It’s not clear yet whether there truly are dark forces gathering on the horizon against Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax or just a chain of fools, but one thing is unmistakably true: Dallas’ first city manager in living memory to come from outside City Hall had better not walk by any open windows on the upper floors for a while.
The term of art in these situations — one of my favorite fancy words — is defenestration. That’s when somebody sees a sudden opportunity to get rid of a foe and acts on it.
Broadnax has been making decisive moves at City Hall barely below the radar of daily news coverage for a year now. Just last week, the entire upper tier staff of the city’s economic development operation was escorted out of the building to early retirement and replaced by a Broadnax hire, completing a thorough gutting of the housing and economic development departments left behind by the good-old-boy-and-girl regime.
Those who would most like to see Broadnax gone are the people who benefited most from the way things worked in the good old days, especially in the areas of affordable housing and so-called economic development. Economic development was always an inside deal designed mainly to deliver tax breaks to well-connected rich people who didn’t need them, with the occasional slice of pie out the back door to certain preachers and barbecue vendors in southern Dallas as steam control.
Under the old regime, city-subsidized affordable housing was a scam by which the city took federal money intended by law for racial desegregation and spent it instead building segregated housing in segregated areas. A certain type of elected leader from the racially segregated southern half of the city liked the old arrangement because it allowed that person to dish housing deals to favored developers.
Meanwhile, leaders put no pressure on white leaders to achieve integration in the northern half because that would only dilute the voting base in the south and cut down the number of deals available for their developer buddies.
Rich white North Dallas surveyed that scene, thought about changing things and instead said, “I’ll just have a Diet Coke, thank you.”
The beginning of the push that changed that whole dynamic was an administrative complaint to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development almost a decade ago by two downtown developers. Curtis Lockey and Craig MacKenzie told HUD they had run afoul of a web of conspiracy at Dallas City Hall, where they said officials were using fraudulent certifications and under-the-table tricks to make fools of the feds.
This many years after the original Lockey and MacKenzie charges were made, a team of fraud investigators from the HUD Office of Inspector General is still in quasi-permanent residence at City Hall trying to get to the bottom of it. The old regime said it couldn’t account for tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions, in federal dollars because the money was lost. Apparently, “lost” was not one of the boxes they could check.
Also under the old regime, Dallas fought the Lockey and MacKenzie charges tooth and nail in federal court. A federal judge from our region poured the pair out of court on grounds that everybody always knew Dallas was segregated and the feds were fools if they didn’t.
Interesting. Kind of like, “Why’d you take all those cows down there where you knew there were all kind of rustlers around?”
Lockey recently filed a fresh action with new claims against Dallas in federal court in Southern California, where he lives. We’ll see how federal judges in California feel about the Northern District of Texas doctrine blaming the rancher for putting temptation in the way of the cattle thieves.
Meanwhile, in Dallas, Broadnax has been working effectively to put new measures in place that would lift all of the city’s subsidy deals, in both housing and economic development, up out of the good old mud and onto a flat table of transparency. He has been working to develop rules and rational measurements to show where subsidies are needed and appropriate, where they are not.
Oh, man. The old guard hates that. The most focused antipathy is coming from southern Dallas affordable-housing developers who see their gravy train going off the rails. By the way, that’s not all southern Dallas affordable-housing developers. Some few, notably Frazier Revitalization, have aimed at holistic strengthening of communities, a goal well within the legal requirements for taking HUD money.
But the ones who have come to hate Broadnax, the southern Dallas affordable-housing developers focused on getting rid of him, are more or less straight-up scamsters. Their deals depend entirely on using HUD money fraudulently. They make money by taking funds committed by law to desegregation and using it deliberately and knowingly to build projects that will increase and exacerbate segregation and its malignant effects.
In the day-to-day and the real world, Dallas doesn’t have responsible leaders left on any side of the aisle who truly believe that racial segregation is a good thing. Ah, but we do have some people who might be awfully tempted to go along anyway.
The City Council is gearing up to take on an issue that is either the holy grail or the Little Big Horn of housing justice — so-called source-of-income discrimination. The council will decide whether to make it against the law to refuse to rent to somebody who wants to pay with a public housing voucher, if that person meets all other qualifications.
I will do both of us a favor here and not dredge back through all the reasons middle-class people fear Section 8 vouchers (as they are wrongly called). But we both know they do, and we both know this will be a big fight.
I hear a reasonableness on this issue beginning to bubble up from the progressive wing of the council — a willingness to go some extra mile to allay the fears of Realtors and landlords, possibly including an additional rental subsidy in some parts of the city to make landlords whole. Or something else I don’t know about. But nobody is going out there with a bloody hammer and horns on his helmet to bang on people about it.
Be that as it may, the old time-honored reflex of the city at moments like this was always a deal between the rich white guys and the black preachers. You know. Ten for me, half of one for you, something like that. And, gee, thanks a lot.
In this case, the deal would be an alliance of North Dallas forces worried about vouchers, arm in arm with the southern Dallas scamsters in a putsch to get rid of Broadnax. Like putsch him out the window.
I don’t really believe the Dallas of today would go for it. It’s too dark, too sleazy and way, way too yesterday. There are people in the city who love what they’ve got and don’t want to give it up, and there are people who yearn for a very different tomorrow, but very few people believe the path forward can be rooted in fraud and racial segregation.
Another big hand is at work here, anyway, called reality. That hand reaches closer every day. Those OIG people at City Hall, after this investment in time and effort, face an enormous expectation for a significant result. The new Lockey lawsuit in California could get bounced out of court, but if it doesn’t, Dallas is right back in that soup, as well.
And anyway, between the bad old regime that we finally managed to get rid of and this new one at City Hall, Dallas has been learning an important lesson about itself. The old self-invented legend of Dallas exceptionalism has two faces. One is justifiably proud and optimistic.
The other face of the legend is morbid and self-destructive. I’m talking about the old belief that for some reason, Dallas is somehow not a product of national history, is untouched by national values, is not even bound by national law. Of course, Dallas believed that for a long time because for a long time, Dallas got away with it. We can look at a host of issues, from the Trinity River project to segregation, and see that notion at work.
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It’s not true. We are a part of the nation. We are subject to its laws. And as migration, immigration and generational change have reformed Dallas, it has become a city that wants to embrace national values. The new Dallas shares those values, rather than seeing them as an invasive external force.
So … and I say that advisedly … I don’t think the anti-Broadnax forces will get him out the window. Some of what he’s doing will be a tough swallow for everybody at one point or another. It already has been, even for some of his most staunch supporters. And the guy’s not Jesus. He might have to take a haircut or two. But he will endure.
His greatest assets may be two things. One is the feds. Unless the OIG just takes a total dive — does some truly rotten political deal that should be shoved down President Donald Trump’s throat — its continued presence at City Hall provides Broadnax with some cover he may need.
Then there is the city itself. I flat do not believe this city is going to go back into some hokey 1970s Confederate deal between the Dallas Citizens Council and the preachers to stave off integration by tossing Broadnax out a fifth-floor window. If I’m wrong, if he is defenestrated, I promise to go downtown, hat in hand, and whistle Dixie from the City Hall steps. After they clean up.