczka was one of the six council members who voted against reviewing the city charter. Now she’s in a tough spot. She says she wasn’t opposed to the change, despite her vote more than a year ago. She just didn’t think it was something the City Council should have taken up at that particular moment.

“In order to do the citizens justice, we were going to have to allow time to do it the right way,” she says now, explaining herself. “We would have had to select the commission, and they would have to go about the business of meeting—and all that would have to be televised. It would have taken more than 90 days of our time, and that’s why I voted no. I was very careful.”


  1. The D-Mag article was surprisingly accurate. The old guard is scared of losing control and as the citizens of Richardson have “forced” their will on the council, they want to make sure their puppet is installed. I am glad they finally called out Charles Eisemann specifically. That needs to occur more often. If that were to happen, maybe we could move forward at a quicker rate.

  2. Very interesting article. Ms. Maczka argues once again "there wasn't time" to accomplish the Charter Change "the right way." So the petition allowing Direct election of Richardson's mayor that passed with 75% of votors in the election was somehow done the"wrong way?" Does that mean that it was wrong because that action wasnt approved by the six of them who voted against it?

    Now the five of the same councilpersons who voted against direct election of the mayor have endorsed for mayor the sixth council person who also voted against electing the mayor - Ms.. Maczka.

    Why is that not a surprise?

  3. BRAVO!! from another "outsider"

  4. Ain't that the way it goes. I recall a couple of elections ago when the Coalitionist party harangued another candidate for a trumped-up charge of spouse abuse. Somebody likes to send envelopes to influential people filled with mud on their opponents.

    When will the good people of Richardson realize they can put an end to the nonsense by running these guys out of town on a rail...and dump the Cotton Belt folly too!

  5. I call BS on this...
    'For many, the debate epitomized the struggle between “new Richardson” (young families interested in urban development and things like parks and the new Alamo Drafthouse) and “old Richardson” (mostly white retirees more interested in bringing new corporations and big office buildings).'

    The current council, the one you guys consider bowing to the "old guard" are the ones who approved Alamo Drafthouse! Attracting young people to Richardson is the vision of the current council and NOT JUST AMIR WHO IS TRYING TO INSINUATE HE IS THE LONE PROGRESSIVE LEADER. BS!

    And why is D Magazine article appears to make this election about making history by electing a Palestian to office, rather than about making a choice based on character of leadership? Reminds me of the Obama 2008 campaign.

  6. Anonymous 12:36,
    I call bs on your bs.

    Alamo draft house was given incentives in an executive session. I of course they will all come out smiling in public. Word on the street is that older councilmen didn't like the idea at first. Also it is true that the old guard wants companies to fill office space while old areas decay.

    Sorry but the d guy got that right. Omar attracts a newer hip crowd. Look at Laura's endorsement list - mostly old white people mostly men.

  7. While I am on the subject, Amir Omar is what we commonly call "an American." Born in.... America.

    Are you going to start calling people "pollacks" next? To insinuate there is something wrong with someone's ancestry is getting mighty close to the R thing.

  8. Ha! Talk about "whisper campaigns". "Word on the street.". That's a credible source you got there.

    "Old white men"... You played the race card, not Anon at 12:36. It is ALL over blogs and interviews: Amir wants the title of first Palestinian-American Mayorin Texas. The title of the article in D is about him being the first Muslin mayor in Richardson. That's not racist, Twisted Thinker. Period.

  9. Ha! Talk about "whisper campaigns". "Word on the street.". That's a credible source you got there.

    "Old white men"... You played the race card, not Anon at 12:36. It is ALL over blogs and interviews: Amir wants the title of first Palestinian-American Mayorin Texas. The title of the article in D is about him being the first Muslin mayor in Richardson. That's not racist, Twisted Thinker. Period.

  10. You mention Amir as a "Palestinian" for only one reason. To stir up the fear in those who have irrational fears and would vote on the basis of those fears. Have you ever bothered to mention that someone's lineage is British, German, or anything else?

    Amir is no more Palestinian than I am Swedish. Maybe he is left handed to? Oh the humanity!

    The author of the article mentioned the generational divide. It's a fair topic. He is right. The coalition represents old white men from an age where all elected people were white men. I might know that because I was there, and white and I'm now old too.

  11. Anon at 7:43.

    I don't follow you. Laura Maczka is not an old white man. She seems to be about the same age as Amir and is very in tune with teenagers and college-aged kids because she lives with them. What generational divide? Amir and Laura are essentially the same generation!

    As far as terminology used that you criticize, I did a google search. In additon to the D Magazine article, here are three articles from a simple google search that speak to Amir's goal or possibility of becoming the first Arab-, Palestinian-, Muslim-American Mayor in Texas. These are not terms anyone made up. They are not used proudly in these articles. And a person's heritage should be a source of pride.

    I guess I'm not from your generation. A person's heritage does not stir up fear. I spent a lot of time at RHS where (I think) 72 languages were spoken. I am used to a variety of ethnicities. Maybe just you old white men are scared, but us young xxx-Americans have no fear.

  12. I would like to add that all the old folks I know, many who are very active in Richardson civics, love the diversity that is found in Richardson. This old versus young divide is false and is only a ruse the advance support for a particular candidate.

  13. Amir and Laura are the same general age. I saw young and old at both of their events. I see their signs in the yards of young and old. I don't buy the old vs. new thing either.

    As for the 'whisper campaign' it seems intellectually dishonest to run off to the press touting your muslim whatever background and then cry foul whenever anyone mentions it. As much as he wants to Amir can't have it both ways.

  14. Anon 10:31

    Yea, people love diversity, as long as it stays south of Belt Line!! What a joke!

  15. I guess you guys didn't read the article. It was discussing the supporters as well as the candidates. Look at Laura's first had lists of old ex council members. I don't there was a name under 50. Laura and amir are about 10 years apart.

    Sorry but the fact that the press reports Amir's ethnicity should not be used against him. If you think people aren't going around using it against him from the Richardson coalition then you have rocks in your head. I had one of their members use the Palestinian line on me.

    Laura is a great person but if you think that the old guard wants her solely because of her great leadership then you are a sucker. They want her to maintain their influence. Amir is a threat to that. The d mag guy got it right.

  16. Many of you are missing the point; either on purpose or by not paying attention. Omar is PROUD of his heritage. He is the one who brings it up. He has told his story often. To blame it on people trying to "smear" him is ludicrous.

  17. Amir Omar October 6, 1971
    Laura Maczka September 19, 1964

    Two different generations, people. Laura was in third grade when Amir was born. She's old enough to be his baby sitter.

  18. A lot of people who have never worked in journalism don't understand how the process works.

    Amir had no control over the direction the story took, the headline or anything else. The story could have gone the other way except for the fact that Laura voted against direct election of the mayor and is the candidate of the Coalition, i.e. old white men.

    Also, it was D-Magazine that approached Amir, not the other way around.

  19. Amir is 7 years younger than Laura. When she was a senior in high school, he was in 5th grade. They are from two different generations.

    When I was in 5th, we were launching John Glen into space to circle the planet for the first time in history.

    The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins premiered.

    ABC paid an unprecedented $32 million for a four-year contract with the NCAA to broadcast football games on Saturday afternoons.

    Bill Cosby, starring in I Spy, becomes the first African American to headline a television show.

    The first US combat troops arrive in Vietnam. By the end of the year, 190,000 American soldiers are in Vietnam. Background: Vietnam War

    Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and more than 2,600 others arrested in Selma, Ala., during demonstrations against voter-registration rules (Feb. 1).

    Malcolm X, black-nationalist leader, shot to death at Harlem rally (Feb. 21).

    Blacks riot for six days in Watts section of Los Angeles: 34 dead, over 1,000 injured, nearly 4,000 arrested (Aug. 11-16).

    In my senior high school year the last round of selective service numbers for the Vietnam war were being called. The gold standard ended and wage and price freezes were imposed.

    The President of the United States visited Moscow and Peking.

    Richard Nixon won reelection in a landslide.

    The year of the Munich Olympics' massacre.

    The year of the last Apollo moon mission.

    1972 was the year of the Watergate case and the year George Wallace was gunned down.

  20. That Amir is born of these two differing ethnic parents in America is an American story. He is right if he tells people that. But he IS American as anyone else. To even suggest otherwise by running out some reference to his parents background is disgusting.

  21. I like the story. It is the closest to Richardson political reality written in a major publication for a very long time. But it's the last couple of paragraphs that really brings to light the superiority mindset of Richardson governance. Even of the newest of members.

    Laura has complicated the task of charter review just like Keffler and staff did when Amir was pushing for televised Council meetings several years ago. When you do not want to do something there is always many time and money blockades to create. 'If they cannot control it, don't do it' appears to be the City motto over and over again.

    If anyone of independent thought spends any time on the inside of this cult of deception called local government, you are clear in the fact that virtually all the work is set by the City Manager, even though the Charter and statute express a very different qualification and responsibility.
    Name one Council member who has done any research, brought one idea to be executed, or questioned some agenda item on it's merit?

    We have one Councilman who rides the fence on everything, yet he strongly has an opinion with his vote by running with the PAC, so to speak.

    One who says virtually nothing week after week.

    One member of the Council has to raise his voice to let you know he thinks no one can do business effectively without government intervention. Think about the rental inspection ordinance. Remember when he said the Eisemann Center always makes a profit? He doesn't read the budget or financials either.

    Another new Council member was vehemently against direct election and said so in a work session. Yet in a DMN article he was quoted as saying voting for the Mayor is as American as apple pie.

    And we could talk all day about the grossly one sided, multi decade contract over the golf course. Every time the Council was forced to hear once again the coveted the gravy train deal for Glanton, Keffler would say he wanted to lay this to rest for the LAST TIME. Interestingly enough it took the State audit to get some of those changes. Too bad the citizens had to pay the fine and the City attorney time to negotiate it.

    Really, what does all that confusion tell you?

    Actually they all were against direct election, including the PAC, but had to surrender to the will of the public for the first time in a very long time. Do you find it as amusing as I, the rest of the council members now have an opinion on Laura to be Mayor? They still follow the PAC agenda and had to say it in public and out loud this time.

    Speaking of that PAC, what happened to all that negative dialogue on their website about direct election? It seems to be missing.

    Remember every topic was brought to the Council. No one except Amir has tried to act with some credence to the responsibilities of the position. Granted his very first promise for a tax freeze did not garner support. Keffler made it perfectly clear at a budget retreat when he said he and Slagel decided against the notion. That was quite a sight to watch that discussion.


  22. For someone, Laura specifically, who jumped into the race to fill Slagel's Council seat, with the promise of Mayor Pro Tem her very first term and the looming promise of Mayor for her second term, it is crazy to think she is ready for the position in it's purest form.

    To even utter the words in the very last paragraph is deceptive. It implies the Council is proactive, productive and subservient to the public. After almost 10 years of begging and pleading for a review, we couldn't have taken bets on the outcome because everyone knew the answer. One citizen taking the initiative held by the people to COMMAND the Council to put direct election on the ballot says it all. It has become more and more apparent, the better conformist you are, the more likely you will be chosen for a slot on a commission or board or even on the council. Does the PAC approve of those people too?

    Laura was given Regional Transportation Council, Audit Committee and the stated state position to give her a crash course in preferred leadership. Even her expense reports of travel to state events is telling. No other Council member was offered these opportunities. What more do you need to know to understand there is no democracy in Richardson, much less the Republic our Country and state was founded upon?

    Who sits as the Audit Committee chair and asks the staff to tell her how to tell people what has transpired because she has no experience in finance with a cultivated ability to read and develop an independent assessment of the numbers? She is told what to say and believe for now.

    I have heard a former Council member and strong PAC supporter that is so in support of Laura for Mayor. I sat behind that man as he and another PAC supporter trashed Pris Hayes week after week after week for being a woman and unfit for public office. Pris can run circles around Laura with her experience and business savvy, so we all need to ask what is their qualified list to be Mayor or Council? We all know the Coalition is backing Laura. That was clear when her first announcements were via the Coalition email database.

    I like Laura but she is not who I want to see as Mayor at this time. And if she continues with the PAC support given to her, she may never be. If she can separate from the PAC and show the backbone she professes, then maybe there is hope for the future. But that would take some real work, feet to the pavement and time away from her family. Ask Amir about that one.


  23. Where's Willy the wonk? Gosh! I miss him.

  24. I do not know why Maczka lets that PAC speak for her. She is better than that. She is smarter than all of them. She doesn't need them.

  25. And to whoever posted all those things that happened in your childhood, what was the point of that? You left no comparisons for reference...

  26. I'm personally voting for Dr. Seuss. His age.....timeless. His characters' never even thought about it.

  27. This article is extremely biased. The author details Amir Omar’s accomplishments, yet says NOTHING about the significant work Laura Maczka has done for families in Richardson and disadvantaged youth across the area. It correctly states that Amir was re-elected with a 2 to 1 margin in 2011, but completely ignores the fact that Laura was re-elected by an even wider margin. Most disappointingly, it makes unfounded insinuations about why so many people support Laura. Her supporters, including every member of the current City Council except Amir, believe in her because of her proven abilities, leadership, and vision for Richardson’s future – NOT because they think they can control her. If she were a man, this particular accusation wouldn’t even be whispered.

    Note to moderator: I submitted a similar comment a few days ago, but it was not posted. In the interest of a balanced discussion of the issues, I hope you will post this one. Thank you.

  28. Anonymous @ 9:01 AM, I do moderate. But as I told Laura yesterday, the type of comment you made is not one of the ones I would withhold. If you do make a comment that you do not see published, feel free to email me and ask why.

  29. Anonymous 9:01,

    So you are a spokesperson for the Richardson City council?

    Are you perhaps the wife of a council member? What exactly has she done on the council besides sit on committees? I haven't seen anyone give me a "vision" for Richardson. So what's hers?

    It is all gee whiz that she has "helped families". How? So far her campaign consists of her telling us how long she has lived here and that the city council likes her.

  30. Why are you surprised the article is about Amir? It was written and styled after the One Man Dallas exposure. Unfortunately politics is no longer about the business of running the city.

    What is the dirty, ugly part of politics? It is the shallow making shots of life experience. Last night was the best example of that. The Coalitionists drink venom for breakfast. Some of the childish and shallow questions from them should have you uneasy on the representation in this city. I call it representation and they call it leadership.

    Laura is a nice person. Her dad is one of those kind old souls you want to know. Her kids are making their way in the world. None of us have a right or a reason to judge either one of them personally on the lives they chose to live. Neither Amir or Laura can be everything to everyone as a city representative.

    What exactly is Laura's vision is for Richardson? She said last night she attends the RTC and other groups and is learning. Great on the job training. If you are a political freshman that is what you do. She has been given all kinds of opportunities to learn. Right now her vision is the vision of others and what she said last night confirms every bit of it.

    What did she say? She is gang busters on revitalization. Agreed that would be great to happen, but how? What that costs is a good question but she has never says what it costs. She says she asks.

    What has Brick Row cost and what is still owed on that project? What will W Spring Valley Cost in additional debt?

    She said business taxes are 52% of the base. That is true. She left out some information. Property taxes are $62M in total. Sales taxes are an additional $25m. Simple math says the meat of taxation is $87mm yet we have a budget of $198mm. Where does this extra money come from?

    And why do we have to sweep money from fund to fund every year? This time sweeps are about $28m?

    Why do we have to add $7-10mm of debt every year? Why has debt increased almost 5 times what it was a 10 years ago? Why are salaries and benefits almost 50% of the entire budget and certainly more that the $87mm core tax revenues to the City coffers? Does Laura ask these questions? Amir has made some attempts.

    One of the greatest strides Amir has made is to return a call or email even when the topic is tough. He virtually always responds and listens.

    What happened during these years of greatness of the City of Richardson they all talk about and why do the books not say the same story? Richardson is not good nor is it bad and it certainly isn't great. Question is does it meet the needs of the people who live here?

    Richardson politics is about lies, disrespect, and half truths. We all know it is everywhere, but why accept it in our own backyard? Of course, revitalization has to be a priority. Maybe. Is it the City's Council's responsibility? They sure have taken on the responsibility to tell people how to live and when to act, but is it their responsibility?

    West Spring Valley is a prime target. The Council has been talking about that since the 1980's. WSV was built and decayed faster than the time they have spent thinking about what to do. It is one of those 'round to it' tasks. They just haven't gotten around to it yet after 30 years.

    Only more debt will fix what the Council has allowed to decay. Not that they were the property owner to begin with.

    Laura and Amir are new to this party. Some of us have lived in Richardson long before either one of them were born and remember when Richardson really was a thriving community.

    If Laura really was open to working on something to meet the challenges, like some of what Amir has, rather than following along until she can develop her own mind, that would be great. But she is being led by the same people who brought crazy, childish and manipulative crap to the discussion of our city's operations.

    Voters should want better than that for the everyone in this city.

  31. What is going on behind the scenes that the Fire and Police would support Amir and not Laura? There is more to that story.

  32. Anon 12:33

    You're right, there's something going on with Police and Fire behind the scenes! It's called supporting a candidate that doesn't have to check in with the "wizard" in order to make a decision. That's a nice "loser mentality" misleading comment, but then again, that's how the "establishment" operates, throw BS on the wall and see if anything sticks!!

    What a joke, to somehow try and bash the Police and Firefighters for making an endorsement, just because it did not match yours. Maybe they're in with the realtors too?!?!