By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Although May says he's been communicating with Mike Coker as his work in the effort continues, Coker stresses that he did not hire May to do the news conference or to collect petitions. Instead, Coker says, project developer Jeff Brand and his wife are out petitioning, as well as "a couple of Spanish-speaking people" he hired to help with the job.
Coker also denies that he paid Fuller any money to drum up support for the cause, though he does admit that he has joined forces with the duo on at least two occasions.
"I had been requested by Jake and Mr. May to show up at the press conference...and to go with them to the editorial board of The Dallas Morning News to answer questions about the zoning case, which I can do," Coker says. "But I can't answer questions about where Mr. May's group is going or what Mr. Fuller is doing."
Coker says he can't explain why his, May's, and Fuller's statements about their working relationship seem to conflict.
"You need to take that up with Mr. Fuller," Coker says.
Fuller, of course, declined to discuss the issue for the record.
There is a possible explanation for why Fuller, a man usually quick to give a reporter a quote, is staying in the background on this assignment. Fuller could spend up to 18 months in jail if he is found guilty on a misdemeanor charge that he assaulted his wife, Alicia Jimenez Fuller, according to Dallas County Court records.
In July 1997, Richardson police officers answered a disturbance at Fuller's home, during which Fuller allegedly pinned his wife to her bed, choked her, and said he would "kill her if she left" and "find her if she ran away," according to a police officer's sworn affidavit.
At the time of the disturbance, Alicia Fuller told police she was in bed recovering from a surgery that repaired a ruptured ovary. "The ruptured ovary was a result of another assault performed by [Fuller] that went unreported," the affidavit states.
The case is the third time Fuller has faced misdemeanor charges for allegedly assaulting his wife. In the prior cases, prosecutors dropped the charges after Alicia Fuller declined to testify. The third case is set to go to trial in February.
Although it was Fuller and May who in October breathed allegations of bigotry and cultural elitism into the Albertson's plans to build in East Dallas, May now says playing race politics was never his intention.
"Somehow this thing has gotten into racism. I never mentioned racism. I think the strongest word I might have used was colonialism in trying to describe opponents, and even then that might have not been an appropriate choice of words," May says. "At any rate, I said it, so it's too late."
Bob Rissing says his company isn't paying Joe May, Jake Fuller, or anyone else to advance its project by injecting race into the debate. Albertson's wouldn't do that, but then again, Rissing isn't doing much to put an end to it, either.
"I'm not gonna say I'm against what he's [May] doing," Rissing says. "He's marshaling support for our project, and for that I'm thankful."
Former Dallas police officer Ron Cowart has spent the better part of the last 18 years assisting refugees from Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia by helping them settle into the apartments that now stand in Albertson's way. At the beginning, those apartments were an ideal destination for thousands of refugees precisely because they were cheap and neglected.
"Where in Dallas do you think you could put up to 12 and 13, maybe 15 people in an apartment without risking a code violation? That would be inner-city East Dallas," Cowart says. "What you had was literally thousands of these refugees placed in a quarter of a square mile in East Dallas."
Today, the neighborhood still operates as a landing pad for immigrants, many of whom now arrive from Mexico and Central America. "Dallas represents itself as an international city, a world-class city," Cowart says, "but nowhere is that image reflected better than inner-city East Dallas."
Cowart takes offense at the suggestion that those opposing the store's zoning request are bigoted or elitist. He believes that Albertson's officials selected the East Dallas location because they didn't believe the predominantly non-English-speaking tenants would object and, perhaps more important, they gambled that the area's more affluent neighborhood organizations would love to have a new grocery store replace apartment buildings that have long been an eyesore.
"The reason they chose this particular community is because they sense that the people are defenseless. They're going to demolish those apartments and relocate people because they don't believe anybody is going to give a damn about it," Cowart says.
By the time he heard of the proposed store, Cowart says the neighborhood organizations had "already squared off" with Albertson's and hadn't bothered to consult the Asian and Hispanic tenants who are most affected by the project.
Janis Adams, the president of the Swiss Avenue Historic District, agrees. The October news conference, she says, struck a nerve that hit a lot closer to home than many folks would like to admit.