By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Duncan was first elected to the Dallas City Council in 1991, after the federal courts imposed the first all single-member-district council system on the city. His district had been engineered to be a safe black seat. Duncan, who is white, won that election and continued to win re-election until 1999 when he was forced out by term limits.
In 2003, Duncan was elected to the board of trustees of Dallas County Schools, an agency that operates 1,700 buses for local school districts in the county, placing it in the top five student transportation agencies in the nation.
When Duncan hit the board, he found an agency that was comfortable in its obscurity and rife with good-old-boy conflicts of interest. After spearheading a reform, he was elected board president two years later, a position he still occupies.
"I am, in effect, coordinating services with 14 independently elected governments," he told me. "You don't read about it in the paper because it's not blood, sex or scandal. You don't hear shouting and screaming and pounding. We're just getting stuff done."
It's a skill set that Dallas County badly needs in its new highest elected official. "The county is in a similar strategic position vis a vis the cities and other governments," Duncan said. "I have shown the leadership to get along with independently elected folks and get stuff done."
In Duncan's second city council race in 1993, he ran against Realtor Fred Blair, a strong candidate with high name identification in southern Dallas. But Duncan was supported by Commissioner Price, who took a personal political risk by supporting a white candidate against a prominent black competitor.
Back then, Price was still a young, idealistic leader who had bloodied his own knuckles on the good old boy oligarchy in this town. He told black audiences Duncan was a brother.
That was then. This is now. What happened?
Price joined the good old boys.
The best but not the only evidence is the Inland Port deal. Price helped sabotage a developer who was bringing huge opportunity to southern Dallas. The sabotage worked out very well for the Ross Perot clan, who own a competing facility in Fort Worth and who have strong ties to Price and Democratic political consultant Kathy Nealy, who delivered the black vote for Perot in the American Airlines Center bond election in 1998.
Price wanted the principal developer, The Allen Group, a private, family-owned company, to surrender an ownership slice of the company to a group of Price associates calling itself "The Salt Group." One Price associate who was supposed to be given a slice of the action was Senator Royce West, according to Allen group CEO Richard Allen.
Allen told me he was informed by Willis Johnson, Mayor Tom Leppert's southern Dallas political consultant, that West was to be an unnamed principal in the company to which Allen was to surrender shares in his own firm.
Allen said in an interview that he immediately informed Johnson and others in the group that putting a sitting state senator with key voting power over issues critical to his project on his payroll would create a conflict of interest. He told me Johnson assured him it was all right, saying, "'It's already been cleared with the ethics commission in Austin.'
"I said, 'Well, I don't care if it's been cleared or not. It makes absolutely no sense. He needs to be able to represent his constituents.'"
West has consistently denied any knowledge of these conversations, pointing out to me that his name does not appear on any paper associated with these transactions.
I can't help noticing, however, that Price and West went shopping for a new county judge the minute the sitting Democratic county judge, Jim Foster, sided with the Inland Port project's developer against West and Price.
What does that tell you about the leadership of the Dallas County Democratic Party? They ride in on horseback to chop Foster off at the neck, even though he's their own incumbent. His sin is honesty. He may have gotten off on the wrong foot, but he was headed in the right direction—clean government, equal opportunity and the biggest economic opportunity southern Dallas has ever seen.
They bring in this hey-boy from Waxahachie. He is—surprise, surprise—a trial lawyer. The Web site for his Waxahachie and Dallas law firm brags of winning $9,513,437.88 for "a subcontractor as a result of an incident at a concrete plant." That's great news for the subcontractor. But the Dallas County Democrats present a less appetizing picture, rubbing their mitts in glee, drooling over getting their own "equity" in all that nice trial lawyer money. And they want you to turn your back on Duncan, who has a 30-year record of honest dealing and getting things done for regular people.
That's why this election is so huge. Everybody says Dallas County has gone Democrat. I have a question. What kind of Democrat?