Absentee Minded

Hey, Mr. Zillionaire Developer, got a big public project you want to sell? Black Dallas has the votes you need--dirt cheap.

Processed means "voted."

He says he and his people voted the old folks properly, never took possession of a single ballot, gave everybody stamps to mail them in themselves, did it all strictly legally.

That's his view. But how does Dwaine Caraway view the same operation?

During the recent city council runoff, Ed Oakley (top) was painted as that nice, nice man who wouldn't stoop to badgering old folks for their absentee votes. His opponent, Dwaine Caraway (bottom), was that bad, bad man who did. Now it looks as if that picture may have been a tad one-sided.
Mark Graham
During the recent city council runoff, Ed Oakley (top) was painted as that nice, nice man who wouldn't stoop to badgering old folks for their absentee votes. His opponent, Dwaine Caraway (bottom), was that bad, bad man who did. Now it looks as if that picture may have been a tad one-sided.

"They overstepped every bound of the law they could," Caraway tells me in his campaign office. "They over-assisted, and in situations where they could not control the voter, they threw the ballots away."

Terrence Gore tells me the Oakley campaign was aware of his efforts but did not pay him. He says he worked for Gore as a volunteer based on his conviction that Oakley was the best candidate for the community. His mother, Jan Gore, says the campaign paid her $800 to cover expenses in several areas, including paying the team that went out with Terrence to vote people on Memorial Day weekend.

I call Miller and say, "Laura, what about the Terrence Gore deal? When you all were telling me about that bad, bad Dwaine Caraway, you never mentioned Terrence Gore."

She says, "I don't know Terrence Gore from Adam. I might have met him at the victory party. If Terrence Gore went off and tried to get absentee ballots, I don't know anything about this."

But later in the same conversation, she says, "I had some sheets that showed Terrence Gore had picked up 1,000 apps. I was looking at these sheets, and I said, 'Is this Terrence Gore guy working for Dwaine or for Ed?'"

So apparently there were discussions.

In fact, Oakley's campaign manager, David Marquis, tells me on the telephone: "When we talked about Terrence's plan, the tone was that Ed and all of us wanted to be sure that everything he did was on the up and up."

Up and up we go.

So I call Oakley.

"I was furious about it," he tells me. "I didn't even understand the vote-at-home program until we got in the runoff. I refused to be a part of it. I refused to pay these people. They said, 'Give me $5,000, and I'll give you 5,000 votes.'

"They sold the same votes four or five times."

And Sandra Crenshaw only claimed the votes were sold twice.

"That was the whole deal," Oakley tells me. "They said, 'If you don't do this, you're not going to win.' I said, 'Fine, then I won't win.'"

But later in our phone conversation, Oakley tells me: "The effort we did in-house was because we realized that if we didn't do something, we were going to be behind the curve. We came in every night, and I called my precincts, to everybody over 65 who had not voted, and I asked them why they hadn't voted."

But to know who has voted absentee and who has not on a daily basis, you have to be reading those 72-hour lists every day. Yeah, he says he did actually learn some things during this period of his life. From whom?

"Part of these conversations, I was having with Laura. I was told that Terrence went down and picked up a box of applications.

"After I said we're not doing this, I understand he went down and picked up another box. On top of that, I understand someone else picked up two boxes."

4,000 apps!

I ask Oakley: "Were you aware that Terrence Gore was carrying out a concerted absentee vote program on your behalf?"

"In our minds, I didn't. I can't tell you what they did, because I don't know. He was going to print out all those apps and just mail them out to every senior citizen. My God, you don't do that. Because, you send out 2,000 apps, I don't want to use the word, 'control,' but you don't know who you are sending to."

That's right. You need a really tight list, so you only send apps to the oldsters you know will vote for you, not for Caraway. Pretty slick, for a hand-wringing guy who knows nothing about all this nasty business. In fact, Gore has already shown me how he used his computer to hone the list down to voters of the right age, voter history, address and demographic profile to make them possible Oakley supporters.

But the important thing about the Oakley effort is not that some newspaper columnist got snookered. Forget me, forget Oakley, try to forget Miller. This is the big lesson:

Terrence Gore went out into the field, and, for peanuts, he turned the political apparatus of Southern Dallas on its ear. He and his mother helped get a white gay guy elected in a deeply conservative majority black and Hispanic district.

Pretty good trick.


Early in the runoff, Caraway was endorsed on television by a typical photo-op alliance of virtually all of the old preacher/leader walking-around-money types in the black community. Their failure to deliver any kind of decent turnout for Caraway is an illustration of the limited power of the machine. It can't generate a whirlwind. It really only delivers the old folks. And in the Caraway-Oakley race, the Gores effectively neutralized even that power.

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