Real Politics

Feudal grudges and an imprisoned holy man in the Dallas mayoral race

This mayor thing is getting very interesting, but it's also painful to watch at times. The city's first black mayor just concluded a two-term tenure, and all of a sudden it's as if black and white Dallas are on an awkward first date.

Very awkward.

Let me give you an example, an incident pieced together from knowledgeable sources on both sides of the story. A week or so ago, Tom Dunning, the establishment candidate, was whisked south for a meeting with a group of African-American community leaders.

I believe Dunning expected he would be meeting with two or three people. The way it used to be: maybe a couple of preachers and a former council member, something like that.

Instead it's an edgy crowd of more than a dozen people, all with demands in their hands--specific things like set-asides, deals with money attached. In fact, they have a piece of paper they want Dunning to sign in exchange for their support.

The background here is that some of the faces in the crowd are people former Mayor Ron Kirk has always painted to the guys downtown as jerks and con artists.

Dunning gets mad. He thinks he's being hijacked. From his point of view, it's irresponsible to agree to things like this in a smoke-filled room. He's a business guy, not a backroom pol. He suggests they never would have behaved this way with Kirk.

They say, "Exactly."

Dunning leaves. The people in the room all leave--mad. A major failure to communicate.

Why?

Dunning's not a bad guy. He's trying to get elected mayor and keep his integrity intact. In his lack of respect for some of the individuals in that crowd, he was merely reflecting attitudes that everybody in the white power structure downtown learned from Ron Kirk. What better teacher?

Not that Dunning hasn't been around on his own. He's been around forever. In terms of his own personal contacts with the black community, Dunning goes back further than anybody else in this race, further than most white people in the city. He served on the board of the Martin Luther King Center with former council member Al Lipscomb before it was the Martin Luther King Center, when it was the Crossroads Community Center.

But that history can be as much liability as asset, too, depending on what it makes him do. For example, one of the more picaresque sagas in the campaign season so far--something you won't be seeing on television--has been the parade of candidates and/or their emissaries to the Southern Dallas abode of former Councilman Lipscomb, currently under federal house arrest for bribery. The terms of Lipscomb's sentence--I checked this with the feds--do not allow him to leave the house or talk to reporters for political purposes, but he is free to receive visitors, and, like an old Holy Man in Palestine, he does.

I love this.

Dunning tells me that Lipscomb is endorsing him. For Tom Dunning to say that, it had to come from Lipscomb. Dunning doesn't fib about things. But, you see, Lipscomb can't come outdoors and confirm or deny it to the rest of us.

Meanwhile, the Domingo Garcia camp is spreading the word that Lipscomb and his entourage are really behind Garcia. And, of course, Lipscomb can't come out and tell us whether that one's strictly true or not, either.

I think he loves this, too. I think we should put up a sign and re-name his house "Fort Wriggle Room."

In fact, there's a fairly specific story making the rounds about Dunning's dealings with Lipscomb, some of which I have been able to loosely confirm. It goes like this:

The Dunning camp sends word to Fort Wriggle Room that Lipscomb needs to line up his troops for Dunning. Lipscomb agrees, but he sends word back up the line that Dunning needs to call the troops himself. Lipscomb even provides a list of names and phone numbers.

Apparently Dunning doesn't do it. Not himself. Some of the key names are contacted by intermediaries instead. And here is where you get to the sore place.

The use of intermediaries between the black and white communities in Dallas was merely how it was always done. At a certain point in time it even may have been a sign of respect--that you knew enough not to try to cut around anybody.

Those days are gone. For two terms, Ron Kirk was the intermediary. Ron Kirk is gone.

The use of go-betweens now turns out to be a very clumsy mistake. One of the people who definitely should be in Tom Dunning's camp but isn't, for example, is former city Councilman Don Hicks, a lawyer and captain of the largest African-American political action committee in the city, now signed up as campaign treasurer for Domingo Garcia. Hicks is so unhappy about the way he was approached by the Dunning camp that he was one of the few people willing to talk to me about it on the record.

"Tom Dunning obviously thought that the accommodation afforded Mayor Kirk would be transferred to him."

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