Advocates of changing Dallas’ form of government use the city’s dismal crime rate to insist that a strong mayor could curb the problem. Almost 40 percent of Dallas residents rank public safety as their No. 1 concern, says a Dallas Morning News poll. Opponents of the strong-mayor referendum say there’s no connection between the council-manager system and Dallas’ crime woes. They fear that the police department could languish under a strong mayor for whom public safety is not a top priority, the Morning News reports.
Backers of the May 7 ballot measure say it’s no coincidence that in 2004, Dallas, Phoenix, and San Antonio had the highest crime rates of all U.S. cities with populations over 1 million. Of those nine cities, they are the only three with council-manager governments. “When you look at cities that have tackled high-crime problems successfully – New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles – they always have a strong mayor behind them,” said Adrian Kwiatkowski, president of the Strong Mayor-Council Research Institute in San Diego. “Big cities need someone who has the legal authority at the end of the day to say, ‘Regardless of if you like the policy or not, we’re going to go after crime this way.’ ” But New Orleans and Gary, In., which both have strong mayors, consistently have the highest murder rates. San Diego, a city that until last year operated under a city manager, ranks as one of the nation’s safest big cities. San Jose, a council-manager city with a population nearing 1 million, has been recognized year after year for its low crime rate. “I don’t think there is a general sense that one form of government is better on crime,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University. “And I would say that if in fact we do move to a strong mayor, we’ll still have the highest crime rate in the country for many years after.”