Advocate: Since you were elected, it seems as if you’ve enjoyed a definite honeymoon. You’ve been in politics for awhile: How long do you think this will last?
Kirk: I was kidding with my wife the week the story came out about Paul Fielding and DART, and his rejection of the DART lawsuit. I told my wife I need to quit now. It won’t get any better. I peaked too soon.
It’s been overwhelming. It has exceeded anything that I expected, both in terms of the volume, the quantity of interest, but also the fact it has been overwhelmingly positive. Given the criticalness of the political debate, I probably sound a bit like Forrest Gump saying I’m almost too fortunate. But I am a veteran of the political process, and I know it’s not going to last forever.
So, I’m trying to take it for what it is and enjoy it, but also keep my feet firm enough on the ground to know that after inauguration day, all people are going to want to know is: How I’m going to solve the (Reunion) arena (issue) without being able to vote on it? And when are we going to start dredging White Rock Lake?
All my neighbors want to know is: When are we going to fix the potholes? Do we get our potholes fixed first on Mercedes now? (Editor’s Note: Kirk lives on Mercedes in our neighborhood.)
The responses we have had all over town have been extraordinary. I live in East Dallas, so we do a lot in the community and in the neighborhood, and I’ve been stunned by the number of people who have come up and said: We are excited and are happy, we feel good about you.
But you do get people who come up with very specific questions and concerns about real basic issues – code enforcement, street repairs. Right now, they’re in the minority, but the one thing that all my friends who were former mayors – Martha Whitehead and others – impressed on me (is that) people don’t come up to you in the grocery stores and talk about global theories of marketing and tribalism.
They want to know about the house on McCommas, where we had the drug bust two years ago that still has yellow tape in front of it. When are you going to take that down and cut those weeds? Basic issues.
But that is what makes local government fun – it belongs to the people.
Keeping Everyone Happy
Advocate: I remember watching your election announcement on television, and it was clear that a wide spectrum of people supported you – I think Nancy Brinker, Roger Staubach and John Wiley Price were all standing right behind you. Now that you’re in office, and you have to start making decisions, at some point people aren’t going to like what you’re doing. How are you going to keep everyone happy, especially such a diverse group?
Kirk: That intimidates me less because I have such a strong background in the political process and political governance. As you know, I worked for (former U.S. Senator) Lloyd Bentsen. I’ve worked under (former Texas Governor) Ann Richards as secretary of state and as chairman of the general services commission. I’ve worked for the City for six years, so the governance part really frightens me the least.
As long as you have a good moral compass and a good ethical center and, I think, a good perspective on where you want to go – and I do in terms of what I want for Dallas – then I’m not worried about disappointing friends or being able to say ‘no.’
If you are going to be in politics, you have to learn to say ‘no.’ The trick is how you learn to say ‘yes.’ And say ‘yes’ in a way in which you involve more people in that process.
What I tried to articulate in the campaign, and I appreciate the fact that you picked up on that on election night; I mean, everything we did, we wanted to show that there are a lot more areas that the Nancy Brinkers and John Wiley Prices and Trammell Crows have in common than we have dissimilar.
All of us want a safer city. All of us want a bunch more economically prosperous communities. All of us would like to see Dallas regain the pride and prosperity that we had in the ’80s and ’90s.
I believe if you build on your common denominators, it makes the things that you don’t have in common less important. And what I tried to articulate in the campaign – I think what so many people bought into – was the notion that we have been focused on the least common denominators for too long, and let’s look at those things that we all do care about – good jobs, strong neighborhoods, a growing economy, a safer city are all issues that we all can buy into – it doesn’t matter if you live in East Dallas or South Dallas or West Dallas or Bent Tree or Lake Highlands.
Advocate: Do you think that’s why people supported you, because of what you are saying or because of who you are?
Kirk: I think it is a combination of both. You would have to go and ask your readers that. I’ve been around politics enough that I have an inherent belief that you can’t mold yourself, in the sense of going and hiring consultants and taking polls and saying ‘here are issues’ and coming out and saying ‘here I am.’
People have a pretty apt sense of someone being insincere, and I think one of the reasons I was so favorably responded to by so many voters was that people sensed that I had a real passion and sincerity about what I was saying and about my commitment to the City.
I think I was the right person in the right place with the right message at the right time.
Politicians and Heroes
Advocate: Of all the elected officials you’ve worked with over the years, which one would you characterize as a hero, somebody you would like to be?
Kirk: I like to keep my heroes pretty personal. My heroes are mothers and fathers who struggle with everyday real-time life – how you put food on the table; how you go to work with a job that may not be what you thought it was going to be coming out of school or grad school; how you juggle the demands of a career with the reality of having school-age children who want you to be home to read stories and go to PTA; and manage to be a good father, good husband, good mother, and have time for your community – those are my heroes.
Advocate: But there must be someone in politics who inspired you.
Kirk: Politically the people I have admired are those leaders that had some integrity, that were fairly consistent in their beliefs, but yet intelligent and honest enough to be able to assimilate new information to take them to a conclusion that better serves the public. People who always had a larger interest in doing something good for the public rather than just furthering their own political careers.
I have always tried to take and learn something from everybody I’ve met in politics or law. I think Lloyd Bentsen was a classic example of a statesman and a public servant, as much as anyone I’ve ever worked with. And the combination of Lloyd Bentsen and (former U.S. Senator) John Tower, I think, was probably the most effective combination we’ve seen in Texas and Washington for a long time.
Just in terms of personal dynamics, I’ve never met anybody like Ann Richards in my life. I nicknamed her ‘Gladys’ from traveling around with her, after Gladys Knight and the Pips. When I was Secretary of State, I would get to emcee these capital-for-a-day events that we did all around the state, and they really turned into the Ann Richards show.
They were wildly successful – people really did enjoy them. It was a very good idea to take government out to people who couldn’t come and spend two or three days in Austin.
But we would have these Town Hall meetings, and in theory, we would have all these representatives from various branches of government and other elected officials and people would come and ask anything that they wanted, which was a pretty extraordinary event in our day and time.
But no matter what they asked – you know if they said, “Well, I’m real interested in neighborhood newspapers,” and I would say, “Well, OK, we will put this question to Becky,” but Ann would say something first. Of course, at the end of the night, the program would have been 80 percent Ann Richards and 20 percent the rest.
She would always critique me and say: ‘Ron, now you needed to get more people involved in this.’ And I would say: ‘Ann, we all know you are Gladys, and we are just the Pips, you know we are just the back-up band.’
She had a personal affability that people woud just warm to, like no one else I’ve ever seen in government. Really an incredible phenomenon. It is not something you can emulate, because you’re either born with it or you’re not. She just has a wonderful spirit.
Advocate: I don’t want to draw a parallel between you and her, but you seem to have that same kind of spirit – people like you, you’re entertaining when you’re out talking…
Kirk: Yes, but I don’t have the hair. That ‘shock’em hair’ is recognizable anywhere. No, but she’s very special.
Advocate: What about neighborhood issues? White Rock Lake has been a big neighborhood issue. Any comments on any other particular neighborhood issues?
Kirk: I grew up in Texas. I’m from Austin, originally. At the time I left Austin and law school, the boom cities in Texas were Dallas and Houston. I said so many times in the campaign that some people perverted it to make it sound like I was extraordinarily focused on money, that the reason people, at least from Texas, moved to Dallas was the fact that they thought it was a wonderful place to live and a great place to make a lot of money.
More people focused on a lot of money, but clearly one of Dallas’ strengths is the character of our neighborhoods. At least at that time, in contrast to Houston, people found Dallas to be a big, sophisticated city, but it had a great livable feel, too.
I think it was largely a tribute to the fact we have such strong neighborhoods. One of our challenges now is to preserve the strength and integrity of those neighborhoods, not only by code enforcement and just keeping neighborhoods safe and livable, but how do we preserve the character of those neighborhoods and address the real pressing need to get this economy going again.
One of the things that keeps the neighborhoods stable is having families that can afford to buy a home and maintain and invest in it. One trend that concerns me as much as anything is the fact that in just five years, we have completely flip-flopped the percentage of people who own versus who rent their homes in Dallas.
In 1990, 56 percent of Dallas residents were homeowners, now that number is down to about 44 percent.
We have to reverse that trend. We have to have a common-sense way to plan our growth, which means economic development that preserves our neighborhoods, but doesn’t give the impression that has developed in some quarters of Dallas that (the City) has become hostile to business development.
Without the job growth, you don’t have the economic base that you need to fund the basic City services to maintain the parks and libraries and the other amenities that go into making the neighborhood livable.
Advocate: Do you think that is why people move away from Dallas?
Kirk: I think that is one of a number of reasons. I’m not sure that Dallas has ever come to grips with the fact that we are a typical, inner-city American city. We are a City of a million people surrounded by a suburban population of almost another million and a half to two million.
There has been a natural progression from inner-city America to the suburbs for a number of reasons. From my standpoint, I don’t really care why it happens, I just want to reverse that trend.
I want to make sure that we do everything we can to once again make Dallas one of the more livable cities in the country, both in terms of families who make a decision that this is where they want to buy a home and educate their children, and in terms of businesses who will create the jobs that allow us to make that decision.
Slowing the Rush to the Suburbs
Advocate: How do you get people who have moved out to the suburbs to move back into the City?
Kirk: We’re going to have a different migration pattern. I mean, Dallas is not going to be the economic hub of the metroplex as it used to be, where everyone had to come Downtown, where all the jobs are.
Our job growth is going to be different now. The backbone of our economy is small business now. About 80 percent of the jobs in Dallas are created by companies that employ 100 people or fewer.
What I am proposing to the Council is that we have an economic development strategy that focuses more heavily on business retention and business expansion, working with our small businesses in East Dallas and Oak Cliff and Oak Lawn and West Dallas.
To say, what can we do to help our East Dallas newspaper? Instead of having 20 employees, have 50 or 100. What can we do to help this hardware store that is in one of our neighborhood shopping centers to be more successful and grow?
I think by doing that, that’s going to create the jobs so the people live in neighborhoods that are in reasonable proximity to the places that they work. That is what is going to fuel our growth.
It is in our favor that so many people who live in the metropolitan area now aren’t native to Texas, and many of them are used to an urban, inner-city environment and are desirous of that. We are seeing now a lot of the inward migration into Dallas by people who left Dallas 20 years ago to educate their kids in other school systems, but who want the excitement and the color and the flavor of being back in the inner-city.
We’re seeing the home ownership and home sales go up in East Dallas and the Uptown area. But what I would like to see rather than people coming back – the empty nesters coming back – I would also like to see younger families who are making decisions to educate their children to make that decision to do it, as well. It will be a combination of addressing jobs and education and neighborhoods’ stability and the affordability of homes.
Helping Small Businesses
Advocate: The Advocate is a small business. Any specifics about what the City can do differently than they’ve been doing to help businesses like ours?
Kirk: One thing I’m going to ask the Council to do is to impose an immediate moratorium on adoption of any new ordinances for the balance of this year and do an immediate census of every law we have on the books to see how it impacts small business.
I say that from someone who comes from the profession of a lobbyist, whose job it was, in most cases, to either pass laws or keep laws from passing. I have yet to meet a small business owner who says: ‘Ron, I don’t think we have enough regulations.’
I have asked the City Manager to look at establishing a hotline, because I don’t know. I want you to pick up the phone and at least say: ‘Ron, here’s something that the City does that affects my newspaper business that I don’t understand.’
And if I can’t say: ‘Rick, you have to have sprinklers in your building because it’s part of the fire code, and it relates to protecting the health, safety or welcare of the people of Dallas,” then I want us to take a critical look at that, and say, ‘Rick, if we can’t find a good reason, I don’t know why that is on the books, and let’s take it off the books.’
I want to know and be certain that we, as a City, are not doing anything at all to inhibit the growth of our small entrepreneur businesses, and see if we can’t take some of the restraints off of them and free-up capital they may be spending on compliance with regulations that may or not make sense.
In the real sense, that would free-up capital for you to invest in your business.
But I want to go beyond that. I would also like to see us look very seriously at how we invest our economic development strategies. I talked about Dallas coming to grips with the fact that we really are an inner-city.
I think Dallas, like most large cities over the last 10 years, has reacted in almost a knee-jerk reaction to the fact that EDS and J.C. Penney are now in Plano or Richardson. And most big cities spend an extraordinary amount of effort trying to recruit Fortune 500 companies to replace the ones that have left.
The reality is that you will win that game in about one in 100. If we start with my premise that 82 percent of the jobs in this City are created by businesses that employ 100 people or less.
Why are we focusing 90 percent of our economic development strategies chasing the one percent of the businesses that are least likely to come to the center city?
I want to identify 100 businesses a year that are on the ground and viable and that employ less than 100 people, and say which of these, if given a little bit of assistance from the City, might expand by 25 percent over the next four years.
And if we hit on those, one of those is going to grow by 250 percent. And instead of being a business in East Dallas that may have 75 people, in four years they will be a business that has 250 people. I think that is the way you grow the economy.
But we need the small business community to talk back to us and tell us what we are doing. Because most businesses don’t need a lot from the City, once they get a CEO. Most of the business people I talked to just want to be left alone.
Will The Council Help?
Advocate: You have been talking with various Council representatives following your election. Do they feel the same way you do about this business initiative?
Kirk: I have asked them to seriously consider it. There is some consensus on the Council that we probably ought not enact laws that are going to unnecessarily impair business.
But I don’t know if we have ever taken time to really stop and take a census of everything that we have done. But thus far, they have been most receptive to that, but I want to take it to the next level and do it.
Advocate: In terms of the mayor’s power, you know how the City is set up here – you’re one vote out of 15. That seemed to be one of the things that frustrated Mayor Bartlett, at least that was my perception. It didn’t seem like he would be able to get done what he wanted to do, even though people voted him in because of an agenda…
Kirk: Again, I think the fact that I have come out of the political system, worked at City Hall, worked in Austin, if I know anything, I know how to count votes, and I know how to get votes.
I believe you start from where you are.
I went in the system with my eyes wide open, aware that I have to be able to build a consensus for those items, those issues that are important to me. I am willing to invest the time to do that.
But as I said from the outset, if I am successful in getting the Council to buy into these objectives and allowing them to be a part of a positive solution to that, so they can see themselves as winners in this process, it makes it much easier.
Focusing on small businesses is attractive to all of the Council because all of us have a majority of the businesses in our districts and neighborhoods that are going to fall in that category. So if we can target these 100 companies that I’m talking about in an intelligent way, there should be something in it for everyone.
And if it works, I think it will become the economic development model for every inner-city in the country, because I think it makes too much sense not to give it a try.
A Model for Business Success
Advocate: Is there an inner-city that you’ve seen that is doing soemthing similar to what you’re talking about?
Kirk: Some have made it. I think Atlanta has been very successful, not so much in the small business sense, but they have been successful in terms of capturing and retaining their businesses and competing for them and keeping them from fleeing to the suburbs.
And that is another element of my focus on the small business community – we have spent our time focusing, in many cases correctly so, making sure we retained a Mobil or Texas Utilities.
But my nightmare is the company that I met in East Dallas when I made this speech eight months ago that came up to me afterwards and said: ‘That was a great speech, wish we had heard it a year ago. But we have been in East Dallas for 25 years, we have 25 employees, but we are going to Duncanville.’
And that company never made it to our radar screen, but that is a good business for East Dallas. And within five years, I guarantee that company will have 100 employees.
We have to keep those companies in East Dallas and West Dallas and Oak Cliff, Lake Highlands, Preston Hollow. That is the central part of what I’m trying to do – provide some assistance, but also build and establish the relationships with those companies so that they stay and grow in Dallas.
What I would like to say: Our next Fortune 500 company is already here, they just happen to have 100 or 200 employees. Now is the time to embrace them, get our arms around them, and help them grow.
Is Dallas A Fading City?
Advocate: Do you think the residents of Dallas think that Dallas is a sinking ship or ship with a hole in it, or is that a perception that the media has created?
Kirk: Based on the response to my message – and I think we can agree that a fellow who hasn’t run for office and came out of nowhere and all of sudden got 62 percent of the votes – you’ve got to believe that more people feel that the glass is half full rather than half empty.
I tapped into a sentiment and frustration of most of the residents in Dallas – that we feel like this is a pretty good City. If you talk to most people individually, and say: ‘Tell me about your newspaper business. How are you doing?’ You say pretty good things.
We talk to most people about our kids, our jobs, our schools, and we feel good. But if you listen to the message we send from City Hall, you would get the impression we are the most disharmonic community in the country. And what people want more than anything is to say: Enough of that.
Yes, we have problems, but can we at least get to the point and say: Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work on it.
I think Dallas has an incredible franchise as a city. D/FW Airport becomes more of an asset the more I analyze it. It is the biggest single magnet for this region. We are in the middle of the largest free-trade zone in the world. We are sitting on an economic volcano called NAFTA, and I think we should realize what an extraordinary opportunity that is.
We are in the middle of Mexico City, Montreal, Los Angeles, New York. We have an airport that makes us literally the transportation hub for the largest free-trade zone in the world, and we have cultural diversity that allows us to exploit an economic relationship that is becoming more dollar-driven and less politically-driven.
Our diversity has, all of sudden, become our asset. We just have to learn how to market that and exploit it in a positive way.
In that sense, we are a very strong franchise. We may be a ship dead in the water, but we don’t have any major holes in it, and the only water that is on board is what somebody is throwing in.
Can The City Save Our Schools?
Advocate: You mentioned the schools. It seems like a lot of the migration out of Dallas has been because of the schools. People are paying taxes, but they don’t feel their kids are getting a good education.
Kirk: I am absolutely going to be a champion and use my bully pulpit for people staying and fighting for their schools, just like they stay and fight for their City.
I have been in Texas most of my life and very much a first-generation beneficiary of the Civil Rights Movement. And in spite of all the legitimate reasons for migration tied to jobs and everything else, there is no question that in Dallas and the rest of this country, the entire phenomenon of suburban growth was tied almost directly to the Brown vs. Board of Education decision.
The Supreme Court said to desegregate the schools, and everybody said: Great. We’re moving.
That’s OK. We ought to realize the initial flight to the suburban communities was white-flight out of the inner-city schools. Once we abandoned the schools, I think it was unfair for people to say: These inner-city schools are not as good, so now we are leaving.
Again, we start with where we are.
The education of our young people in Dallas is going to be one of the most critical factors in Dallas’ long-term survival. We are a City that is becoming increasingly ethnic and going to become increasingly Hispanic, and we need to realize and appreciate what that means in terms of our long-term growth.
We must invest in the quality education of the young boys and girls who are in the Dallas public schools and Lancaster, Richardson, Plano and all of the other schools – there are more school districts in Dallas than just DISD.
If we don’t do that, we are going to have to ask ourselves: Who is going to fill these jobs that you are creating? Who are going to be the entrepreneurs of the future? So I would rather see parents make the decision to say and invest the time and energy in PTA at Stonewall Jackson, Lakewood, Carter, Kimball and W.T. White or any of our other schools that they do anywhere else.
If you have the time to go and be actively involved in the Plano PTA, you’ve got the time to be actively involved in the PTA at Lakewood.
Advocate: But surely you must know some people who you’ve lived with in Dallas, who said I’m moving to Plano because of DISD schools.
Kirk: I’m not going to brow beat anyone. This is a difficult decision that my wife and I face as to where we put our children in schools. We are very fortunate to have the choice between three quality public schools in our neighborhood.
We looked at several private schools, but I feel very strongly, given the financial investment that we have made in our home, that children ought to have a public school.
You can’t make that decision for anyone else, but I will continue to urge my friends that they look favorably at investing in Dallas and in educating their children because the elements of making a quality school have never changed.
If you have a dynamic principal, if you have an involved and excited parent/teacher organization behind them, you are going to have a great school.
Again, if people invest the time and the money in the schools, no matter where they live in Dallas, I promise you we can turn those schools around.
Chad Woolery and the Dallas Public School Board I think are doing an incredible job with the assets they have and the universe of children we have to educate within Dallas. (They are doing as well) as any other school system in this country.
I think it is important for those of us in the public sector to make people understand the difference in educating children who live in the City of Dallas than the difference in educating children in some of our suburban communities, which are much more homogenous.
It is a very different task. And if you look where we move the kids who come in DISD along the educational spectrum, compared to what to other schools are doing, I think people would be favorably impressed with what we are doing.
Advocate: Other than the bully pulpit you have, is there anything else the City can do to help DISD?
Kirk: The Mayor, City Manager and School Board and the Superintendent meet monthly. Fortunately Sandy Kress (president of the school board) is also an East Dallas resident, and he and I are close personal friends, having been in the same law firm, and we both live on the same street.
I will make sure that I do whatever I can to have the City provide some real assistance to the schools in terms of keeping our young people in school and off the streets.
In particular, I think it is as critical that we have a community youth activity coordinator for every school as it is that we have a gang prevention coordinator.
Our schools close at three o’clock, and we have an incredible physical resource – we have gyms and swimming pools, which are shut down from 3 to 6 p.m. every day, and yet we have an incredible problem with trying to deal with a growing latchkey population of young kids, particularly in the middle school ages.
Why don’t we use and try to partner our resources at the City’s parks department with the physical facilities of the schools to increase after-care activities, particularly in the middle school area? And that is one area in specific that I would like to see the City and schools work together.
We have some very successful partnerships, but it is on a limited basis. We have some groups, the Red Cross and boys clubs and girls clubs and scouts have adopted certain schools, but we need to work with not only the schools in the City but also with these private, non-profit organizations to try to expand those programs quickly to every school in Dallas.
Our young people need to be involved and engaged, just like when we were in school.
Advocate: Is there anything structurally keeping that from happening?
Kirk: We just have to have the commitment and the energy to make it happen.
Advocate: Isn’t money an issue?
Kirk: Money is always going to be an issue, because you need the personnel to do it. And against the backdrop of a 21 percent decline in our property tax base, it diminishes the City’s ability and the school district’s ability to put people in the places to do that.
That is one reason I’m so passionate about growing our economy, because if we begin to expand our tax base, we can apply the growth, the revenue, from that expanded base toward solving some of these human service needs that we have that are unresolved.
On Being A Minority Mayor
Advocate: You are the first minority mayor in Dallas. What does that mean to other blacks and Hispanics?
Kirk: I am proud of it, pleasantly overwhelmed with the positive response from the black and Hispanic community.
But I have said form day one, and I will say it now: If I’m not successful, it doesn’t mean anything. I’m just the last guy that people will go around saying: That bum, he wasn’t worth a darn.
I am proud of it, and if it helps us move to the next level of cultural understanding and relationships, then it brings value to the process.
But I would like to believe that the reason people selected me to be mayor was my vision, my background, my experience, my passion and my integrity.
And if I can utilize those talents to take us where we want to go, then I will let those of you who write and publish decide how significant my ethnicity was or wasn’t.
Why Do You Live In Our Neighborhood
Advocate: I don’t know how long you’ve been in our neighborhood or why you picked our neighborhood to buy a house, as opposed to anywhere else?
Kirk: I’m from Austin originally, moved here in 1979. I went to school in Sherman at Austin College and just happen to have a bunch of friends from Austin College who lived in East Dallas.
I had a roommate from Nacogdoches whose grandparents built one of the first houses on Lakewood, and they became the summer home for all the kids from Austin College who came through Dallas.
It was one of the first neighborhoods that I became acquainted with in Dallas, and I loved it. And when I moved here in ’79, I rented a house over on Martel in the “M” streets. That was a landlord who had the misfortune to have a bunch of kids from Austin College who never gave notice to leave, and we just kept floating people through.
I really loved the East Dallas area. After my stint in Washington, I lived in Oak Cliff for 10 years and really enjoyed that and loved that. After I got married and had two kids and that house got small, we began looking.
I have always told my wife that I call myself a committed urban dweller. My geographic limits for a new house was it had to be in the bounds of Loop 12.
And the house we are in now was a God-send. It came on the market quickly, and for some reason was much more affordable than it had been.
I love the area, I like the schools, I love the proximity to Downtown, shopping, the neighborhoods.
Advocate: Can you give us a little family background?
Kirk: My wife’s name is Matrice; she has been an investment banker, but has resigned that practice so there would be no conflict with my law work.
We have two daughters, Elizabeth Alexandra, who just turned six and will be in first grade at Stonewall Jackson, and we have a 3-year-old who is at the developmental day-care center down at First United Methodist Church.
Advocate: You have a lot of pictures of your family here in your office, and I suppose as Mayor you will be busy 20 hours a day. How are you going to manage the family aspect of the job?
Kirk: That’s where you learn how to say ‘no.’ And that’s been the hardest lesson thrust on me. We started out talking about the media attention and the community response, and it is very personally rewarding, and even if you wanted to do everything, you can’t say ‘yes.’
One of the ways you keep your family intact is you have to learn to say ‘no.’ I have tried to establish some pretty firm guidelines for weekends. Something has to be extraordinarily important to the City to take away from my time – I need time for myself to recharge my batteries and spend time with my wife and kids.
Advocate: Do you think you will be able to stick with that?
Kirk: You have to. There are a million things that could come up. I will learn. The secretary of state job helped me learn to budget my time and resources a little bit, and this is a different level.
But it is important enough to me that I understand that my first priority in life is to be a good husband and good father.
And if I come out of this in terms of your earlier question, where people think he is the greatest mayor, he is the greatest black mayor, but I have lost my wife and kids, then that would not be much of an accomplishment.
It’s just one of those choices we have to make.
Advocate: Where are some of your favorite neighborhood spots?
Kirk: I shop at Minyard’s (in Lakewood), my wife shops at Tom Thumb. We did a press conference with Comptroller John Sharp the other day debuting the Lone Star Card for the electronic benefits program for human assistance and welcomed everybody to my neighborhood grocery store and all that.
And all the people there said: Do you really shop here? I usually come through there at night when my wife says we need milk. And now that I’ve gone in there, everybody says Hey!
We go to EZ’s. The girls like EZ’s. EZ’s has a program, at least during the school year, they designated certain nights if you come and eat and part of the proceeds go to your school. So we have eaten more hamburgers than we can take.
But we are pretty regular folks. We go to movies, we hangout at North Park. I’m a past president of the Dallas Zoo, so we enjoy the zoo. My wife has been active on the board of the Natural History museum, so we are big fans of Fair Park.
Most weekends, we are just in the backyard with the little girls from our neighborhood playing and swinging.
The Economics of Being Mayor
Advocate: Financially, being mayor is sort of a prohibitive deal at $50 per meeting. Most of us just couldn’t afford to have the job, even if we wanted it. How do you do it?
Kirk: I told my law partners: I’m billing y’all $500 an hour. Seriously, I’m very fortunate in that I have put myself in a position to be a partner in a law firm that cares enough about the City that says: We are willing to make an investment in you, in terms of this mayor’s race and in me serving, because we think it is important to the City.
One of the things that concerns me, unless people are with a large corporation that can say: ‘OK, we are giving you carte blanche to go serve,’ or you are a committed advocate and have nothing else to do and think $50 a week is a great deal – we have locked a lot of people out of public service.
And what concerns me the most is the number of small business people who are prohibited from serving. If you run your own business, it is hard to take a day from your business each week, much less 24 to 40 hours a week.
I think it is a sad commentary on Dallas if you look back over the last five or six Council terms and realize the number of Dallas City Council members, particularly small business people, who have had to file personal bankruptcy, Chapter 7 or Chapter 11. And they shouldn’t have to do that.
I think long-term, in order to bring more moderate voices to the table and to bring the small business person to the table, we are going to have to address the issue of Council compensation.
Not in a huge way, but enough so that if someone was interested in public service that some amount of money might make it more affordable.
Advocate: I think Council pay has been addressed a couple of times, and it didn’t seem to go over well with the voters.
Kirk: I think it’s time to at least put it back on the table. Maybe not now, but maybe in ’97, when we have another charter or bond referendum.
Advocate: We’re about done here. What with all the interviews you’ve had since your election, is it possible that there is a question that you haven’t been asked that you wished you had been?
Kirk: No, no. There’s one that I haven’t been (asked), but it’s not one I wish I was. I think I have been asked basically everything.
Advocate: Any final comment you would like to make?
Kirk: I love this City. I’m humbled by the confidence and faith that the voters have put in me. But I always leave everyone with the same thought: Don’t send me to City Hall alone – we can do a lot more if we work together.
All I ask everybody is to do one thing for Dallas.
I applied for this job – I understand I asked for it. I think if all of us find something that we care about and make a contribution to this City, we will get this City headed in the right direction quickly.