By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"You ain't going to see [Williams] spend one night here," Dwaine Caraway cracks. He also dismisses Williams' activist credentials. "I can appreciate everyone that's ever taken part in the struggle, but a lot of people are professional users of the struggle," he says. Williams, for his part, insists he's living in District 6 and turns around Caraway's criticisms: "Where was his presence during the struggle for 14-1, affordable housing and the anti-apartheid resolution?" All of which Williams cites as personal accomplishments.
Caraway stepped onto the political scene as an adviser to former Mayor Steve Bartlett, a white former GOP congressman who once voted against the creation of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Bartlett appointed Caraway to the South Dallas/Fair Park Trust Fund. A 1993 profile in The Dallas Morning News dubbed Caraway and two other black Bartlett advisers "the new insiders."
It seemed an unlikely alliance, but Bartlett cottoned to the three because of their belief in black economic independence as a means of solving social ills. Those sentiments ran up against the we're-the-victims-here ideology of an older breed of black leaders, epitomized by Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price. These days, Caraway is anathema to that crowd. "Caraway is more about trying to enhance his own image, his own wealth," says Lee Alcorn, former director of the Dallas NAACP who beat Caraway in a bitterly contested election for president of that organization. Caraway shoots back: "All [Alcorn] cares about is getting his picture in the paper."
Despite such enmity, Caraway's campaign account is flush: As of April 5, he had collected $31,070 in contributions, four times more than Williams, his closest financial rival. Oakley drew only $4,000 but claims his donations increased dramatically after the April 4 filing deadline.
Caraway also advises several council members. Councilman Don Hill, who represents parts of South Oak Cliff and Pleasant Grove, contributed $1,000 to his campaign. In a 1995 Observer article, one anonymous council member said, "As far as we're concerned, [Barbara Mallory Caraway] just keeps the chair warm for the real councilperson, Dwaine Caraway."
He's proud of his entrepreneurial drive, even though his advertising business recently hit the skids. North Dallas billboard bans and a nationwide tobacco settlement that nixed cigarette billboards snuffed out much of Caraway's business. The financial disclosure form he filed last month for his candidacy lists debts of $5,000 or more to at least 14 institutions, including Bank One, American Express and the IRS.
Caraway in late 1999 sought bankruptcy protection but then withdrew his filing. He now says he's worked out payment plans for most of his debt. "I could have done it and said forget everybody," he says. Having sold his billboards, he now hopes to revive his cash flow with kiosk advertising inside restaurants and other public places.
Back in Arlington Park, a neighborhood built by black World War II veterans, Caraway drives past a new recreation center with a gym and playground. Caraway takes credit for getting it built during his park board service. "That's my proudest accomplishment out here," he says.
With its relatively high voter turnout, Arlington Park is a focal point for Caraway, who has campaigned there vigorously: 153 of 702 registered voters, or 22 percent, turned out for the 1999 council election to vote en masse for Terrence Gore, who finished third in the race to Mallory Caraway. The residents were angry at the councilwoman, who in 1998 voted to grant a special use permit for an apartment building there.
Leaving Arlington Park, Caraway crosses into West Dallas, one of the city's most blighted areas. East of Hampton Street, home after home is abandoned or burnt out. Drug dealers sit brazenly in cars, looking for buyers, and hookers troll the sidewalks. But little signs of resilience are also evident. A man works on a tidy lawn while two children play nearby. A few blocks over, a new home is half-built.
Caraway visits Willie Mae Spencer, an elderly woman who spoke at the Multipurpose Center. She ushers the candidate around the area in her Taurus, pointing out neighborhood ills. "When I'm going to church, the devil is so busy," she says with dismay.
"Drug houses, prostitution, they got to go," Caraway agrees. "But the drugs first because they are dangerous. The drugs are what get their heads bad."
Back in her sauna-hot home, Spencer serves up Cokes with ice. Caraway promises to call city agencies and demand a stop sign at a busy intersection nearby. "I just won't be getting Mrs. Spencer a stop sign," he says later. "I'll be saving someone's life."
It's a Monday night at the North Oak Cliff library branch, and the League of Women Voters won't let Williams speak at their candidates' debate. It turns out he mistakenly faxed his application to the wrong office.
League representatives are adamant that he not sit with Caraway, Oakley, Beckles and Lynn until Tim Dickey, a North Dallas activist who lives in the district, stands up to protest. "Your bureaucracy is overriding my democracy," Dickey says indignantly. The women, who run a tight ship for their voter education programs, eventually concede after a show of hands by the audience.
During the debate, Caraway smoothly deflects insinuations that he's a quasi-incumbent. He even has the nerve to argue that his wife's reappointment of him isn't nepotism, which he defines, with the help of some dictionary, as a transfer of governmental largesse to relatives--not appointments to boards.