By Jim Schutze
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"It's my understanding there was a sequence to it," he said. "When the 8th vote committed to [the Palladium proposal], then the ninth vote kind of went along. I know that happens at the council, so that's going to change the whole thing. Certainly it would have been a different dynamic."
But Duncan, a white man who consistently confounded the experts throughout the '90s by winning elections in a majority-black district against black opponents, said there were even more fundamental votes and decisions that would have gone differently under his influence. He pointed specifically to the city council redistricting process in which African-American incumbents agreed to give up a black seat in order to make their districts safer for re-election.
"She [Thornton-Reese] wanted to chop up specific neighborhoods to make the seat safer for her personally. These are the people who are saying that stealing votes is a racial issue, and yet they are the ones that are giving away clearly identified African-American issues."
That particular charge--that Thornton-Reese is part of a bourgeois black leadership selling out its own constituency for personal gain--is old and bitter and cuts to the quick. I called Thornton-Reese several times; she did call me back once and I missed her. It's my fault we did not connect.
But I spent a long time talking to her lead lawyer, Donald Hicks, a former council member and one of the proprietors of the city's most influential African-American political action committee. Hicks is smart, wily and fiercely determined. The goal he sees as paramount for the black community in Dallas is the long-overdue development of a prosperous and influential middle class. Toward that end he believes it is entirely legitimate to use politics as the lever for prying loose some of the same financial action that wealthy white people divvy up at the country club.
"I'm shut out of the country club," he said.
It galls Hicks, as it has always galled the city's middle-class black leadership, that Larry Duncan's more grassroots street-level politics earns him a following among certain black voters, whom Hicks and company believe should not be voting for a white man.
"It's something funny that Duncan never seeks the educated people in our district who are involved," Hicks said. "He never deals with the NAACP, the SCLC, the Ministerial Alliance."
But Duncan, like Mike Jung, has history going for him. As leaders of the '80s neighborhood movement, they held out stoutly for the true single-member district council system we have today, while many middle-class black leaders were willing to cut deals with the white leadership downtown. Those deals would have produced a hybrid system designed to preserve the overall dominance of white North Dallas.
Duncan says people in his district do remember things like that, and their resulting lack of faith in middle-class leaders like Thornton-Reese is why those leaders have to cheat to win elections.
"I won four elections in succession in District 4 by ever-increasing margins. When you look at what we now know about May 5, 2001, I didn't just win, I won big.
"There were 3,800 votes cast. Of those, 330 were mail-ins, and of those 330 votes, 219 are forgeries. And even at that, she could only muster a 16-vote victory."
Duncan doesn't see a random pattern here. He sees a plan. He believes that powerful people in Dallas wink at vote fraud because it is part of a mechanism. He drew me a verbal picture of rotating seats on the city council, the airport board, the school board, the DART board and elsewhere, in which a small coterie of players are able to control the distribution of contracts and other tribute.
"I'm showing you how this all relates together, different people in different roles," he said. "You and I go back a lot of years, and you know I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I sure sound like one over the past year. But it's not a theory. It's a fact.
"It is no coincidence that the people who fought against increasing voter rights in Dallas during the '80s and early '90s, who fought against 14-1 and single-member districts, now are the ones who are ripping off the system and hiding behind it."
I think he's on to something. It's how you get to Palladium and a busted budget. And a tax hike.