Demolition Man

How lone crusader Joe Burkleo keeps the city's wrecking ball swinging

Landlord Christina Swann, involved in a bitter and protracted fight with the city over her apartment complex on Haskell in East Dallas, says Burkleo is lazy. "He drives by and sees the overhang on my apartment," she states, "so he says it's not level. But it is supposed to be doing that to drain the water out. Anybody with a sound mind would know right away that the building is architecturally done that way. It also shows you that he did not get out of the car. He just went by to have something negative to say. If he was real serious about it, he would have got out, walked around, and found some other things."

Burkleo even testified in Swann's criminal trial for burglary, claiming she'd broken into the apartment of one of her tenants. (She is appealing the burglary conviction.)

Swann, who calls Burkleo the city's "informer," says she was shocked to see him in the courtroom, since her criminal case had nothing to do with code enforcement, and he does not live in her neighborhood.

"He goes on the stand to say, 'She has the worst reputation in the neighborhood,'" Swann recalls bitterly. "Am I a hooker? Am I a shoplifter? What was he talking about? That guy is trash to me."

Poor Joe. So misunderstood, so hated. Still, every day, Burkleo continues his fight against urban blight. He gets on that bus, travels all over Dallas, and looks for the code violations that betray some culprit who doesn't share his philosophy about substandard housing.

And when he finds them, the city finds them. It is this process that, in large measure, drives code enforcement and urban rehabilitation in the city of Dallas.

"I just want people to know," he says, convinced of the need for his quest, "that Joe Burkleo has fought all his life for the underdog.

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