Introducing: Ron Kirk; First Black Mayor of Dallas
Massaquoi, Hans J., Ebony
When on May 6, 1995, 40-year-old Democrat Ron Kirk, an affable attorney and son of a postal clerk, was swept to victory by an uncharacteristically large turnout of Black voters and the active support of the local White business establishment, he became the first Black mayor in the 139-year history of Dallas (pop. 1 million-plus), a city that has seen its share of racial woes. Surprisingly, Kirk drew more White support than his two major White opponents and was able to beat a field of six rivals without a runoff with about 62 percent of the vote. His closest rival had to make do with a humiliating 22 percent.
Without conceding that the racial climate in Dallas at the time of President Kennedy's assassination may have contributed to that tragedy, Kirk, who was in the fifth grade at the time, points out that Dallas - in fact America - has learned the lesson of what can happen when intolerance and extremists are allowed to go unchecked. True to that belief, he had campaigned on a platform of promoting racial harmony and economic prosperity, reminding his supporters during his victory speech that "it doesn't matter whether your ancestors came over on the Mayflower or a slave ship. We're all in the same boat now."
The thing that apparently makes most Dallasites comfortable with the idea of being in a boat whose tiller is in the hands of a Black man is the confidence-inspiring, non-confrontational style of Kirk, who describes himself as "a people person and an optimist by nature," but one who doesn't mind rolling up his sleeves and doing the hard work necessary to make things happen. "I'm a doer and I am a problem solver," he says.
No one can accuse Kirk of having run for mayor because of the money. Since Dallas' day-to-day operations are handled by a city manager, the mayor serves primarily as head of the City Council and in that capacity gets paid only $50 per council meeting. Kirk explains that he wouldn't be able to afford the mayor's job without his continuing as a partner with Gardere & Wynne, one of the city's most prestigious law firms. "Were it not for the generosity of my law partners," he explains, "I wouldn't be able to undertake this mission."
Among the first problems he hopes to solve is finding a way to peacefully blend a very diverse community of people. "We are a city that is predominantly African-American [30 percent] and Hispanic [21 percent] and that is going to become increasingly Hispanic," he explains. "And the greatest challenge is to get people of different cultural and national backgrounds to work together peacefully and build a community that is economically viable and a wonderful place for families to live."
One of his major goals is to make City Hall more "customer friendly" and more responsive to the needs of business people during his four-year term. He hopes to accomplish this by consulting local firms that excel in customer service. He also has called for a six-month moratorium on any new city laws and regulations that impact business. …