By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The candidate points disapprovingly at discarded crack vials littering the stoop of an East Oak Cliff convenience store. Then he reaches into his stylish black suit and gives a stringy-haired drifter five bucks for dinner. Dwaine Caraway, friend of the downtrodden, explains his generosity. "He didn't buy a quart of beer," he says. "He bought a hamburger. It may have helped someone avoid getting knocked in the head."Raised in the neighborhood and disgusted by its persistent ills, Caraway, who is campaigning aggressively to succeed his wife, Barbara Mallory Caraway, as the Dallas City Council member for District 6, pledges to fight such maladies. Which, he says during a long drive in his Cadillac through the serpent-shaped district, which takes in a sizable swath of Oak Cliff and West Dallas--as well as an ill-matched chunk of North Dallas--can mostly be blamed on one thing: No one's kicking butts at home or in the schools anymore.
Driving across a dilapidated Trinity River bridge on his way downtown, Caraway, a youthful-looking 48, reminisces about the halcyon days of schoolhouse whuppins. "They took discipline out, and that's when we lost control," he says. "Kids began threatening teachers."
Caraway, a former vice president of the Dallas Parks and Recreation Board, has made such uplift-through-order platitudes the center of his campaign. As a council member, he vows to press for stepped-up police patrols. "The problem is prostitution and drug houses," the voluble candidate says. "When you address those problems, kids can come out to play and people can sit on their front porch."
He offers little more in the way of specifics. Yet in a field of five candidates--one of whom was arrested twice for violent incidents with women, though never convicted, and another whose attitude toward publicity consists of cheerily breaking off interviews soon after they've started and never calling back--Caraway qualifies as the man to beat. He gains his front-runner status through name recognition, both for his well-publicized though unsuccessful bid for NAACP chief in 1998 and for his marriage to sitting Councilwoman Barbara Mallory Caraway, a former DJ at gospel radio station KHVN-AM 970. (Dwaine is also a former radio DJ.)
Which isn't to say he isn't carrying some serious baggage. Law-and-order talk aside, the Caraway name has become synonymous at City Hall with a loosey-goosey attitude toward ethics. Dwaine Caraway's council run comes after four stints as campaign manager for Barbara Mallory Caraway, whom he wed in 1994. She rewarded him by appointing him to the city parks board in 1993. When she renewed his appointment post-nuptials in 1995, that ethically dubious act became one of the cases in point as the city crafted a ban on nepotism as part of its new ethics code.
Adding fuel to ethical questions are the generous consulting fees Barbara Mallory Caraway paid to her husband during recent campaigns, and allegations of payoffs to the Caraways from the former manager of southern Dallas' Redbird Airport while he was struggling to hang on to his city contract. What's more, Dwaine Caraway filed for personal bankruptcy in late 1999, although he later withdrew his filing, prompting some to ask why he wants a $50-a-week job. Caraway, who jokes he's guilty only of "trying to help others before helping myself," insists his ethical standards are stellar and his financial troubles past. He says he's worked out payment plans with his creditors and is attempting to launch a new business.
By early April, Caraway had raised $31,070 to fight for the small pool of people who actually bother to vote in District 6 elections. In 1999, a mere 3,248 of the 36,059 registered voters cast ballots. Despite complaints from some vocal City Hall critics that she's a do-nothing council member, Barbara Mallory Caraway gained 1,962 of those votes to win a fourth--and final, under term limits--stint on the council. Her runner-up was civil rights activist Roy Williams, with 747 votes.
Dwaine Caraway points to new recreation centers built in black neighborhoods and other amenities as proof he gets the job done. But in what has become Dallas' most closely watched contest in the May 5 municipal election, several factors have put Caraway's coronation in doubt.
The first is the fact that he faces four challengers. Leading the pack is Ed Oakley, Barbara Mallory Caraway's appointee to the City Plan Commission and a general contractor active in Dallas civic life. There's also Roy Williams, the biennial candidate and civil rights activist; Robert Beckles, an attorney whose candidacy is even more of a long shot since allegations surfaced recently that he had violently attacked two women (Beckles admits he was arrested twice but downplays the incidents); and Kawania Lynn, a West Dallas resident with a bounced-check conviction who didn't grant an interview or sit for a photograph with the Dallas Observer.
The last three stand little chance of getting elected. Beckles and Lynn have neither strong neighborhood bases nor political organizations. Williams, who has always garnered at least 500 votes in the many races in which he's run, lacks a critical mass of support. Yet collectively, the trio, all of whom are black, could make a mark by splintering the black vote and throwing the race to Oakley, a white candidate who has strong support in vote-rich North Dallas and among Southwest Oak Cliff's white and mixed neighborhoods.