John Wiley Price: Whatever the Feds Are After, It Probably Didn't Happen Decades Ago

John Wiley Price: Whatever the Feds Are After, It Probably Didn't Happen Decades Ago

Yesterday I'm standing out in front of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price's house by Lake Cliff, and I get a phone call from a radio producer who wonders if I can come on air and talk about "John Wiley Price's lavish lifestyle and his history of having people roughed up."

I'm thinking to myself, "No, no, I think that's a different show. That's the one about state Sen. Clay Davis, the corrupt politician on The Wire. This is that other show, the one called Actual Real Life, Please."

I mean, people. Let's do be real. In real life John Wiley Price has not been a flamboyant civil rights firebrand going around scaring white people out of their stocking garters for about 20 years. He doesn't operate at that level.

Whatever the FBI was going after when it raided the longtime African-American county commissioner's office and home yesterday, you can rest assured of one thing: It won't be something stupid or corny like you'd see on a TV show.

John Wiley Price at attorney Bill Ravkind's office Monday afternoon
John Wiley Price at attorney Bill Ravkind's office Monday afternoon
Photos by Alex Scott

Lavish lifestyle? I've heard that same old stuff from Price's enemies for decades. The fact is he likes fancy used cars, which he trades and collects shrewdly. He fixes up old houses himself. He's frugal. And ... big one ... he has never smoked or consumed alcohol. If I could say the same I'd be a millionaire.

In recent years I have written a lot about some other things Price has been involved in that have made me think he may have traded in his integrity somewhere along the line. But we're talking about issues on the order of major land plays, dirty deeds between competing industrial developments, county contracts worth hundreds of millions, questionable conduct of elections.

We're not even thinking about Price going after white people any more. He would only be going after white people if some other richer white people had a deal with him to do it.

As far as I know, nobody knows yet what part of that is at the center of the FBI raids and the case the Justice Department hopes to make against Price. I'm sure bits and pieces of it will begin to leak soon.

I have known Price for 33 years. During that entire time, Price has known that law enforcement was looking for a way to take him down. He's careful. He's smart. If somebody has the goods on him now, they had to be a lot smarter.

Ponder this. These raids took place as the new mayor and city council were being sworn in. Price was the single most important player in delivering the Southern Dallas votes that the new Mayor Mike Rawlings needed to beat former police chief David Kunkle at the polls. The FBI even paid a brief visit to Rawlings's campaign HQ.

So at what point during the inauguration ceremony does somebody have to come lean into Rawlings's ear and whisper, "Guy who got you elected is being raided by the feds"? That's the level where all of this will play out. It's not about ancient protests. It's about big business in the here and now.

I also know this. Price does not respect the art of plugging along in life. He told me he associates manual work with slavery. He respects super-slick. His hero is the guy who out-cons the con artist.

Guys like that screw up some day. They are gettable. It doesn't always happen on this particular planet. But it sure is sweet when it does.

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