Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert left a hugely successful private sector career to lead the country’s ninth-largest city through an economic meltdown and the aftermath of a City Hall corruption scandal. And he doesn’t regret a minute of it.
In an interview with the Tribune (click play above), Leppert talks about fighting the city’s sky-high crime rate, how he keeps party politics from creeping into his office, and Dallas’ “Achilles' heel” — education.
Leppert, the former CEO of Turner Construction, says despite the progress Dallas has made on crime, on green building, on revitalizing downtown, the city is falling way, way short on education. "The public schools, to be fair, they have made some improvements. But they've got to get a whole lot better." he says. "[E]ducation is the one piece that really sits out there."
But he says the city has made great strides reassuring voters that the corruption scandal, which has already netted several convictions, is long gone: "I think people have understood that and taken it to heart." At the same time, he says, "there were some holes we had to fill" to prevent future ethical lapses.
Leppert says he's been surprised at the similarities between running a major company and running a city. The biggest difference? He spent the last 30 years trying to keep his name "out of the newspapers and off of the airwaves," he says. "Clearly, the last two and a half years I've failed miserably at that effort."
While it's been widely rumored that Leppert would consider running for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's seat if she departs it for the Governor's Mansion, Leppert won't discuss it — but says he's not done with public service at City Hall. "If I feel that we're making progress and the people feel that way, then I would engage in staying on the public side," he says.
Nor would he choose sides in the upcoming Republican primary, saying: "I think you've got two good candidates, and I'll root for them." (Guess that rules out Debra Medina?)
Though Leppert is considered a Republican, Dallas city government is non-partisan, and Leppert says he's had no trouble keeping the two realms completely separate — and he's endorsed measures at City Hall, like smoking bans and green building practices, that don't exactly scream GOP. "One of the great things that has helped me is, I never expected to be mayor in the first place," Leppert says. "If I don't get reelected, that's life. ... If this doesn't lead to something else, that's fine with me too."