Bud Kennedy

Rawlings warns against divisive ‘Make Dallas Great Again’ campaigns, ‘Trumpism’

When Mike Rawlings first saw this countryside 45 years ago, he was a New York college guy visiting his journalism professor father in Fort Worth.

Now, near the end of eight years as Dallas’ mayor, he has a warning for both cities as elections draw near.

“Dallas and Fort Worth rely on each other — Dallas’ future lies in what we can do as partners,” he said in a recent interview at City Hall.

“ ... But right now, there are folks here in Dallas that hate this.”

Nine candidates are running for his job in the May 4 Dallas election.

Some want to chop off the hyphen and shed the rest of Dallas-Fort Worth.

They want Dallas to promote only Dallas. (Never mind that Dallas-Fort Worth is a region of 7.4 million, trailing only New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.)

For example, current councilman Scott Griggs told the Dallas Business Journal: “We need an economic development policy that puts the city of Dallas first — not the region.”

CEO Albert Black Jr. bluntly said international trade missions with Fort Worth and Plano mayors didn’t go well — “We were more successful when we focused on Dallas.”

Rawlings said some politicans are “blaming the other person or the other organization for hindering growth.”

He called it Trumpism.

“If that takes hold and we get a ‘Make Dallas Great Again’ or ‘Make Fort Worth Great Again’ mentality, it will slow things up.”

Rawlings called it an “insecure chip on people’s shoulders, this idea that we’re getting the short end of the stick.”

He said he’s always promoted a better-together message: “United we grow, divided we stagnate.”

“Most people are here for the benefits of the whole Metroplex,” he said.

(By the way, that regional name for Dallas-Fort Worth was coined in 1971 by a Dallas ad agency. It was favored over “North Texas,” then a smaller state college.)

In an interview that will air at 9 a.m. Sunday on WFAA/Channel 8’s “Inside Texas Politics,” top Dallas political consultant Carol Reed said the “Dallas first” message is cyclical.

“You go through mayor’s campaigns,” Reed said, thinking back to Ron Kirk, mayor from 1995 to 2002.

“We passed the [American Airlines Center] arena, we did the Trinity [river plan], then Laura Miller came in and it was pretty much ‘take care of the basics,’ “ Reed said.

Like Kirk, Rawlings has been “very popular and has gotten himself involved in huge issues,” Reed said, “ ... and you see now it’s time they want to get back to basics again.”

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Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price (center) and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings (right) with Anerican Airlines CEO Doug Parker. Brandon Wade Special to the Star-Telegram

As Rawlings nears the forced end of his term — Dallas has term limits, but Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price is running for re-election — he looked back on world travels promoting DFW Airport, also No. 4 nationally.

He’s a former advertising executive. So I asked him specifically whether “Dallas” or “DFW” is the region’s most effective name and marketing brand.

“ ‘Dallas’ is better in people’s minds, because it has a clearer connotation,” he said.

(A check of Google Trends shows that he might be right. “Dallas” is searched about eight times more often than “Fort Worth” and 12 times more often than “DFW.”)

“As Betsy and I travel around the world, ‘DFW’ surprises and it really is fascinating when they learn what DFW is,” he said.

“It’s not like ‘Chicagoland.’ It’s not even like the ‘Houston area.’ It’s Dallas and Fort Worth, and this whole area with it.” (Like “Silicon Valley.”)

Rawlings said his first memory of DFW is going to the rodeo, Joe T. Garcia’s restaurant and the White Elephant Saloon. His father, Elden, was chairman of the TCU journalism department.

“I wasn’t born and raised in Dallas, so I never understood the antipathy between the two cities,” he said.

He sees Fort Worth today as a “high-quality place to live” — so much so that some top Dallas officials live in Cowtown, he said.

He gives credit to civic leaders.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings speaks at the “The 50th: Honoring the Memory of President John F. Kennedy” event in Dallas on the 50th anniversary of the president’s assassination, Friday, November 22, 2013. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison) Star-Telegram

“The leadership that Fort Worth has had in the arts, the Kimbell and the Carter [museums] — and what they did with the Modern is remarkable,” he sad.

“Everything Fort Worth does comes off as authentic. Betsy’s city pins look better than my city pins. That’s stupid stuff, but Fort Worth clearly knows what it’s doing.”

His advice for the future is direct:

“Fort Worth is competing with the big cities now for business, and at that level you have to do more to succeed,” he said.

“You can’t be so monolithic. Diversity is a big part of a growth strategy. And with diversity come some different opinions, and some real growing pains at times.”

Business studies often compare Fort Worth to cities like Charlotte, Nashville or Indianapolis. But Rawlings compared it to San Diego — a city that also has a military-defense history, a famous zoo and a much larger regional neighbor.

“For cities like a San Diego or a Fort Worth, they’re part of a larger region,” he said. “It’s the whole region that’s the real draw.”

Rawlings called it “like 1 + 1 = 3 — you put two cities together and build something much bigger.”

The question is whether Dallas’ next mayor will count on help from Fort Worth.

Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 16 Texas Legislature sessions. First on the scene of a 1988 DFW Airport crash, he interviewed passengers running from the burning plane. He made his first appearance in the paper before he was born: He was sold for $600 in the adoption classifieds.