School for Scoundrels

They get elected with stolen votes, and then they start divvying up the goodies

Think about every single thing you've seen the Dallas City Council do in the last year:

• Defy the mayor and give away tens of millions in tax money to two billionaires who didn't need it for a sports-cum-lingerie mall on a toxic waste dump outside of downtown.

• Run City Hall into the financial ditch.

Larry Duncan thinks powerful people wink at vote fraud so they can divide the spoils.
Peter Calvin
Larry Duncan thinks powerful people wink at vote fraud so they can divide the spoils.

• Make plans to fire scads of city employees and then cut the pay of the remaining ones in order to totally demoralize the city work force.

• And the very council members who pushed the giveaway to the billionaires--in part because they were promised contracts for their friends and grants for their own districts--are already floating the idea of fixing everything by socking it to North Dallas homeowners with a major tax hike.

Now think about this. What if some or all of these very bad things did not have to happen? What if you found out that the current make-up of the Dallas City Council is based on vote fraud and that the people who would have taken office in legitimate fair elections would not have voted the way this council has voted?

For more than a year we have heard nothing but vote fraud and vote brokering from the local elections scene--phony paperwork, forged signatures, bales of brokered votes traded on labor union parking lots like crumpled aluminum cans. The district attorney tried and failed to make a case out of it. But now at last we have the smoking gun in the Maxine Thornton-Reese case.

In May 2001, Thornton-Reese "won" the District 4 council seat in Southern Dallas by 16 votes against former council member Larry Duncan. Now a state district judge, backed by the 5th Court of Appeals, has ruled that Thornton-Reese's supposed victory was based on forgery and illegal vote-brokering practices.

I don't know what's wrong with local media on this story, but somehow since the June 10 appeals court ruling rendering her election void, Thornton-Reese has been allowed to get away with painting this as much ado about technicalities. If this is about technicalities, then Bonnie and Clyde were guilty of improperly documenting their bank withdrawals.

This is about forgery. It's about stealing votes. It's about arrogance--paid hacks bundling and massing brokered votes in precisely the way state law forbids. There are several recent council districts where vote fraud may or may not have been an issue. The state's laws on vote fraud are nebulous and poorly drawn, so that definitive findings like the one in the Thornton-Reese case are extremely hard to come by.

A special grand jury working with the public integrity unit of the Dallas County District Attorney's Office spent a lot of time last year looking at the election of Oak Cliff Councilman Ed ("Giveaway") Oakley but failed to come up with indictments.

The bad ballots in the Thornton-Reese case were handled by Charlotte Ragsdale, sister of former council member Diane Ragsdale, and by Virgin Couriers (see "The Case of the Virgin Couriers," May 2). Both Ragsdale and an official for Virgin testified, however, that they were more involved in the 2001 campaign of South Dallas council member Leo Chaney than in Thornton-Reese's race. But no one sued Chaney over his election, so there has been no investigation of fraud there.

Both sides in the Elba Garcia Oak Cliff election accused each other of mishandling votes and voters in her May 2001 election.

In February of this year, Garcia's husband, Domingo Garcia, who had failed to win a place in the mayoral run-off, accused the current mayor, Laura Miller, of trying to pay him money for his endorsement. He made the charge after one of his own supporters blurted on Spanish-language television that she believed he was seeking cash in exchange for his own endorsement. Those countercharges were handed off to an "investigation" by the Tarrant County district attorney, the results of which will be posted on the back of a garbage truck in Fort Worth five years from now by an assistant Tarrant County district attorney in a clown suit.

Gives you a lot of faith in local governance, doesn't it?

But since the one case in which we now have a definitive finding is the Thornton-Reese election, and since Larry Duncan is the person from whom the court says the election was stolen, I thought it was important to go to Duncan and ask him what might have gone differently on the council this year had he been there.

"Certainly Palladium," he said right off the bat, referring to the $43 million sports-cum-lingerie tax-dollar giveaway. "That was a no-brainer, and I was surprised that ultimately it passed."

Duncan served four terms on the city council from 1991 to 1999. He is a four-term former president of the Dallas Homeowners League, a Vietnam vet and an Eagle Scout. In the 1980s, along with lawyer Michael Jung and a handful of other activists, Duncan helped create the "neighborhood movement" that gave much of the current political landscape its form and meaning.

I have been a Larry Duncan fan and a Larry Duncan detractor. I have seen him do things I thought were principled and courageous, and I have seen him do things I thought were vindictive and mean. But I know this about him: Put him on the city council, and he's a force to reckon with. He's an orator, a conniver, a diplomat and a shin-kicker. When he tells me his opposition to the Palladium vote would have turned more than his own one vote against it, I believe him.

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