Radack-al Treatment

What happens when the county's premier good ol' boy tangles with a sensitive '90s-style guy? It ain't pretty.

In 1990, the election of Jerry Eversole as Precinct 4 commissioner changed the Court's balance of power. Radack worked hard in the campaign, fighting as much against Democrat Eleanor Tinsley as he did for Eversole. When the politically inexperienced Eversole joined the Court, Radack wooed him assiduously. Before long, the two seemed inseparable.

"Lindsay started losing control of Radack when Eversole took office in 1991," says one Court watcher. "They are well matched, both conservatives with suburban precincts. They've both been fucking the Hospital District for six years now." With a two-vote bloc in hand, Radack was well prepared to step into a commanding role when Lindsay decided not to run in 1991.

At the same time, Radack picked up another ally with the election of Mayor Bob Lanier -- an election in which Radack played a little-noted but immensely valuable role. According to Murray, Radack loathed Lanier's opponent, incumbent Kathy Whitmire. "He probably doesn't hate many people, but it's fair to say Radack hated Whitmire from years of bitterness as a cop. Being insulted by her. No pay raises. So he worked with a passion to defeat her." By luring west-side Republicans to the camp of longtime Democrat Lanier, he helped Lanier clinch the election.

Radack continued to back a string of political winners, working for Robert Eckels's election two years ago, and this year, supporting Mike Fleming for county attorney. On Election Day, Radack quipped, "I don't know if we're going to win the vote, but I do know we won the damn sign war."

Oddly, the person Radack is most often compared to is his foe's father: Bob Eckels, who built a reputation as the feudal overlord of Precinct 3.ooooo "Radack has become Eckels," says one longtime county player. "The heavy-handedness, the sneakiness, all of it. He keeps things close to the vest. He likes controversy among his staff. He either micromanages or he's totally detached."

"He might be E-Radack, but he's not dumb," muses Commissioner El Franco Lee. "It must be the water on that west end, because the personality type is more like Bob Eckels than it is anything else."

Though some remember the elder Eckels's final days in office as an accused felon under the gun from the district attorney, Lee and other veterans remember him as a commissioner who delivered the bacon for constituents while pounding political opponents. "Bob Eckels's management of operations still is a legacy that Radack is riding on," says Lee. "He was the ultimate gadget man and a strong hands-on manager who knew where he was going. Now Radack seems to have a purpose, but you never know what it is."

Certainly, no one would mistake the younger Eckels for his father. The new judge either lacks infighting skills or has no will to use them, and his staff mirrors that weakness. Eckels doesn't employ an enforcer such as Dave Walden, who filled that role for Lindsay at the county before signing on with Lanier. Nor does Eckels have a bureaucratic navigator comparable to Lindsay's Ron Dear: Commissioners' staff members complain that the flow of paperwork has stagnated since Eckels took office.

Instead, Eckels's aides, including chief of staff Dinah Massie and assistant Shea Guinn, are holdovers from his legislative staff in Austin -- hardly the insiders he needs to combat a rival as entrenched and determined as Radack.

Commissioner Lee describes Eckels as a Court newcomer who doesn't quite appreciate the way county business gets done. "I think he has some presumptions of things that were going on here, and he's at an age where everything that is old is bad," says Lee, now the second most senior member of the body. "And everything that's new and has computers attached to it is good."

Eckels is not shy about claiming the mantle of a new order. "I'm here to try to change some things in the way the county operates, and to a large degree have done more than I ever thought I dreamed I would do in the first two years in office."

Eckels attributes his difficulties to refusing to play the game the way his father did, and the way the current commissioners still operate. Traditionally, most of the wheeling and dealing between commissioners has been done in executive sessions and through personal contacts, arenas outside the public purview. When conflicts erupt during Court sessions, it's a sure sign that the power brokers have tried and failed to settle the matter between themselves.

"It's just a very different style than these guys are used to down here," says Eckels of the idea that he can make the public an extra vote on the Court. He distinguishes his willingness to air issues in the media from the old-style personal attacks between county officials. Determined not to turn into his father, Eckels says he wants to stick to issues, rather than enter name-calling matches with his colleagues.

He pauses. "That may lead to a different kind of tension, and they may not know how to react to that. [But] I feel better when I go home. I sleep well at night."

The things that irk Steve Radack about Robert Eckels are both large and small, and include Eckels's young daughter. Born midway through his first year as county judge, Kirby has become a regular fixture in the county judge's office -- much to the dismay of some colleagues.

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