Unfit to Print

A vicious fight between John Wiley Price and a small black-owned newspaper reopens ancient wounds in southern Dallas

Elected officials, as a rule, should not call a detractor, no matter how vicious, a "jailhouse bitch," but the typically profane and intermittently profound John Wiley Price had his reasons. The object of his anger, Darryl Blair, had torn the longtime Dallas County commissioner into a million little pieces in a column for his father's newspaper, Elite News, then housed along parallel rows of rundown buildings that straddle a DART line on South Lancaster Street. The two men both portray themselves as protectors of black Dallas, but on this particular day, they squared off against one another.

Darryl Blair would tell the police that on September 1, 2004, Price shoved him and threatened his life in the Dallas City Council chambers. Price said he only mocked Blair, and later, on his radio show, continued to ridicule his adversary for working as an informant for the Dallas Police Department. Today, the tall, trim 55-year-old county commissioner with thinning cornrows is on the verge of having yet another last laugh. Last November, he prevailed in a libel lawsuit against the Blair family, and with mediation talks faltering, Price could shut down the weekly while kicking a fresh layer of dirt on the cadre of black ministers who support the paper and have never embraced him as their kind of leader.

If only Darryl Blair had listened to his brother. Jordan Blair, an active member at St. Paul AME church who has worked at Elite News for 13 years, saw Darryl's missive against Price before it went to press, and while he's hardly an admirer of the county commissioner, he didn't like his brother's choice of words. "We don't pick fights with people," he says regretfully. But Darryl ran his column anyway, publishing it in the February 13, 2004, edition--perfectly timed, it seemed, to batter Price just weeks before he faced a primary challenge from former Justice of the Peace Charles Rose for the District 3 commissioners court seat. That district includes southern Dallas and chunks of Mesquite and Oak Cliff.

Young-Min Yoon
Jordan Blair worries about the future of Elite News.
Mark Graham
Jordan Blair worries about the future of Elite News.

Although Blair wrote that Rose is the "clear and proven choice for the leadership role"--an evaluation district voters would later resoundingly reject--he mostly focused his attention on John Wiley Price. Like the American Idol contestants who begin their songs loudly, earnestly and without a trace of nuance, Blair started his column by writing that Price had failed to represent the southern sector for all 20 years of his tenure. He called him a "cold body" and a "seriously flawed character." Then in a passage that might ultimately shutter the newspaper his father started more than 50 years ago, Blair characterized Price, who has been married and has a son, as a gay predator and sexual deviant: "That person is none other than the bankrupt, the indicted rapist and manseeker, who approached a man (I have a signed affidavit) who was greatly offended and angered for JWP having made the pass at him in that direct and forward way inquiring about his private parts."

Blair continued with a flurry of jabs, calling Price a "bully shakedown artist," a "rogue and criminal commissioner" and a "womanizing type of person." He accused Price of extorting money from local businesses, mismanaging his own money and leveraging the power of his elected office to avoid convictions on various felony charges. He wondered how Price could declare bankruptcy and still continue to "drive and purchase new exotic automobiles." He then returned to the theme of Price's sex life.

"If John Wiley Price is uncertain about his sexuality, then how can he be focused and purposed [sic] drive for the district?"

The next week, Darryl Blair hounded Price again in Elite News. Harping on issues of "Character, Integrity and Honesty," an odd platform for a columnist with a criminal record, Blair accused Price of using his office to amass a real estate fortune. He criticized him for not avidly coming to the defense of fired black Dallas police Chief Terrell Bolton and supporting the elimination of two historically black seats for constable and justice of the peace, one of which belonged to Rose.

"How can John Wiley Price continue to sell out the community?" he wrote. "It's because he has no integrity, he has no character, and he has not a degree of honesty."

With the primary now less than two weeks away, Blair would not let up. When Price found himself at a political forum hosted by the League of Women Voters, someone asked him a question stemming from the Elite News stories. As irritating as that might have been, the fact that the person asking the question was Darryl Blair only made things worse, much worse.

"I asked him how many times he filed bankruptcy, and did he see that as a precursor to being a good steward of public funds," Blair acknowledges.

Why in the world would a small black newspaper attack the most powerful black man in Dallas of the last 20 years? There's probably a host of petty reasons to explain the unpleasantness between the Blair family and John Wiley Price. But in a way the showdown between the county commissioner and Elite News reflects a wider gulf between Price and the pastors in southern Dallas who advertise in the paper and distribute it in their churches. From profiling ministers in their pages to supporting the candidates the churches endorse, Elite News is the unofficial voice of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (IMA), an old guard of black ministers largely based in the Fair Park area, Oak Cliff and the southern edges of the county. There are exceptions here and there, but that group has never warmed to Price's bare-knuckled, confrontational style of political leadership, in part because that style has highlighted their own impotence.
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