The Envelope, Please

And the Tom Dunning staff member who has been subpoenaed to the grand jury is...

People at the meeting told me the moment they asked Dunning challenging questions, he got mad. Dunning himself admitted as much to me, but I also discussed the meeting at some length with Stovall and community activist Lee Alcorn.

Alcorn has a reputation as somewhat of a firebrand, although he's a pretty gentlemanly firebrand. He did picket Laura Miller's house with Dallas County Commissioner John Price, but Alcorn was the one who asked the other picketers to take the dirty words off their signs. Stovall is a strong but very polite man who rarely raises his voice.

I was trying to get some kind of a gauge of Dunning's behavior at the meeting. I asked if we were talking about something like the old days in Dallas when you had white-templed, well-heeled golfer guys on the city council who turned red in the face and went into near convulsions with their eyes popping out whenever Elsie Faye Heggins, one of the city's first black council members, asked a direct question.

Dunning says it isn't so; it is.
Peter Calvin
Dunning says it isn't so; it is.

"Was it that extreme?" I asked.

Lee Alcorn said, "Yes, he was very much that extreme. I've had a lot of experience looking at people and trying to get a read on them. Dunning was very uncomfortable. He was like offended that we would question anything about him, and who are we, little nobodies as far as he was concerned."

Look, I'm not saying any of this makes Tom Dunning the great Satan. He's just a man of a certain age and time. This should be a no-brainer for the average white person over 25 years of age in this city: If you wanted to appoint someone to go forth and bring peace and harmony to the varied races of the earth, would you pick your dad?

Enough said.

The real story of the January 19 election--an amazing story--is that Laura Miller devastated Tom Dunning in precisely the middle-class and more affluent neighborhoods that should have been his stronghold. The sheer margin of her victory is the untold news story of the campaign.

It's hard to ignore the absolute foolishness of The Dallas Morning News editorial page with its daily Dunning endorsements. ("This just in: Additional good things about Tom Dunning come to Rena Pederson in dream.") But the News has played the election pretty straight on its news pages, with one caveat: It has not done the obvious analysis story. Within 48 hours of the final results in the January 19 election, the headline stripped across the front page should have been: "MILLER ROUTS DUNNING IN HIS OWN BACK YARD."

The final tallies were thunderous. In city council districts 10, 11, 12 and 13--the districts of Alan Walne, Lois Finkelman, Sandy Greyson and Mitchell Rasansky, amounting to the entire northern tier of the city--Miller beat Dunning by margins of 12 to 14 percentage points.

But look what she did in District 9 in northeast Dallas and Lake Highlands, which belongs to Miller's most staunch detractor and the Dunning campaign's most out-front cheerleader on the council, Mayor Pro Tem Mary Poss: In Poss' own district, Miller beat Dunning by 2-to-1. 2-to-1. That's the kind of result you normally only see in a Teamsters election.

I'll get some disagreement on this, I know, but I also think that if you look closely at the margins of the Miller win in middle-class and affluent African-American neighborhoods, she did very well.

What did that leave Tom Dunning with? It left him with a solid bloc of poor African-American precincts in the southern tier of the city, long ignored by City Hall but trained to vote on command, where the vote can be had for money. In that area this man who can barely get through a face-to-face meeting with black people without losing his temper rolled up an impressive victory. Of the 670-odd voting precincts in this city, 21 have populations that are 90 percent or higher African-American. Dunning took every one of them by an average tally of 69 percent.

Could your dad do that?

Does your dad have several hundred thousand dollars to spend?

The African-American and Latino communities in Dallas have lots of savvy, smart, wired-up leaders who despise the system I'm talking about. In recent weeks there has been some exciting movement among that cadre away from Dunning and toward Miller.

But the money still flows, and the Southern Dallas machine is still a critical element in how the February 16 runoff election will be decided. This is the same sad story of the big guys and the bought vote that brought us the arena deal and the Trinity River project. It's why Dunning's people and Garcia's people have to talk to the criminal grand jury. The whole thing is a terribly sad and corrosive legacy of the bad old days of plantation politics, in which no one is cheated more bitterly than the poor people whose votes are peddled like a commodity.

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