By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
From bouquets to brickbats: I know I am not alone in growing weary of P.B. Miller and his endless slamming of productions he reviews, as evidenced in the current scathing review of The Fantasticks--a heartwarming, touching show laced with wonderful songs and unforgettable characters ["Cheap and functional," December 28, 1995]. Its never-ending run throughout the world is proof of its merit and its universal appeal.
As a former drama critic who wrote his first newspaper review over 50 years ago, I am often appalled at the presumptuous self-indulgence of most would-be reviewers today who obviously prefer to display their literary skill and get cute with snide remarks rather than give a fair, objective review of the show.
Denise McVea's article, "Swann's Song" [December 28, 1995] was about as accurate as one could expect from a story as complicated and downright nutty as this story is and continues to be. However, since McVea reports that Ms. Swann has threatened to sue me, clarification of a few points is important.
First, McVea implies that I based my opinion of Swann on the complaint of one former tenant. The Dallas Tenants' Association has been in existence since 1978, and in that time, complaints by tenants about Ms. Swann's business practices have been filed regularly with our office. We have received over 20 complaints from tenants since 1990. Before I became involved representing any of Swann's former tenants, I reviewed all the complaints retained by this office regarding Swann. These complaints, some of them lodged by tenants at addresses other than 917 N. Haskell, reveal a pattern of conduct not in conformity with the Texas Property Code.
In addition to reviewing our files, I communicated with more than 10 former tenants, five of whom signed leases with Swann after the condemnation and demolition order. I also spoke with three of our longtime telephone counselors, who recognized Swann's name and could recite the address. Furthermore, I also sought out other East Dallas landlords, neighborhood association representatives, and generally credible individuals with personal knowledge or dealings with Ms. Swann. After the Channel 8 story on Swann, I received numerous unsolicited calls from people supportive of any action aimed at making Swann live by the same rules other landlords live by or driving her out of the business.
Swann's former neighbor, J.T. Martin, was quoted in the article as saying, "She seems to have her own kind of logical basis." No one I have talked to regarding Swann would disagree with that statement.
Secondly, the notion of a persecuted Swann is laughable to many who rented from her or have experienced her contempt for the law. In the fall of 1994, Swann joined the Dallas Tenants' Association, ironically using the predatory last name, "Falcon." Swann is neither a defenseless victim nor a champion of legal reform. She has proven herself a worthy opponent for the city legal department and has made habitual, effective use of the very system she claims is corrupt. What it comes down to is Swann doesn't believe in the legal system until it favors her.
Lastly, those of us who would like to see a radical, top-to-bottom reform of the legal system are disappointed that the Citizens for Legal Reform (CLR) has become a bully pulpit where every whiner with a grudge against the legal system can rail against injustice as perceived through their "own kind of logical basis." I wonder if any of Swann's former tenants went to those CLR meetings in search of justice. With their stories of utility shutoffs, illegal liens, security deposit disputes, repair problems, threats, and harassment, I am sure CLR would have embraced those tenants as they apparently have Swann.
I read with great interest, but not much surprise, your article "Swann's Song." Ms. Swann's troubles with the city may have started in 1988, but her despicable behavior toward tenants started long before that. I was a tenant in one of her buildings for six (hellish) months in 1978 and encountered the same patterns that were chronicled by Channel 8. She refused to make the most basic repairs, compromising tenant safety at every turn. We also had at least one case of her burglarizing tenants' apartments and stealing their possessions.
Believe me, this woman is not a champion of individual rights. She is a greedy, vicious slumlord who has a habit of threatening people who get in her way. If there is any justice in the world, or at least in Dallas County, she will never again be allowed to lease property to unsuspecting victims.
Laura Miller's article "Bad planning" [December 21, 1995] takes an undeserved hit at Dallas Plan Commission chair Hector Garcia. He's not a "lightweight." He served as vice chair of the Human Services Commission. As one of the HSC members, I can vouch for the fact that he was always well-informed and articulate. His occupation, which Miller demeans, made it possible for him to give countless volunteer hours attending City Hall meetings during the day, which many commission members cannot do. What he does for a living is irrelevant.
Miller is generally a fine investigative reporter, but this shot was wide of the mark. Hector Garcia is a great volunteer activist.
I would like to comment on James Mardis' review of White Man's Burden ["Heavy load," December 14, 1995]. Understanding full well that different people have different ideas of enjoyment, I am still at a great loss to comprehend wherefrom comes the reviewer. Obviously, he cannot get past the race issue in the movie; obviously, he refuses to see the class warfare going on in this country every day; obviously, he cannot see over the wall surrounding his affluent community; and obviously, he has bought into some strange notion that people of different races are somehow above treating those below them on the economic scale with contempt.
The reviewer says, "If you buy into the movie's message of 'power corrupts, regardless of race,' then you admit and honor your racism and classism." It is one thing to come out and say the movie stunk, but it is totally absurd to comment about the state of affairs of an entire nation. Mr. Mardis' personal beliefs have clouded the review to the point of complete obfuscation. Perhaps he ought to be writing for the op-ed page.