Should Paul Fielding go to jail?

He's violated the public trust and betrayed his own ethical standards. But is Dallas' perpetually annoying councilman guilty of fraud, perjury, and extortion?

The Skilldex situation is downright smelly. Cooper played games. Feldman executed them. Fielding says he didn't know what Cooper was doing--and while I find that hard to believe, even if it's true, is it just and right that Feldman go free while Fielding goes to prison?

Finally, who is the victim here? Sure, some wealthy investors got in a bad business deal and were, if not defrauded, screwed out of their money by either stealth or stupidity.

But prison time?
"It's not just the Coopers we want to stop here," says a source with the feds. "It's the people who choose to do business with them."

But if one of those people wasn't a sitting city councilman, you can bet that he wouldn't be on trial come April.

On the 145th day of his indictment, Paul Fielding is sitting at his dining room table, sipping a can of Dr Pepper and struggling to overcome his natural inclination not to discuss his private life.

"The worst was having to tell my parents," Fielding says, referring to his indictment. "I went to their house and sat down in the den, and I just told them I was going to get indicted for whatever it was they thought I had done. They were understandably upset and concerned about me. I don't think Mother was very happy about it, but I think she held up well."

And Fielding? How did he hold up during those days? "I think it probably took 60 days to get over feeling bad," he says. "It's a very depressing scenario. If I'd done something, I guess I wouldn't have felt so badly about it."

Listening to him speak, watching a seemingly pained expression cross his face, I found myself trying to feel sorry for him. But Fielding kept getting in my way.

"Did you see the Newsweek magazine that just came out with its list of the 25 most dynamic mayors in the country?" he said a few moments later, chuckling--he was clearly enjoying himself now. "Well, guess who wasn't on it? Never mind that the mayor of Laredo was on there. I sent a copy of the article to every city council member and the mayor--just as an FYI, of course."

That's the Paul Fielding we know--the one who will prompt no one at Dallas City Hall to shed a tear if a jury decides to put him in striped coveralls for a while.

Even his father despairs over his son's personality. "It's titillating for him to be so nasty to someone," 74-year-old Don Fielding told me at his home, just a mile or two away from his son's. "He'd rather say something nasty than nice. If only he'd gotten his mother's sweetness. She is the sweetest, loveliest lady I know. I've always told Paul, 'If only we'd run your mother for public office.'"

If they had, you can be sure the family name would not be soiled.
And that's the shame of it all. Fielding has taken a lot of people with him down this depressing path--a lot of people who would have sworn that Fielding could never do anything even remotely questionable, let alone illegal. I was one of those people: I admired his populist stands, his eloquence, his passion. Most of all I enjoyed his humor--the quick turn of phrase, the perceptive aside. He was an excellent source for me at City Hall.

Now he's just Al Lipscomb--just another drain on the public trust; another political parasite who mixes public responsibility and financial opportunity like they were tequila and triple sec. Down the hatch.

No, it's no longer strange that the conservative, white Republican from North Dallas and the liberal, black Democrat from Oak Cliff are two of the oldest, closest friends on the council.

They even have the clueless part down pat.
"You don't think I've committed a crime, but you think I've done something wrong," Fielding told me this past Monday as we debated his ethics, his voice filled with exasperation. "Well, I don't think I've done anything immoral, improper--or fattening.

"Compared to 99 percent of the people in government today, I'm Caesar's wife," he said. "If the standard you seem to be setting for my behavior is the standard, then no one is ever going to run for public office."

Actually, Paul, it's the standard you once set.

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