How John Wiley Price (Allegedly!) Sold Dallas
OK, I've got my idiot coloring book out again. Sorry. Just have to do this. I just want to help people not get totally lost in the delicious detritus of the FBI affidavit released yesterday in the Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price corruption probe.
The details are delectable -- a web-work of girlfriends and bag-ladies through which Dallas County's most powerful official is alleged to have to put the arm on everybody from Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings to the powerful Perot clan.
But there's a bigger, simpler, much more significant picture looming above that junkyard of tits for tats. This whole city got sold out. The Price case may or may not show how. Time will tell.
I hope the federal criminal case against Price will help us get this down right. It's important at so many levels. I saw Radio KHVN ("Heaven") 970 talk-show host Robert Ashley on the TV news last night talking about how black Southern Dallas officials have been victims of "selective enforcement."
For decades, Ashley has been an even-handed, wise head in his role as a journalist covering Southern Dallas politics. His remarks express the pain of an entire community confronted with terrible accusations against a revered and trusted leader in Price. Price has not been indicted. The affidavit released yesterday was part of a civil matter about money, not a criminal accusation. But on the first page of my coloring book, I'm going to take my fat red Crayola and scrawl the name of the accusation, just so that we all know what it's going to be when the inevitable federal criminal indictments come down.
On page two, I'm going to take my blue Crayola and make a bunch of little circles with polka-dot eyeballs and frowny mouths. I'm going to take a pencil and write names under them. The Perots. The Dallas Morning News. The North Central Texas Council of Governments. Tom Leppert. Mike Rawlings. Then I'm going to take my black Crayola, go back up to the top of the page and write, "ROMANS?"
That's one level -- not the top level -- of what this story either will or will not be about. The real accusation against John Wiley Price will be that he masqueraded as a champion of his people when in fact he was betraying them.
The top level is worse. It's on page three. Guess who's on the middle cross? Not Price. The city itself. The largest accusation here is that Price was only a henchman in a campaign to deeply wound Dallas.
We'll see. That's a tough case to make. But there are some indications in the details that this very top-most picture of the real situation may emerge from the inevitable criminal trials.
This has everything to do with Richard Allen's Inland Port project in Southern Dallas, which should have been the single best thing to happen to the city's beleaguered, racially segregated southern hemisphere since Reconstruction, and might have been the biggest shot in the arm to the citywide economy since the building of D/FW International Airport.
But the Inland Port was a direct economic threat to a competing project, Alliance Airport, developed in Fort Worth by one of Dallas' most powerful family, the Perots. Beginning in 2005, Price began acting as a henchman in a concerted campaign to torpedo the Inland Port. He was joined by the editorial page of The Dallas Morning News, with a major assist from the North Central Texas Council of Governments, supposedly an objective planning agency.
Allen, a California investor, had spent five years lining up all of the planning and permitting he needed to start leasing space for his gigantic shipping and warehousing center. In 2005, the real estate market was still good. It was exactly the right take-off moment for Allen.
So guess what? At exactly that moment, Price started insisting that the whole project needed to be put on hold so he could do more planning for it, and so the legislature could set up a new layer of local government through which Price, not Allen, would run the project.
Guess what again? The editorial page of The Dallas Morning News took up the cudgel against Allen in support of Price and accused Allen of being a racist because he wouldn't hire a bunch of Price's buddies as "consultants."
Guess what again? The NCTCG started hectoring the hell out of Allen, holding up money for key infrastructure and demanding that he provide all kinds of race-based documentation about his staff and his contractors, even though none of that was called for by law, and even though Allen had a far better record for minority participation in his projects than anybody in Dallas.
And then Tom Leppert, our former mayor who spent so much time promising to bring economic opportunity to Southern Dallas, joined the effort to shut Allen down. This was Project Judas, a deliberate campaign by so-called civic leaders to slit the throat of the city. That's what to look for in the delicious details of the federal government's case.
Price told me at the time that he didn't even know Ross Perot, Jr., and had never spoken to him that he could recall. But one of the details from yesterday's affidavit is an allegation that Price personally intervened with the Perots to get an associate of his hired as a decorator for one of their projects.
That tells me the Perots may be talking to the feds. We already know the feds have been talking to them. If they are, that's a good thing, as far as my coloring book is concerned -- an indication that the big picture may come out.
Mike Rawlings, our current mayor, is on the edge of the page in my book. He was a political neophyte when the Dallas Citizens Council dubbed him to become the next mayor. He put himself in their hands. The affidavit shows the campaign pushing all the old buttons for Rawlings, including money paid to political consultant Kathy Nealey, which became money paid to Price, which bought Price's endorsement of Rawlings. If the accusation in the affidavit turns out to be true, will that make Rawlings a bad guy? I don't know. I guess at one level it will depend on how people feel about a mayor who, perhaps unknowingly, bought a key endorsement from Judas.
At that higher level I'm talking about, it will pose a very disturbing question for Dallas. Why was an endorsement from Judas worth all that money?