Don Hill Slides From Mayoral Candidate to Alleged Criminal

How did that happen?

At the time Hill met Farrington, however, he was married. His longtime wife, Vivian, worked quietly on her husband's campaigns while otherwise shunning the spotlight. Her friends describe her as charming and polite, if a little quiet. Many of Hill's longtime friends, though, hardly knew her.

"I lived in that neighborhood for 21 years, and I never really saw her," says Betty Culbreath, the first black head of the City Plan Commission and the Dallas- Fort Worth International Airport Board. "I never saw her at any events with Don either."

To some of his friends, Hill often seemed lonely. His former law boss Barr would sometimes see him lingering in the office waiting area at 9 p.m.

Wait and see: Rufus Shaw would like to believe in Don Hill but questions his choice of friends.
Brian Harkin
Wait and see: Rufus Shaw would like to believe in Don Hill but questions his choice of friends.

"I'd say, 'What are you doing reading a magazine, Hill?'"

"And he'd say, 'I think I'm going to go to a picture show.'"

"Who are you going with?"

"I'm just going to go by myself."

Barr would invite him home for dinner, but Hill would head out to the movies instead.

It's not entirely clear what kind of relationship Hill had with Farrington while he was still married, but the two weren't shy about being seen together in public. After news of the FBI's City Hall investigation broke in July 2005, the Morning News reported how Farrington breezed past security checkpoints at City Hall on her way to visit Hill. When it later came out that Hill was driving a BMW registered to Farrington, tongues started to wag.

"The affair was pretty well-known on this side of the district," says Lynn Flint Shaw, Rufus Shaw's wife and a member of the DART board who often worked with Hill. "People would tell me [that] while Vivian was knocking on doors for him, Sheila was in Don's office with her feet on the table."

In an interview with the Observer, a measured and deliberate Sheila Hill declined to talk about whether she was romantically involved with Don Hill during his marriage, though the indictment clearly suggests they were.

"I would go with your instincts as to how unusual that is to highlight that as a quote unquote irrelevant fact," says her attorney Victor Vital.

When Edna Pemberton discovered that an X-rated book and video store planned to set up shop in her South Oak Cliff neighborhood, she knew exactly who to call. Don Hill wasn't just her council member; he was a deacon at Concord Missionary Baptist Church, where she worshiped.

In the beginning of 2007, on many cold and dreary weekend mornings, Hill and Pemberton walked through the neighborhood rallying opposition to the adult business. State Senator Royce West, who used to play college football against Hill, and council member Ed Oakley joined in to lead the charge. Within months, the business decided to open elsewhere.

For Pemberton, it was just another neighborhood battle Hill helped win.

"Whenever we stepped out to the plate for a fight for the community, I could call him and he'd be on board," she says. "Every time there was an issue, I could call his office."

A gracious, affable lady who likes to tell loving stories of her late husband, Pemberton doesn't pass any judgment on Hill's relationship with Farrington, who now attends Concord Baptist too. She notes that while Hill was going through his divorce, he stepped down from his church leadership roles.

To hear her tell it, Hill is just as valuable at her church as he is for the city. When Concord Baptist took in a group of Katrina evacuees, Hill regularly checked in to make sure they were getting what they needed from federal relief efforts.

So many people portray Hill as a dedicated council member who genuinely cared about his city. Victor Lander, a municipal judge, says that he used to see Hill on his early morning walks pick up garbage scattered in the median. "These are the kinds of things that are typical of Hill to me," the judge says.

Other times, Hill's neighbors would join him on those walks, armed with questions and gripes about City Hall. One of them was Culbreath, who used to argue with Hill about his opposition to the strong-mayor proposal. The two could really go at it, but Hill seemed to enjoy the debate, and when they exhausted their points, the pair hugged and laughed.

Of course, there were some in Oak Cliff who saw Hill as just another slippery pol. Ruth Steward, a former council candidate and member of the city's Housing Finance Board, sharply rebuked Hill at a community meeting when she thought he failed to treat a group of senior citizens with respect. She later irritated Hill again when she had a public falling out with Hill's council ally, James Fantroy, who she said was too close to Brian Potashnik, the affordable housing developer at the heart of the FBI investigations.

Years later, Steward says, Hill continued to hold a grudge against her even as he pretended to show her affection. In fact, just a few days before the indictments were announced, Steward ran into Hill at another neighborhood function.

"He shook everyone's hand, and then he shook mine really hard. He just squeezed my hand really hard, and I kept talking to him trying to figure out what I did," she says. "Then he gives me that squeaky little smile of his."

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