Dallas Flashes Back to 1997
A maverick female city council member challenges the powers that be at City Hall all by her lonesome. Voters trek to the polls to decide the fate of the Trinity River project: Will it be a park or an expressway? The feds are sniffing around alleged corruption among southern Dallas political leaders. The Dallas Citizens Council, that secretive body of éminences grises, lurches back to life and puts its man, who has more attachment to the Park Cities than Dallas, in the mayor's seat. Meanwhile, Dallas' schools continue their never-ending struggle to improve.
Somehow, it all seems vaguely familiar. Is this déjà vu, or did we somehow slip through a hole in space-time and land back in 1997? They say that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different outcome. If that's true, then welcome to Crazy Town, U.S.A.
Still, some things did get better in 2007. There were the Cowboys, and there was the...um...um...well, shoot, as long as the Pokes are winning, all's right with the world, isn't it? So let's go ahead and celebrate the year gone by. Buzz even has a theme song for this party: "Time Warp" from that fine motion picture classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It's just a jump to the left and a step to the right. So everybody put your hands on your hips and pull your knees in tight. Here's hoping that 2008 brings lots of pelvic thrusts your way. —Patrick Williams
year in review
Judge not: A new era for Dallas County politics begins with the swearing-in of 47 new Democratic officeholders who broke the GOP lock on the courthouse by sweeping the November general elections. The ceremony is delayed briefly by the late arrival of County Judge Jim Foster, who apologizes and explains he accidentally locked himself inside his car for 40 minutes.
Get a grip: The Cowboys' hopes for their first playoff victory since 1996 are dashed when quarterback Tony Romo bobbles the hold for a potentially game-winning field goal against Seattle. Romo apologizes for the fumble and vows to spend the next year improving his grip by "working closely with some of the best ball-handlers in the nation...blondes, mostly."
Boot Hill: Despite the threat of an ongoing federal investigation into corruption at City Hall, city council member Don Hill announces he will join the field of 11,249 candidates for mayor. "We're going to run hard, and we're going to win," Hill tells supporters, including his wife, Sheila, also a target of the FBI investigation. Hill loses the election but says he's still keeping his options open on "running, and running damn hard" when later in the year a federal grand jury hands down indictments naming the Hills and several associates.
Too many vowels: Dallas-based restaurant chain Pizza Patrón receives threats and angry e-mails when it announces it will begin accepting pesos at its U.S. stores. The Farmers Branch City Council proposes a resolution condemning the decision and threatens to ban "foreign-sounding" foods within the suburb's limits. "Pepperoni, cappicola, mozzarella—you start lettin' all them Mexican foods in your town, next thing you know, the damn Mexicans follow and start marryin' our women," says city council member Tim O'Hare, leader of Farmers Branch's effort to prohibit landlords from renting to illegal immigrants in the city.
Try pass/fail: DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa announces that the district has met 64 of 109 targets meant to improve student achievement. Hinojosa admits he is disappointed at reaching only 59 percent of the goals but notes, "On the plus side, 59 percent is about 10 points better than most of our students do on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test."
Hold the Tuna: Cowboys coach Bill Parcells retires after racking up a 34-32 record in four seasons leading the Pokes. "I just think it's time," says Parcells, who adds that innovations in the game since the heyday of his career, such as the forward pass and the use of plastic instead of leather helmets, make him feel "as though the game has passed [him] by."
Roadkill: Dallas Zoo officials seek leads in the disappearance of an African white-back vulture that escaped from a holding pen. The zoo is flooded with tips from witnesses who spot the carrion-eater perched on a telephone pole outside the mayoral campaign offices of Don Hill.
Let my people golf: In February, mayoral candidates Tom Leppert and Darrell Jordan draw criticism for their ties to the Dallas Country Club after The Dallas Morning News reports that the club has yet to admit a black member and prominent black businessman Kneeland Youngblood's 6-year-old application is being held up because of his links to the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Jordan remains a member of the club, but Leppert says he resigned in December to prevent his membership from becoming an issue in his campaign. "It's one thing to swill gin with a bunch of well-heeled bigots in your personal life, but if you're going to run for office, you have to at least project the appearance of giving a rat's ass about diversity," Leppert says.
Don't mess with Jobu: The city of Euless asks a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a Santeria priest who claims the city's ban on the slaughter of animals prohibits him from sacrificing a goat as part of a religious ceremony at his home. A ruling on the city's motion is delayed when the judge is unable to appear in court because of sudden burning pain on the soles of his feet and sharp, needle-like stings throughout his body.La vida logo: DISD trustees reject a proposed logo for the district that administrators say they hoped would provide the school district with a progressive image. The new logo, one of several created by students and staff at no cost, is shot down after trustees point out that the word "school" does not contain the letter "k" and that "flipping the bird" is not considered appropriate in most school settings.
Give him back to the apes: Texas House Appropriations Committee Chairman Warren Chisum apologizes for distributing to his colleagues an anti-evolution document that claims evolution was an ancient Jewish religious belief and its teaching is a plot by "Jewish physicists" and Hollywood to brainwash the public. Fellow House members, including former state Representative Steve Wolens, speak up on Chisum's behalf, vowing that he's not an anti-Semite but merely a garden-variety effin' moron.
Pressing need: Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, under heavy fire for hazardous conditions and poor staffing at the county jail, receives tips from a media consultant on dealing with the press. Media coach Rick Ericson advises Valdez to "first, acknowledge that the media exist; second, return their calls; third, when you talk to them, play up the whole lesbian Latina 'thing' since all reporters are degenerate liberals; and fourth, try to stop being so damned incompetent."
Try spray-on tan: A former sales consultant for the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce sues the business group, claiming that he was harassed over his weight and race by his boss. Plaintiff Tony Montgomery claims Chamber sales director Louis McElroy, who, like Montgomery, is black, made disparaging comments about Montgomery's light skin tone and that McElroy referred to himself as "the Chamber's" pimp, the Morning News reports. "If McElroy wants to say I have man boobies or cracker blood, that's one thing," Montgomery says, "but if he wants to call himself the Chamber's pimp, then he needs to run for mayor, just like everyone else."
He's a word man: Would-be Dallas mayoral candidate Zac Crain, former Dallas Observer music editor, is disqualified from appearing on the May ballot when city officials reveal that he fell 50 short of the required 473 valid petition signatures. Crain vows to rethink his strategy of basing his political career on musicians and campaign events at local nightclubs, where alcohol is served.
Jesus doesn't love you that much: Authorities arrest a Dallas man after he leads sheriff's deputies on a 35-mile chase while driving a church van naked. John S. Leonard III later sues the county, claiming the arrest infringed upon his practice of religion as a member of The First Assembly of Swingin' Sirloin in Christ, an offshoot of the Southern Baptists.
Not thorough enough: Dallas County's jail fails its annual state inspection for the fourth year in a row, despite improved staffing and the release of some low-level offenders on plea bargains, a move intended to improve the ratio of guards to inmates. County Commissioner John Wiley Price tells reporters that the inspection was especially thorough, and state inspectors "did everything except crawl through the air ducts." His comment prompts Sheriff Valdez to tell him to "ixnay on the uctday alktay. That's where the odiesbay are iddenhay."
Free at last: District AttorneyCraig Watkins asks county commissioners for funding for a team to review DNA evidence in prior convictions after similar evidence clears more than a dozen men wrongfully convicted in Dallas County. The county leads the nation in the number of exonerated convicts. Local Republicans blame the embarrassing statistic on the recent ascendancy of Democrats at the courthouse. "Back when the GOP was running the show, we didn't let a little thing like guilt or innocence stand in the way of a good conviction," a party spokesman claims.
Shoah and tell: Holocaust experts criticize a ninth-grade classroom exercise at the Waxahachie Ninth Grade Center that involves requiring some students to wear a Star of David on their identification badges. Teachers play the part of Jews' German oppressors, ignoring the students wearing the stars, requiring them to go to the back of the line at lunch and forbidding them to talk with friends. School officials defend the lesson as an attempt to give students a greater understanding of Jews' suffering during the Holocaust. "By the time some of our 'Jewish' students got to the front of the cafeteria line, the tater tots were cold. Can you imagine that? Cold tater tots! We think that fairly captures the horrors of Treblinka and Auschwitz in a way kids today can understand," a school spokesman says.
Muckrakers mucked up: Scandal rocks the Dallas Press Club and its three members when it's revealed that President Elizabeth Albanese had rigged theclub's prestigious Katie Awards for excellence in journalism, giving herself 10 awards over three years and lying about who judged the contest, which includes a category for investigative reporting. Her deception is uncovered by a part-time columnist with the Oak Cliff Tribune who once lived in a Salvation Army shelter. The news moves local media outlets to comb the ranks of homeless shelters in an effort to find potential reporters "smart enough to track a bear in a phone booth," as one editor puts it.
Lookin' good: Critics blast city council member Angela Hunt for spending $270 in campaign funds on hairstyling and "makeup services" to prepare for a photo shoot and a separate news conference at which she announced she would lead the effort to kill a proposed toll road along the Trinity River. Hunt defends the expenditures as legitimate. The flap leads reporters to pore over campaign records belonging to Dallas mayoral candidates, in which they find that Max Wells spent $1,100 on Geritol and NoDoz to help him stay awake during campaign events held past 6 p.m., while not-quite candidate Zac Crain spent $300—give or take $50—on smokes, Star Wars DVDs and beard combs.
Remember 1940: The Dallas Mavericks, No. 1 seed in the NBA playoffs, are eliminated in the first round by the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors. The shocking loss stuns basketball fans and prompts an Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigation into the immigration status of league MVP Dirk Nowitzki. "It says on his immigration forms that he's German, but he sure looked pretty French out there on the court, if you know what I mean," a spokesman for the Dallas ICE office says.
Buh-bye: Conservative televangelist Jerry Falwell dies. This has nothing to do with Dallas, really, but Buzz just loves typing the words.
Be vewy quiet: Authorities announce they are searching for an armed robber they call "the Elmer Fudd bandit" after the man holds up an Albertsons Express on U.S. Highway 287 while wearing an orange hunting cap with ear flaps. The mild-mannered robber apologizes for the "wobbery," telling a clerk that he needs money to buy "buwetts" to continue his hunt for a "wascally wabbit."
Pull in the welcome mat: By a 2-to-1 margin, voters in Farmers Branch approve an ordinance prohibiting landlords in the suburb from renting homes to illegal immigrants. City council member Tim O'Hare declares the new law will have a positive effect by helping the suburb maintain its reputation as a hospitable spot for the "rednecks, crackers and assorted conservative tight-asses whose white flight from Dallas decades ago helped make Farmers Branch what it is today—backward."
You read it there first: In a 2,350-word story published two weeks before the Dallas mayoral runoff election between Ed "Gay" Oakley and Tom Leppert, The Dallas Morning News reports that being gay is no longer a major factor in Dallas political races. The story points out at length that the fact that Oakley is gay—in that he prefers sex with men—is an absolute non-issue in his campaign against Leppert, whom the News endorsed and who is not gay, though Oakley, you know, is. But that's not important anymore, because voters don't care that Oakley is gay, gay, gay, gay, gay. And Leppert isn't. He's straight. Leppert, whose love for and commitment to Dallas extends all the way back to 2003, when he moved to the city, defeats Oakley in the runoff.
Walk hard: The Dallas City Council rejects the "Walk of Fame," a proposed monument in Opportunity Park that would feature bronze images of 114 notable South Dallas leaders, including sitting council member Leo Chaney, a proponent of the memorial. Chaney denies—with a straight face—that his inclusion on the monument is an act of self-aggrandizement, but the council sends the plans back for further public review. The council later rejects a revised "Perp Walk of Fame" featuring southern Dallas political leaders either indicted or under investigation by the federal government, claiming that space for the memorial was too small to accommodate all the images.
Adios, Mike: Dallas County Constable Mike Dupree resigns, ending a months-long controversy that began when he admitted to the Observer that he arranged for the deportation of a former lover to Honduras. His resignation comes as part of a guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of abuse of official capacity, which stemmed from numerous allegations of sexual harassment of his male employees. As part of his plea agreement, Dupree promises not to seek public office again in Texas, and all other pending criminal investigations and civil suits against him will be dropped. The veteran lawman vows to use his now free time mentoring young people. "There just aren't that many programs available to help svelte Latino immigrants ages 19 to 22 out there, and that's a group I'm committed—very, very committed—to helping out in any way I can," he says.
Busy, busy, busy: The Morning News reports that a sheriff's department employee hired to write requests for grants had filed only one grant application in 14 months on the job. The employee, Cynthia Smith, was hired at an annual salary of $49,179 to a position created at the request of Sheriff Valdez. The one grant application Smith wrote was filed late, the News writes. Valdez was out of the country when the story broke and did not speak to the paper's reporter, but returns two weeks later and tells the newspaper that her employee actually filed two applications. The sheriff's media coach comes up with a new, abbreviated list of suggestions for her: "First, stay out of the country as long as you can; second, don't talk to reporters."
Green dumb: A helicopter pilot discovers a field of 325 marijuana plants growing along the Trinity River just a few hundred yards behind the regional headquarters of the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration, one of several sizable pot patches found in the Dallas area in 2007. A local DEA official expresses surprise at the odd location of the find. "Really, a pot field near our offices? Like, wow, we're, um, so surprised, you know. Like, um, we really didn't expect anyone to find that there. I mean, expect it to be there. Yeah, that's it."
A real Lady: Lady Bird Johnson dies, causing Texas bluebonnets to turn a little bit bluer this year. Again, this is not exactly a Dallas item, but we mention it because A) she was cool, and B) odds are she won't be neighbors with Jerry Falwell in the afterlife, if you get our drift.
Taking flight: Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher announces that he will step down as the company chairman next May after 41 years of service at the low-cost carrier. Airline officials say they will go all out commemorating Kelleher's departure and schedule a retirement party that will feature two bags of peanuts and discounted $4 tiny bottles of booze for every guest. Seating at the party will be first come, first served.
A river runs through it: City officials confirm that opponents of the proposed toll road along the Trinity River have acquired enough signatures on a petition to force a public vote on the issue in November. Mayor Tom Leppert reveals that the city plans to refer some of the signatures to District Attorney Craig Watkins to investigate whether they were falsified. Leppert says the suspicious signatures, too few in number to invalidate the petition, were sent to Watkins in the "interest of full disclosure and to screw that damned Angela Hunt and her hippie tree-hugging cohort." Watkins vows to spare no expense investigating the petitions "unless something more important comes up, like freeing wrongfully imprisoned men or prosecuting vicious criminals."
They like Mike: Former Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin is admitted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, in a tearful ceremony in which he thanks his wife, Sandy, for sticking by his side through his notorious years of parties, womanizing and drugs. The contrite Irvin, who has entered a new chapter in his life thanks to counseling from Dallas' Bishop T.D. Jakes, also expresses gratitude to members of Ohio's law enforcement community for not searching the car he drove to the induction ceremony.
WWJD? Not this: The High Point Church in Arlington withdraws an offer to be the site of a funeral for a gay man, Cecil Sinclair, after learning that photos at the service would include images of men hugging and kissing. Officials fear the service might convey the impression that the church endorses homosexuality, which it considers a sin. "Love the sinner, hate the sin and bury the gay guy at a crossroads at midnight is our motto," says a spokesman for the church, which announces that it will also remove images of Jesus' betrayal with a kiss and his crucifixion wearing a loin cloth because "it's just too damn sexy."
Oops: Administrators at Vivian Field Middle School in Farmers Branch are left red-faced when a marquee outside the school boasting of its being a "recognized" campus by the state misspells the word as "reconized." In a press statement, Farmers Branch city council member Tim O'Hare blames the gaffe on the work of "a cobble of illeagle immigrents who want to beesmurch our fare city."
No more books: Lancaster Independent School District suspends 254 students on the first day of classes for failing to turn in their summer reading assignments, extending summer vacation for some of the district's less dedicated students and proving once and for all that children are right: Adults are insane.
King of the wild frontier: In September, the Texas Historical Commission announces that it will pay $490,000 to a Houston man for what is purportedly the last letter written by Alamo defender Davy Crockett. The commission later cancels the purchase after a forensic document examiner is unable to verify its authenticity. "We got a little suspicious when some commission members questioned whether Crockett really would have written the words, 'Holy shit, that's one big bunch of pissed-off Mexicans,' in 1836," a commission spokesman says.
Spin, Lupe, spin: The U.S. Justice Department files a federal lawsuit against the county and Sheriff Lupe Valdez alleging they "have engaged in and continue to engage in a pattern or practice of failing to protect inmates at the Dallas County Jail from serious harm and undue risk from serious harm." The lawsuit also notes that problems at the jail have been "obvious and known to Defendants for a substantial period of time, yet Defendants have failed to address adequately the conditions described." Valdez tells the media that the lawsuit is merely an unimportant formality, and the Justice Department is pleased with the progress she has made in managing the troubled jail, where several inmates have suffered as a result of understaffing and lax medical care. The sheriff's media coach announces that he will be leaving the consulting business to take up pig farming in Iowa. "I gotta get somewhere and get my hands clean," he tells reporters.
Fourth Reich: More controversy erupts in Farmers Branch as the city begins a crackdown on code violations in a move officials say was requested by city residents. That news is followed by City Manager Gary Greer's decision to order several works by artist Alex Trevino removed from display at the city's Manske Library. Some of the censored works were inspired, Trevino says, by Farmers Branch's battle over its anti-illegal immigrant ordinance. In late September, the city's attorneys ask Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district to turn over the names and addresses of every child living in the city and enrolled in public schools. The moves lead some city residents to complain that the city is coming to resemble a Nazi state, a charge city council member Tim O'Hare dismisses. "Ich bin amerikanisch," O'Hare says. "Schließen Sie Ihren Mund, oder Sie werden Ihre tater tots nicht bekommen." (Very roughly translated: "I'm American. Shut your mouth or you won't get your tater tots.")
Cleaning house: Concluding a 27-month FBI investigation, a federal grand jury returns indictments against 14 defendants, among them former mayoral candidate Don Hill and his wife, alleging a wide-ranging scheme of bribery and extortion involving low-income housing developments. (Former city council member James Fantroy is accused in a separate case of embezzling more than $5,000 from Paul Quinn College, where he once served on the board of directors of Paul Quinn Community Development Corp.) At a lunchtime news conference, Hill proclaims his innocence. "I did not take one improper penny from...HEY! That damn vulture just swooped down and stole my sandwich! Man, I wish that thing would stop following me around."
Next time, try a Star of David: The parents of a 15-year-old Waxahachie High School sophomore threaten a lawsuit when their son is kept from class for wearing a T-shirt supporting the presidential candidacy of John Edwards. The school's dress code prohibits students from wearing shirts that are provocative, offensive, sexual or suggestive in nature, vulgar, lewd or obscene. School officials contend that the shirt supporting Edwards, a Democrat and former trial lawyer, falls into at least five of those categories.
Workin' on a chain gang: Dallas County Commissioner Ken Mayfield proposes assigning jail trusties in outdoor work crews to clear debris and brush from county roads. Sheriff Lupe Valdez is cool to the idea, noting that the vast majority of the jail's inmates are too weak to lift a hoe or haul trash. "There's just something about the criminal element in Dallas, I suppose, but most of our inmates are a pretty sickly lot," Valdez says. "In fact, they're really prone to kicking the bucket at the slightest provocation, like if you deny them medicine or water. What wussies."
Oh, what a lucky man: In one of the most expensive deals in team history, the Cowboys and quarterback Tony Romo agree on a six-year contract extension worth a reported $67.5 million. On an entirely unrelated note that has absolutely nothing at all to do with the large pile of spondoolicks that Romo is now sitting on, the boyish QB is romantically linked to celebrity blonde Jessica Simpson, whose recent film made $384 opening weekend. Which, alas, isn't even a joke.
Hostage situation: A marathon three-month trial of seven supporters of the Holy Land Foundation, accused of conspiring to provide material support to the Middle East terrorist organization Hamas, ends with a hung jury on all but one charge (the latter resulted in an acquittal). Jurors deadlock on the remaining charges after U.S. District Judge Joe Fish informs them that "What the fuck, can we go home now?" is not considered an acceptable verdict in U.S. courts.
Come home, Jim: Dallas voters go to the polls to decide the fate of a controversial toll road along the Trinity River. Voters are asked to cast ballots either "for" or "against" a measure that would either halt the proposed high-speed multi-lane road or allow it to go forward. We're not sure which because, frankly, the road, which officials say could cost anywhere from $1.35 to $40 kabillion, is very confusing and not the sort of issue we here at the Observer concern ourselves with—except for columnist Jim Schutze, who last we heard in early November was squatting in a homeless camp on White Rock Creek, living on squirrel meat, preaching Marxist theory to winos and threatening "to bring the revolution home to the idiot bourgeoisie whether they like it or not," which we assume means the road, favored by developers and city leaders, passed muster.
Sauce for the gander: A drive by Dallas Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway to outlaw saggin'—a style of dress in which young men wear their pants low, exposing their underwear—stirs controversy thanks to the song "Pull Your Pants Up" by local rapper Dooney da Priest that contains lyrics some consider homophobic. Earlier in the year, Caraway had proposed an ordinance banning saggin', but backed off when informed that such a law could also prohibit exposed "whale tails" and "tramp stamps." "Oh, man, nobody wants that," Caraway says.
At least they're winning now: Cowboys fans suffer a severe case of sticker shock when the team reveals that season ticket holders could pay more than $50,000 per seat for "licenses" that would allow them to purchase tickets—at an additional cost of several hundred dollars each—at the team's new $1 billion stadium in Arlington. Team owner Jerry Jones defends the high cost, saying the figures apply only to the most expensive seats in the stadium's "lower bowl." Upper-level seats will be more affordable, Jones assures fans. "Provided you have two kidneys, aren't particularly attached to one of them and are willing to travel to Mexico, live professional football will still be in your price range," Jones says.
Ain't that special: The Morning News reveals that the UT Southwestern Medical Center maintains a VIP list of prominent and influential residents and donors who get special treatment if they become patients at the center's facilities. UT Southwestern officials defend the practice, saying it is common among hospitals nationwide. "What's the big deal?" a medical center spokesman asks. "So a few special people get some dinky perks like free parking and escorts to appointments. It's not like they're getting transfusions of blood from 12-year-old virgins or rejuvenating skin treatments made from the foreskins of boys...I mean, hypothetically speaking, as far as you know. Listen, is that tape recorder on?"
Charity begins at City Hall: To celebrate the season of giving, Dallas officials roll out their Orwellian "Lend a Hand" program, intended to discourage downtown visitors from giving money to panhandlers. The project urges the charitable to place money they'd otherwise give to beggars in boxes the city plans to place at several downtown locations. Mayor Tom Leppert praises the initiative and notes that the money collected in the first six months will go to the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance and afterward to unspecified organizations. "There are always tons of people around City Hall looking for a handout, and I'm sure we'll find some way to put it to good use," Leppert says. "Maybe in honoring the Holy Trinity."
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