DALLAS — African American and Latino voters, turning out in record numbers for the May 7 local elections, were credited with dealing a stunning defeat to a “strong mayor” proposal that would have transferred most municipal power away from the 14 city councilpersons and into the hands of the mayor.

Councilpersons are elected from their individual districts, and the mayor is elected citywide. Before a federal judge forced the city to accept the present 14-1 system, all key officeholders were elected citywide. Under that system, only a token representation of Blacks or Latinos was ever elected to office.

Dallas civil rights activists saw the current “strong mayor” proposal as a move to reestablish the less just system, in which rich, white businessmen predominated.

However, apparently those rich businessmen are more afraid of the present mayor, fiery outsider Laura Miller, than they are of the 14 councilpersons, because the pro-business Citizens Council urged a “no” vote on the proposal. Complicating the picture, the Dallas Morning News, ordinarily a voice for these same pro-business interests, called for a “yes” vote, backing Mayor Miller’s position.

For Dallas progressives, the overriding concern — preserving civil rights — guided their decision to oppose the measure. They greeted its defeat.

The labor movement chose to sit the issue out, but it endorsed several candidates for City Council. Of eight endorsements, labor won six, lost one, and continued to back another in a runoff election slated for June 4. The Morning News, normally a good indicator of ruling-class opinion, endorsed 13. Their candidates won seven, lost one, and made it into four runoffs.