By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The Caraway question, then, is about serious business versus show business. How much of what he does is truly aimed at change or has a chance in hell of achieving it? And how much is just the Dwaine Caraway Show?
Michael Davis, his 34-year-old city plan commission appointee and political Man Friday, ticks off a list of achievements to show that Caraway's focus, even if small, is all business, not Hollywood.
Davis says 15 crack houses have been shut down and boarded up by the city in or near District 4 since Caraway took office last June.
Using the city's cumbersome zoning process, Caraway and Davis forced the permanent closing of three "hot-sheet" drug and whorehouse motels, two of them outside District 4 but close enough to impinge. Motel owners had hired lawyers and mounted vigorous defenses, but Caraway and Davis, acting on their own, persevered and ultimately prevailed.
Tri-City Hospital on Scyene Road, which closed down suddenly five years ago, leaving behind unpaid employees and jilted patients, is slated for a $20 million renovation and ultimate re-opening next year. Caraway's predecessor, Maxine Thornton-Reese, was assailed by opponent Larry Duncan in her 1999 city council election race for the high fees she collected as a director of the old Tri-City before it failed. Davis says Caraway has been instrumental in putting together a deal to revive the hospital.
After a college student was killed by cross-fire on November 21, 2007 at the Big T Bazaar shopping mall in Oak Cliff, Caraway helped broker a deal in which the mall owners donated $50,000 to the police department for an aerial surveillance tower, part of a new overall safety plan for the mall.
Caraway initiated monthly meetings to address the needs of the residents of Turner Courts, a Dallas Housing Authority complex adjacent to Rochester Park. Davis says Caraway pressured Dallas Area Rapid Transit to restore after-dark bus service to Turner Courts, persuaded the city to replace broken street lights and also sought code compliance crackdowns against liquor stores in the area.
With funding and volunteer staff from Allyn & Company, a political advertising agency, Caraway hosted eight "teen summits" to provide teenagers with information about drugs, pregnancy and careers. He has championed the use of so-called "gunshot detection systems," now under study by the police department, to monitor random outdoor gunfire. And Caraway has pressed relentlessly for clean-up campaigns in which cross-departmental teams of city employees comb areas and write tickets for a variety of property maintenance and safety violations.
In addition to several office visits and countless phone calls, I spent an entire day with Councilman Caraway last February—the one that started off with Dooney and the buttocks issue. I think it was a fairly typical day, which in itself is amazing.
We're in his car, a large black Mercedes. Driving with two fingers, Caraway plucks through coat and pants pockets for two cell phones and a BlackBerry, all of which are ringing. His sidekick Davis, formerly in the real estate and Web design business, is in the backseat, taking calls for Caraway on his own cell phone.
District 4 is shaped in a crescent, midway between the city's southern border and downtown. Splayed across the poverty-stricken southern sector, the district contains a few middle-class areas such as Singing Hills and the neighborhoods surrounding the Cedar Crest Municipal Golf Course.
Caraway pulls the Benz to the curb on Ewing Street in Oak Cliff at a sad, slump-shouldered little bungalow with ragged patches of plywood boarded over its eyes and mouth. Three television crews have set up their equipment out front amid a small army of police and city employees, one of whom is handing out handsome green binders containing a media kit. A press release inside explains that this event is an official city action to shut down a crack house that has afflicted its neighbors.
Davis says this kind of action—not unheard of but rare in District 4 before Caraway's election—is what Caraway is all about. "Dallas has never seen a deputy mayor pro tem like this," he says.
It's true. I know that Dr. Maxine Thornton-Reese, who preceded Caraway in the District 4 chair, was famously uninterested in humdrum constituency work but very attentive to the back-corridor power politics of City Hall. Davis says Caraway's approach is a process of jump-starting hope and activism in the neighborhoods by showing people results on the ground.
"When you don't have the leadership, then things get stagnant, and people turn off and figure this is the way it is," Davis adds. The kinds of results he and Caraway pursue, though small when taken one by one, are elements in a sort of chemistry. "Then you have excitement, because people think, 'Now we have leadership that we voted for that has our best interests at heart.'"
Caraway has lived in District 4 most of his life. It's hard to assign mainstream class distinctions to 20th-century black Dallas, because of the skewing effect of racism, but the family in which Caraway grew up was at least middle-class. His father was the longtime manager of the locker room at an all-white country club.