Thursday, August 10, 2006

Questions with Zac Crain

I wanted to interview Zac Crain not because I had necessarily planned to support his candidacy, but just the opposite: I wanted to interview him because I initially thought that there was no way in hell I could support his run for mayor. To be honest, I've seen a lot of bandwagon jumping all over town by musicians and scenesters and others that seem to support Zac Crain for the simple reason that he is a friend, or something of a figure in the local music scene. Being the grumpy person I am, this made me pretty much reject the idea of supporting Crain right off the bat, and it still bothers me that some people seem to be supporting his run as more of a fashion statement than a rational and thoughtful political decision.

However, I should say that this brief interview has shown me that while I'm not sure who I might vote for in 2007, Zac Crain seems like an intelligent and thoughtful person that may have some good ideas that could genuinely address some of the huge issues that this city is facing right now. Just for personal reasons, I wanted to get a better idea of who Zac Crain is, why he's running for mayor, and what he might do in the off chance that he wins. And although I have very serious doubts that his campaign will be able to compete with whatever bozo the Preston Hollow elites decide to throw their support behind, I certainly like the idea of an intelligent outsider shaking things up a bit, especially one that actually cares about the city and has some interesting things to say about its future. And hell, I can even see myself casting a vote for the man, because I have no doubt in my mind that most of the rest of the candidates will be completely unappealing in just about every way, while Zac Crain at least seems to have the interests of average citizens in mind.

It will be interesting to see how far Crain can get on ideas rather than money, because in American politics these days, its hard to tell whether ideas really even matter at all.

(Full disclosure: Lindsay from dconstruction, who we will be working with on the upcoming We Shot J.R. podcast, is Zac Crain's campaign manager.)

Hey Zac. I guess we'll have to talk about music at some point, but lets get some general info out of the way first. To begin, would you mind telling us when the mayoral election is, and who else is confirmed as running right now? Could you tell us specifically why you think each of your known opponents is NOT the right person to be the next mayor of Dallas?

If the election happened tomorrow, my competitors would be Gary Griffith, Darrell Jordan, Phil Ritter, and Roger Herrera. When the actual election happens May 12, 2007, I imagine that number will have grown substantially. But I can only work with what I've got. So to answer your question: Gary Griffith is not the right person to be the next mayor of Dallas because he, like Darrell Jordan, like Phil Ritter, is more concerned with simply steering the ship rather than checking to see if the ship is actually seaworthy. Griffith, Jordan, and Ritter all seem to believe that the only real problem with this city is its current mayor, which probably jibes with the folks at the Dallas Citizens Council, but doesn't really track with, you know, actual citizens. As far as I can tell, they are out of touch with 90 percent of the people they'd be serving. I don't know much about Roger Herrera. From what I've seen, he's a lot like me, apart from the fact that he's gay, Latino, and a lawyer. He's similar to me at least in terms of being a political outsider. But from the little I do know about him, I don't see any real, pragmatic ideas, other than a vague goal of uniting the city. That's not enough.

Could you describe to us why you think that you are the right person for the job? It seems that aside from money, the main problem for your campaign will be convincing people that you have the experience, qualifications and knowledge to do the job of mayor and do it well. Could you describe some of those qualifications for us?

I think political experience is overrated. There are plenty of longtime politicians out there, and I'm not referring to Dallas specifically, that I wouldn't trust with the responsibility of making me a sandwich. I consider the fact that I don't have any political experience a plus; I haven't had the idealism beaten out of me. So what qualifies me for this job? I wasn't spending the better part of the last decade deciding public policy. I had a job that allowed me to observe (no pun intended) how public policy affected people, and write about it all. I've spent most of that time thinking about the kind of issues that I will be dealing with as mayor, and I think that's just about as long as any of my competitors have been doing it. At the very least, I'm not at as much of a disadvantage as some would think. But beyond being thoughtful and coming up with considered solutions to problems, the other part of the deal is having enough guts to make decisions when the time comes. I don't necessarily have anything on my resume that speaks to that, but I think the fact I'm doing this in the first place more or less proves I have that in me.

Money is obviously going to be a huge issue for your campaign, since you don't seem to have some of the big business and dallas establishment support that some of the other candidates do. How do you plan to compete with the big boys financially?

Quite simply: I don't plan to compete with them. I might be naive, but I fail to see how a candidate can justify spending close to $1 million to win this election. That just really strikes me as egregious. If my competitors can't run a campaign on a budget, I don't see how voters can expect them to run this city on a budget either. I think some of the people I am (and will be) running against have been tossing around thousands and millions of dollars for so long, they have forgotten how much a dollar is actually worth. Money has almost become theoretical to them.

Do you find the monetary advantage that people get from having insider access to the local business and money establishment to be inherently undemocratic in some way? Has domination by elites in Dallas politics hindered the success of the city in certain ways? If so, how?

Great questions. Those are definitely ideas I've been thinking about since the campaign finance reports were released. In those reports, you'll see that someone has donated to several different candidates. Why? It means that no matter who is eventually elected for the job, he has a favor coming to him. That is partly what is destroying this city: our city leaders are wasting time and energy fulfilling the favors racked up on the campaign trail while the really important and necessary work is pushed further and further down the agenda. This has been happening for so long that almost nothing of consequence gets done; it's a snake that eats itself. The only people that benefit are the candidates and the tiny fraction of concerned citizens who receive the favors. What does everyone else get? Frustrated.

Moving on to more substantive issues, it seems that crime probably has to be the top issue in this election, since the current overall and violent crime rates in Dallas are some of the highest in the country, which seems completely inexcusable for a town this size. People are pretty fed up with the incompetence of the police force, and I think Dallas residents are really going to start demanding serious action. What is the real source of the crime problems that our city faces? Is simply adding more officers on the streets enough to solve some of these problems? What specifically do you intend to do about crime?

I think Chief David Kunkle is doing a great job. Well, I should say that Chief Kunkle is doing the best job possible given the situation. He has inventive strategies to combat and prevent crime, and he has proven to be a man of integrity who expects and demands the same from the members of his force. But he can't fight crime by himself, and he still doesn't have the resources needed to do the job to the best of his ability. Chief Kunkle needs more men and better equipment. Which means he needs more money. Which means the mayor and the council need to make this a top priority. I mean, why keep fighting to build more bridges and skyscrapers and on and on if we can't protect whats already here? I've been looking at the situation, and the first step, yes, is adding more officers. The easiest way to do this is squeezing as much money out of the current budget as possible. For one thing, I propose doing away with court time overtime, that is, eliminating overtime pay for officers making court appearances. (This, obviously, wouldn't apply to officers on overnight patrol; their appearances are overtime in the truest definition of the term.) Cutting out court time overtime would open up the budget. Those funds could then be used to 1) give all officers a bump in pay and 2) recruit and hire more officers. So there's a start.

One of the issues that you highlight on your website is local education. I'm not sure how much power you are given by the city charter or the Texas Constitution over education in DISD, but could you tell us what you will be able to do to improve schools in Dallas, or how the administration of the distict is conducted? Is this really more of a state than a local issue?

Directly? The mayor has no real power over DISD. Indirectly? The mayor has more power than any previous mayor has cared to explore. The key is never letting it leave the conversation; the mayor has the biggest voice in the city and he/she needs to use it. And I mean this in a public and private sense. The mayor and Superintendent Hinojosa need to be meeting on a regular basis, once every couple of weeks at a minimum. Everyone benefits from an extra set of eyes and ears every so often, and it's clearly been far too long since that was the case at DISD. I think the problem with the school district over the last 10 years or so has been too much micromanaging on the education side and not enough in the administration. That's why you have credit card scandals on one end, and declining graduation rates on the other. It feels like, to me, that DISD has been almost a rogue state during that time. It would help if someone was watching the watchers. I think parents would feel more trusting if they knew someone was looking out for them. And since I'll have a kid in the system before long, I'll be doing that anyway.

What long term potential do you see for public transportation in Dallas? As more and more people begin to live and spend more time downtown on a regular basis, it seems that the DART system will have to improve drastically in order to grow with the city. At the same time, the lack of urban planning and the sprawling and spacious development throughout Dallas might hinder DART's ability to expand its services. What can be done about this?

I hate to drive, and am a big fan of the services DART already provides. So I'm definitely excited to see light rail travel throughout the city become a reality. I absolutely agree with you that poor urban planning has limited DART's ability to grow; it's almost as if no one trusted DART to be able to do what it's doing. We've been sorely lacking some sort of a master plan for some time, something that accounts for future developments and growth. That's why I'm cautiously optimistic about the Forward Dallas plan. It's not perfect, by any means, but it at least addresses the problems that DART is having now, and wouldn't have had if there were a plan in place. Where the developers of Forward Dallas were mistaken, however, and what DART has to avoid, is they didn't take into account the public's wants. DART needs to take people where they want to go. It's sounds silly and stupid, but I don't think enough people keep that in mind.

One of the things that we talk about all the time on WSJR is a lack of a strong music and visual art scene in the city. And whether you agree with this or not, it seems that there isn't any reason why our local government can't assist in improving the arts community here. We know that many state, local, and national government agencies in other countries provide financial assistance to artists and musicians, or at least provide low cost places for those people to practice their crafts and perform or display their work. Is there anything that the city of Dallas can do to improve the artistic community here? Any possibility of publicly funded art spaces in this city? Does the city have money for such things, and are they even a priority in your mind?

You're right: There isn't any reason why local government can't assist in improving the arts community here. There are plenty of reasons why they won't, but no real reason why they can't. There are models to work off of, if the city leaders would pay attention. Jack Matthews was successful with the artist residency program at South Side on Lamar, and he didn't do it because he was such a patron of the arts. He knew that was an easy way to create life and scene where there wasn't any, and it was relatively cheap. Why couldn't the city make something like that a condition of the tax breaks they so regularly cough up to developers? It wouldn't be hard. Make those businesses earn it. But it's not just tax breaks and things like that. Look at Austin. It stakes its reputation on its music scene, past and present. We have at least as much history. Or we did before bulldozers got involved. Why not build something around that? Create a Dallas Music Museum, which could double as something of a community center for artists and musicians. It would help tourism, if you're interested in that sort of thing, and I would bet the money could be raised in the private sector. That's just an example. There are a million ways the city could and should get involved. I mean, why isn't the city more behind what Erykah Badu is doing here?

Ok- music question. I didn't have a lot of experience reading the Observer when you were the editor, so could you tell us, just for fun, what some of your favorite all time rock records are? What are you listening to currently?

Ouch. This may be the toughest question, since this is the one the folks in the comments section will have the most fun skewering me with. Some of my favorite all time rock records? Well, keep in mind this changes all the time. For now, I'll say: Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Blood and Chocolate; The Clash, London Calling; Pixies, Trompe Le Monde; Television, Marquee Moon; Johnny Cash, Live at Folsom Prison; Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea; Guided by Voices, Isolation Drills; Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run; Super Furry Animals, Radiator; Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot; and the first Stone Roses record. Oh, and Spoon, Girls Can Tell. As for what I've been listening to lately: Band of Horses, Rogue Wave, Midlake, My Morning Jacket, Thom Yorke, Bonnie Prince Billy. OK bring it on.



Blogger Silence Productions said...

That was a nice interview. I'd like to see more general Dallas talk on WSJR.

So, I can't see there being a better canidate but I'd like to see, the off chance he does get elected (that is if all the hipsters actually come out to vote) if he can actually follow through with things he'd like to do. So many times we see, even the idealistic politicians become figureheads who actually can't get anything done even when they want to.

Don't ask me for examples.

2:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

politicians who don't get anything done? of all the dirty rotten things to say man....

3:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

okay, you guys asked him about all the "white people" issues, but what about everyone else's concerns:

jobs, the homeless, you know, the minority contingent?

this city DOES extend further south than southside on lamar.

11:40 AM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

crime, public transportation, and the effect of campaign contributions on democratic elections are "white people" issues?

I admit we didn't cover everything, but theres only so much we can ask before the length gets out of hand.

11:51 AM  
Anonymous kirkpatrick said...

I've admittedly never taken much interest in local politics, but I've complained a lot about the city and it's shortcomings. So it's good to see somebody doing something other than complaining.

Aside from that, I'm pretty sure that Band of Horses is the Collective Soul of the 00s.


3:10 PM  
Anonymous elvis said...

How do you think World War III is going to affect Good Records?

3:51 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

they'll start carrying more Dylan probably.

3:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

they'll cuss more in their songs, and cut out the guitar solos.

4:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

minutemen... good RecoRds pRobably wont be caRRying them

5:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

eh..Maybe some people should listen to Ballad Of A Thin Man a little more anyway.

5:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just got off the horn with NEGRODAMUS: zac's gonna lose, bet on it!!!

2:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Zac Crain? Do you retards actually think that guy is worth half a turd?

Anyone remember his little talk at the DOMA? That guy seemed like he feared having the mic.

I guess we should go from an attention whore bitch like Laura Miller to a fearful little Zac Crain. One way or the other huh?

Is there not an actual leader in Dallas?

Don't you think one ex-observer employee for mayor is enough?

I say no more half-assed journalists taking office. Get a real person to run.

It's not like Zac is going to win anyway.

4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah, what he said. let's go get john wiley pr... erm.. uh, no... um, let's go get a beer!

7:13 PM  
Anonymous Zac said...

The anonymous fellow up above is more or less right: I was weak on the mike at DOMA. It's something I've improved, and will continue to do so.

Still, I don't know exactly how that speaks to my leadership capabilities, specifically my lack of them, save on a surface level. I don't really care if you make fun of my public speaking abilities -- my skin's plenty thick. It just seems like you're missing the point. Laura was better on the mike than her opponents; look where that got us. Popularity contests produce crappy leaders.

If you don't think I have good ideas, that's one thing. If that's the case, if you decide not to vote for me, pay attention to the other candidates, find one you like, and vote. 100,000 voters out of 1.5 million people is ridiculous.

OK, that's it. I can, however, agree with the other anonymous poster: Let's go get a beer. It's hot outside.

5:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry Zac but presentation is everything. When running for public office you MUST be able to assert yourself. Have a stance and opinion and be able communicate that with some conviction.

It's easy to write about your opinions and sound confident, but it's a whole 'nother world when you are live and on the spot.

A mayor needs to be a leader.

9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

check out Larry James' comments, "If I Were Elected Mayor. . ., " yesterday and today:

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent, love it!

3:54 AM  
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12:01 PM  
Anonymous Jacob said...


5:09 PM  

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