The Race Race

In the battle for the District 6 council seat, the dark horse has a white face

Oakley is aware of the district's changing demographics. And he knows where his strength lies: in the chunk of North Dallas that unhappily finds itself within the boundaries of District 6. There, and in racially mixed Southwest Oak Cliff, fewer registered voters live, but they do vote. In one North Dallas District 6 precinct, 250 out of 1,732 registered voters, or 14.4 percent, trudged their way to the ballot box in 1999, a much higher percentage than in most West Dallas or East Oak Cliff precincts.

That's why, on a recent Sunday evening, Oakley can be found speaking at a well-attended "coffee" held in a North Dallas neighborhood near Walnut Hill Lane. He was the only candidate invited by white quasi-suburban neighborhoods that have built an energetic grassroots organization to champion his candidacy.

Oakley, who in 1993 ran unsuccessfully for Oak Lawn's District 12 council seat, has since delved into the minutiae of civic life. (He's owned a home in District 6 since 1988 and says he has made that his permanent home.) His press kit lists membership in at least 30 city panels, homeowners groups and task forces. They range from vice chairman of the City Plan Commission, from which he resigned to run for the council, to the Dallas Independent School District Future Facilities Task Force.

Robert Beckles, an attorney, fights on in the race despite recent disclosures that he was arrested twice in connection with two violent attacks on women who ultimately didn't press charges.
Mark Graham
Robert Beckles, an attorney, fights on in the race despite recent disclosures that he was arrested twice in connection with two violent attacks on women who ultimately didn't press charges.

"The reason I'm running," he says, "is because people have asked me to run. They want someone to represent them who's honest and has integrity."

Despite the criticisms of a few black leaders, Oakley insists he's a candidate for everybody. He says his most fulfilling accomplishment during six years on the Plan Commission was helping black neighborhoods get residential zoning. "No one in the past at any time had helped these people," Oakley says.

Still, his election rivals have accused him of harboring a pro-developer, big-business bias. Oakley, a contractor who doubles as property manager for Caven Enterprises, a gay nightclub group that owns several Oak Lawn watering holes, resists that label. He's for planned commercial growth, he says, especially in neglected areas south of the Trinity. "If you're going to have growth, you're going to have to manage it," he says. "You're going to have to give the people who live there and own property some control over their destiny."

Tonight at the Chapel Downs Club, an aging community center with an algae-green outdoor pool, the crowd of about 50 empty nesters and senior citizens is friendly. But they're aggrieved at what they perceive as neglect of their area. One by one, they vent pent-up frustrations at Oakley, who stands on a small stage answering questions.

He responds with a stunning campaign promise. He promises that, if elected, he will work to sever the North Dallas sliver of his district and put it in a consolidated North Dallas district, a move wholeheartedly sought by the audience. He proceeds to answer questions about strip clubs, bingo halls and code enforcement, eventually concluding the Q-and-A by pumping the crowd in rally-like fashion. The meeting adjourns with high enthusiasm. "He will listen to us," says Frank Payne, a physician in the audience.

Afterward, Oakley expands on his plan to sever the vote-rich North Dallas hinterlands from District 6. It's the right thing to do, he says. "I may end up in a district that I can't win in two years. But I don't want to draw the lines so I can win this seat." For now, Oakley says changing demographics have tilted the race in his favor. "I'm going to win this without a runoff," he boasts. "I only need 2,000 votes."

Such pronouncements have made black leaders apoplectic. "The city's black community has long been ridiculed nationwide for its backwardness and lack of political foresight," wrote columnist Rufus Shaw in The Elite News, a small, black weekly newspaper. "Nothing would solidify these notions more than for us to lose two city council seats that were created for black folks to white candidates." (Southern Dallas' District 4, where white former Councilman Larry Duncan has challenged incumbent Maxine Thornton-Reese for his old seat, could chip another seat from the council's black voting bloc.)

Oakley detects a prejudicial subtext to such alarm. "Do you know why they're saying that?" he asks. "Because they have nothing else they can say about Ed Oakley."

After making an appearance at a Hispanic immigrants' rally downtown, Dwaine Caraway points his Cadillac toward Arlington Park, a close-knit black neighborhood just south of Love Field. He passes a small frame house at 1943 Chattanooga Place, which Williams currently lists as his residence.

According to county records, the house belongs to Edwina Rogers, who rents a room to Williams. Yet as late as January in his weekly open-mike speeches to the city council, Williams listed 5881 Preston View Boulevard, No. 141, near the Galleria in North Dallas, as his home. Despite the swift relocation, Williams insists he followed the law. He presented election officials a lease dating back to August.

Citing the difficulty of challenging a candidate's professed address--living and running in different districts is a time-honored tradition in Dallas, however illegal--city officials accepted the Chattanooga Place address.

That makes Caraway furious. Animosity between the two candidates runs deep. Williams briefly served as Barbara Mallory Caraway's plan commissioner before she dumped him for voting to rename Oak Cliff's Illinois Avenue after Malcolm X. (She later voted to rename Oakland Avenue in honor of the slain black separatist.)

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