The Dwaine Caraway Show

Starring that new breed of politician who wants to root out your crack houses, close down your whorehouses and pull up your pants

Caraway graduated from Lincoln High School, then attended but did not graduate from Texas Southern University, where he met his wife, Barbara, also a politician. She is a former Dallas City Council member, elected to the Texas House of Representatives from District 110 in 2006.

His mother's 12 brothers and sisters and their offspring have produced more Caraway relatives and presumable voters in District 4 than the city councilman can count or even knows by name.

He has earned his living as a radio personality and as owner of his own small advertising agency. Caraway and I have discussed a list of legal actions filed against him, all having to do with business debts and a 1999 bankruptcy. In the bankruptcy, Caraway defaulted on a $25,000 loan from the Southern Dallas Development Corporation, a nonprofit that receives grant money from the city for helping stimulate the southern sector's economy.

On March 23, Councilman Caraway surveyed some damage done in his district; in this instance, it was an arson committed by a person who has been given the street name "The Carsonist."
Morrey Taylor
On March 23, Councilman Caraway surveyed some damage done in his district; in this instance, it was an arson committed by a person who has been given the street name "The Carsonist."
Caraway, who believes in working his district from the ground up, ceremoniously breaks ground on March 25 for a East Oak Cliff housing project.
Morrey Taylor
Caraway, who believes in working his district from the ground up, ceremoniously breaks ground on March 25 for a East Oak Cliff housing project.

In the 1990s he owned a number of billboards in Southern Dallas and was doing a lucrative trade with tobacco companies. In 1998, after he expanded his billboard business, Caraway's tobacco clients dried up and blew away.

That same year, his father suffered a crippling stroke at a 50th wedding anniversary in New Orleans. Caraway stayed with his father in the hospital in New Orleans and away from his company in Dallas for 33 consecutive days, which wasn't good for business either.

"Circumstances pile on and pile on," he says. "When you're not here, and there's not enough coming in from the beginning, your kneecap gets busted."

The lesson of his life, he says, is that perseverance is everything. "People always quit," he says. "I just don't quit."

That he doesn't. Before his council win last summer, Caraway was in danger of becoming a perennial also-ran. He was elected at age 55, his fourth attempt in a decade. But even a seat on the council has not convinced everyone to take him seriously.

Not so with Mayor Tom Leppert, who is here at the former crack house, as are Dallas police chief David Kunkle and city attorney Tom Perkins. They all make speeches for the cameras, but it's Caraway who sums up, and as always, he offers special plaudits for the mayor.

"Let me just say that, even though it's raining and cold, this is a great day in Dallas, not just in District 4. As the mayor has stated, we had laws on the books, but we didn't follow through with the laws to the fullest.

"It has been the mayor's commitment to make sure that we address all of these things, because these things have been plaguing our community and holding us back."

He winds up with the Dwaine Caraway mantra: "Zero tolerance when it comes to drugs and illicit activity. The motels and drug houses must go."

If there is a single aspect of Caraway's public persona that causes skepticism—from people such as Peter Johnson, fellow council members speaking off the record, bloggers and even black business people—it is the very chummy relationship Caraway maintains with Leppert.

Leppert, after all, is the traditional white champion of the Dallas Citizens Council, the private business group directly descended from the old mid-century oligarchy. After Leppert's election last year, Citizens Council President John Scovell told the group's annual meeting, "We're changing back to the good old days," according to the December 3 issue of the Dallas Business Journal.

So why is the new grassroots champion of District 4 going all over town arm-in-arm with Mr. Good Old Oligarchy Days? Caraway suggests the relationship is somehow conditional.

"Well, he's OK," he says of the mayor. "Right now. He really is. Right now."

Since the March 10 murder-suicide of Rufus and Lynn Flint Shaw, I have written about the mayor's "inner circle." It's a group of southern Dallas power brokers that included Lynn Flint Shaw—a coterie of minority activists who helped Leppert get elected mayor, then worked to help him defeat the Trinity River referendum.

A series of private e-mails provided to the Dallas Observer by an anonymous source revealed that Shaw put strong pressure on Leppert to funnel public works contracting for minorities through her group. She stated a clear tit-for-tat exchange: Her group helped him get elected.

Caraway was even more central to Leppert's southern strategy than Shaw, in both his mayoral race and in the toll road election. But Caraway, significantly, does not show up in any of Shaw's tit-for-tat e-mails about contracts.

I asked him why and he said, "I'm not in this for any of that." But he's in it for something. And Leppert clearly is in it with him.

Caraway is not Leppert's only friend on the council from southern Dallas. If anything, the bond between southern Dallas, Leppert and the Citizens Council is stronger now than ever before. People in the southern half of the city are beginning to believe economic development is possible and may see Leppert as their best chance for help in making it happen.

But not everybody on the council from southern Dallas wants from Leppert what Caraway wants. Under the terms of the current peace prevailing on the city council, southern Dallas council members do not make invidious comparisons of themselves with other council members for the record. A number of council members, asked to comment on Caraway's style, demurred, saying only that their own approaches tend to be more systematic and broad-brush.

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