By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Davis is upset. "Hold on, D," he calls out urgently. But Caraway is already moving toward the house, with Leppert in tow.
"I ain't scared," Caraway says over his shoulder. They're at the door. I turn to find city attorney Perkins standing behind me with a line of cops.
"What...what is," Perkins stammers, "what's going on here?"
"It's a drug house," I tell him.
He and the cops exchange looks. They may not think it's a drug house.
I circle back behind them anyway. "I'm press," I tell them. "I stand behind the police."
The door of the house opens. Leppert and Caraway go in. Some cops go in. I wait. The cops come back out smiling. I guess it's safe for me now.
In a barren but tidy living room lighted only by the blue flare of a huge flat-screen television, J.C. Washington, the sole resident, stares up from an electric wheelchair. He complains a little grumpily about why it took him a while to answer the door. "I was in the bathroom."
Leppert says, "What can we do to help you?"
Washington focuses hard on him with an expression of bewilderment.
"Now we know you sell candy and chips," Caraway tells Washington.
I'm thinking, candy and chips?
"I'm not having a problem with any of that," Caraway says. "But the other neighbors say it's boot-legging."
"No," Washington comes back quickly, "I ain't sold no beer."
Apparently the accusation here is that Washington has been creating a nuisance in the neighborhood by selling snacks and possibly beer to teenagers from his front porch. Leppert admonishes Washington, "You get the activity and then come the drugs, all sorts of things."
I think Washington feels he knows at least as much about the drug trade as this gangly, long-chinned white man in a tight-fitting suit. I stare at Leppert too. In this setting, he looks uncannily like The Riddler, but that may be unfair.
"You got to clean this stuff up outside," Caraway says. "You got a toilet out there. You got an iron gate."
Imagine that. Junk in the front yard of a poor man.
As this surreal scene unfolds, Caraway makes a few references to prior conversations. "Now you and I have talked about this before," he says.
Aha. Now things are becoming less surreal. Caraway already knew he and Leppert were going to find Washington inside, sitting in his electric wheelchair watching TV. Not some crack dealers armed with Uzis.
Leppert gives Washington an idea for getting the neighborhood kids under control and the yard cleaned up at the same time. "Tell the kids, 'We have a job for you, and your job is to clean this stuff out.' You gotta send a signal."
Send a signal. Yeah. Run it up the flagpole.
As the scene breaks up, I take a stab at getting Leppert to talk to me. I want to know if he was in on the joke here. I grab his hand to shake. "I've covered a lot of mayors," I say with my best hey-let's-have-a-doggone-chat smile. "And I don't think I've ever seen one do anything like this."
He snatches his hand free with nary a shake and a quick icy smile. We're just never going to be close. And I'm not sure how much difference it makes. Whether he knew this was a drug house or not, the mayor has shown Councilman Caraway a remarkable amount of devotion here today.
The people who are skeptical about Caraway, including some of his peers on the council, believe that all this leading the mayor around by the nose comes at a price.
Of course, whether the price is too high is for the person paying it to know. The best I can tell, by watching the city council closely, is that there is some kind of price, and it's not cheap.
Three weeks after our mad ride, I witness one of those bone-crunching little moments on the city council that ordinarily never generate a word in print or a split-second on the TV news. But it tells me volumes.
I will try to condense the back story. Black concessionaires at DFW Airport are very unhappy with the way the airport hands out locations for their shops. They claim they have been squeezed together into a semi-abandoned "South Dallas" terminal where there is no foot traffic, while white concessionaires have been granted plum relocations in busier terminals. Their leader is Marvin Robinson, a concessionaire, community leader and business executive, revered in the city generally and in the black community in particular.
At its March 5 briefing session, the council is scheduled to vote on an appointment to the airport board. Most of the minority council members have united behind one candidate who has promised to help with the location issue for the concessionaires.
Leppert and the Citizens Council types want another man appointed. Caraway is the swing vote.
Peter Johnson, the state SCLC coordinator, and the Reverend Ronald Wright, president of the Dallas Chapter of the SCLC, tell me Caraway promised them the day before the vote that he will support the candidate favored by the minority community. Other council members, speaking not for attribution, also tell me Caraway signed up with them for this vote.