Taking It to the Street

Want to get elected to city council in southern Dallas? Forget the race card and patch that pothole.

Further from the pack is Marvin Crenshaw, a perennial, apparently running to shave some votes off Strickland, but it's not clear for whom. Finally, there are three marginal candidates, including one who never shows up for anything and another whose stump speech is that he comes from Gary, Indiana. He says that's a good thing.

Of the eight, the wild card is Brantley-Wango.

Jeannette Brantley-Wango lives in a gracious restored home on South Boulevard in the heart of old South Dallas. She was born here 52 years ago, step-daughter of the Rev. P.T. Shaw, pastor of Ideal Missionary Baptist Church and one of the old preacher-powerbrokers of legend. She went through Catholic school in Dallas and graduated from Madison High in 1962, then attended the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

A stint on Canadian television launched her on a successful international career as a jazz singer. She came back to Dallas in 1982, when her Swedish husband's employer sent him here to check out the real estate market. Since returning, she has entertained in the area and was involved in a short-lived attempt to revive the Green Parrot, a Dallas jazz nightspot.

Her decision to run for Mayes' seat was inspired by an editorial in The Dallas Morning News calling for greater citizen involvement. But she has taken a line on local issues somewhat at odds with the News' support of the so-called "big ticket" public endeavors--specifically the project to rebuild the Trinity River, the sports arena, and the wooing of the 2012 Olympics. It's a line that might seem to pit her against many in the black community, whose votes have been counted on to push most of those items over the top at the polls. More than any of the other seven candidates, Brantley-Wango has been saying straight-out that the big-ticket deals may be the reason why the little-ticket things--the curbs, the gutters, the sidewalks--never get done.

It did not take long for her to find out how very unpopular that kind of talk is with the money boys downtown.

One recent afternoon, Brantley-Wango was on her way to City Hall to take part in a joint press conference with several community leaders who were raising questions about the river project. She was pulling out of the driveway on South Boulevard, in fact, when her phone rang back at the house. Her husband, Hans, took the call. On the other end was Bill Ceverha, former weatherman and Republican activist and a frequent spokesman for the Stemmons family interests pushing the river deal.

Hans Wango says Ceverha was excited. "He said to me, 'Jeannette's not going to that press conference, is she?' I said, 'Yes, I think that's where she's going.' He said, 'Well, that's a very big mistake. She's going to cut herself off from a lot of funding if she does that.' He asked me if she had a cell phone in her car so I could stop her. I said she didn't."

Brantley-Wango, who has known Ceverha and his wife for years, was angered when her husband told her about the call.

"Can you imagine that?" she asks, still fuming a week later. "I wasn't even saying it was a bad deal. I was just asking for more information so we could know what kind of a deal it is."

Ceverha, who has been around a lot more politics than Brantley-Wango, readily admits he told her husband she wasn't going to get any help from him if she took part in an anti-river event, even one raising questions about the river deal. And he wonders how she failed to understand that.

"That's true," he says of Hans Wango's recollection of the call. "I said that. Jeannette and I had visited. We're old friends. I've been trying to help her raise some money. But I've been working on the river thing for six or seven years. This is a major issue for me. I'm amazed she didn't know that."

Brantley-Wango says she did know Ceverha was pushing the river deal. She points out that when she spoke at City Hall, she said only that the people pushing for the deal needed to come clean with the public on all of the project's costs.

In her eyes, it's simple. Money is finite. The city can only sell so many bonds at one time. In order to know where her district stands, she has to know what the big-ticket items are really going to cost.

There are ways to focus on District 7 in southern Dallas and see it as worse off, in terms of what the city does for it, than other parts of town. For example, according to the most recent data published by the city showing how districts compare, District 7 and its neighbor to the west, District 6, share bottom place for the percentage of code-enforcement cases that get resolved by the city. These usually are cases in which a property has deteriorated badly and the neighbors are complaining. Getting it resolved means either getting it fixed or having it demolished.

But many poor people live in the southern and western ends of the district. It has twice the citywide ratio of people with incomes under $12,500, twice the ratio of houses worth less than $25,000, and significantly more elderly people and people without high school diplomas. It makes sense that more properties might deteriorate here and that the surrounding community might be less aggressive about dealing with it.

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