Signs of trouble

Police calls, pepper spray, and a bad debt spice up the Brenda Reyes campaign

Just as the sun was setting, about 20 members of the Mill Creek Homeowners Association gathered two weeks ago in Laura Carr's merlot-colored living room, which was aglow from the subtle flickers of three white candles on the dining room table.

Three Dallas city council hopefuls had come to Swiss Avenue this Monday evening seeking support in the upcoming May 3 election. It was a get-to-know-your-local-candidate sort of deal, with voices kept to a polite conversational level.

But beneath the smiles and pleasantries, tension seethed between some supporters of District 2 candidates John Loza and Brenda Reyes, whose contentious race is beginning to look like a trashy episode of COPS.

In the preceding two weeks, Dallas police had twice been called to settle nasty little tiffs between neighbors over the placement of Reyes' yard signs. There were verbal spats, and one of Reyes' paid campaign lieutenants was cited for misdemeanor assault after allegedly pepper-spraying a Loza supporter.

Reyes, as you may recall, is the carpetbagging, establishment-backed candidate who has yet to produce any proof that she actually moved into District 2 in time legally to run for the council seat. But the nagging question of whether her candidacy is legal has not stopped Dallas business leaders from pouring more than $40,000 into Reyes' campaign, much of which is apparently being used to blanket the district with yard signs and billboards.

Loza is the carpetbagging, benign Dallas lawyer who lost a very tight 1995 election to outgoing District 2 councilman Chris Luna, who is stepping down from his seat and has endorsed Reyes. Loza is not favored by the powers-that-be, and so far has raised a piddling $2,888 for his campaign.

Inside Carr's living room, the Mill Creek neighbors mingled quietly, exchanging gardening tips and sipping from plastic cups of chilled wine, which flowed freely from a cardboard box in the kitchen.

Velvetta Lill, the third candidate present, spoke to the crowd first. Since Lill is unopposed in her District 14 race, her pat speech about fighting crime and building infrastructure did not captivate the crowd.

Lill was in the middle of cracking a joke when Reyes tiptoed through the door, sheepish and late. Waiting to collar her was a Loza supporter, a tall man dressed in a turquoise nurse's uniform. Eric White, who owns a home in the nearby 4800 block of Reiger Avenue, had called police earlier that day after getting into a shouting match with a neighbor over the placement of Reyes' campaign signs.

For weeks, White says, he had been watching a game of musical signs as Reyes supporters hammered signs into a vacant lot at the corner of Reiger and Fitzhugh avenues, and Loza supporters tore them out again.

The vacant lot--across the street from White's house--is private property, and White told Reyes he was getting sick of the whole process. Sometime after 2 p.m. the day of the meeting, White says he saw his neighbor, Sylvia Fernandez, putting another Reyes sign in the lot. White marched across the street to advise her that the lot was private property and that she needed permission to put up the sign. Tempers flared.

"She called me a fag. She said that in some way some harm was going to come to my mother, and that she was going to make sure that my house was broken into and things of mine were stolen," says White, who promptly called the police.

When the police arrived, they warned Fernandez that if there was another disturbance they would come looking for her, according to Fernandez, who adds that the police reaction wasn't fair.

"He called me a bitch," Fernandez says, adding that she went out to stop White from yanking up the Reyes sign. "This guy...comes out and says it's his property and you have no right to put a sign there."

The cops decided not to cite Fernandez, which is just as well considering that, according to court records, she is currently on probation after pleading guilty to a felony count of possession of a controlled substance, namely several rocks of crack cocaine. A two-year jail sentence was stayed on March 27, and Fernandez was instead placed on five years' probation.

As part of the deal, Fernandez also pled no contest to a misdemeanor charge of prostitution, which was filed against her in January after she agreed to have sex for money with an undercover police officer. Fernandez met the officer on the 4800 block of Reiger Avenue, right by the vacant lot in question.

Fernandez says she is an avid Reyes backer, though it's unclear if Fernandez is eligible to vote for Reyes because of the felony conviction.

After hearing out White's complaint, Reyes took her turn addressing the neighborhood group. She expressed her commitment to fighting crime in the neighborhood. Especially troubling for Reyes is the amount of time police officers have to spend pushing paper.

Police officers, she said, "spend 20 percent of their time being clerks." As the president of Innovative Computer Group, Inc., Reyes said, she knows that computer technology can cut down time spent on paperwork and increase the amount of time cops spend on the street.

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