Ron Price is fond of speaking in clichés, using phrases like "that dog won't hunt" as if he were punctuating a closing argument before the U.S. Supreme Court. So it's fitting that when trying to describe the plight of the veteran school board member whose political future has dimmed over the last year, words spring to mind that sound as though they're coming from the narrator of a movie preview: "Ron Price is his own worst enemy. His strengths are his weaknesses. And he's caught at the crossroads, torn between his nobler gestures and his raw ambition."
Price is conflicted about who he is, only he doesn't seem to know it. In literally the same breath in which he claims to have run an honorable campaign against his challenger, Bernadette Nutall, Price readily talks about how he received sniping calls from her ex-boyfriends (she's been married for nearly 10 years), along with damaging information from former employers. Later, he says that people in her past as well as her present called him, alarmed at the prospect of her election.
"I didn't use any of that stuff because I don't believe in running negative campaigns," he says, seemingly oblivious to how he is contradicting his supposed principles. "How could I say I'm trying to bring people together when I'm tearing down another human being for a political seat that doesn't pay?"
That afternoon, as we were driving to a Juneteenth celebration in Red Oak where Price will be treated like royalty, he talks about how The Dallas Morning News almost cost him the election with a series of stories and editorials savaging his ethics. Calmly, thoughtfully, he gives his side of the story, detailing a compelling case that his actions are misunderstood. But quitting while he's ahead is not one of Price's gifts.
"I get calls from people around the country saying, 'What the hell is wrong with your local newspaper? Man, leave Dallas, Ron. We need a good leader in our city.' And I say to my friends around the country who saw that stuff, I say, 'Every now and then there is a reminder I live in the last state to free the slaves. It's a reminder that race does matter, unfortunately, in our society.'"
It's hard to tell if his supporters buy into Price's myth-making--really, does anyone believe that a local school board member is being recruited for an out-of-town leadership spot?--or if they're willing to look past it because of what he does for them. The odd thing is that behind Price's delusions of grandeur is a genuine sense of commitment.
For example, a few years ago, Grant Atai, then a principal at H.S. Thompson Elementary School, had a disagreement with a parent over how he disciplined her child. The mother lived in a tough section of the Rhoads Terrace neighborhood in South Dallas. As night fell, Price and his principal visited the neighborhood, talking to kids along the way. Then when the two men dropped by the home of the angry mother, Atai explained the nature of the punishment and why he felt he needed to discipline her child. He didn't come to compromise--nor did he--but at the end of their discussion the mother felt better, no doubt reassured by the sight of two leaders in the public school system taking time to hear her in person. That same evening, Atai and Price met with other parents and talked about the particulars of their children's educations.
"That just stuck with me. It was genuine," Atai says of their walk through the Rhoads Terrace neighborhood. "This wasn't a campaign stop. He didn't call the media; there were no cameras behind us."
But there's a darker shade to Price's terms of engagement. This April, a month before the election, two teachers at Madison High School in South Dallas called their union to express their disappointment in its endorsement of Price. The teachers, Kishawna Wiggins and Charletta Gaines, supported his opponent and complained to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) that they shouldn't back someone like Price, who has a conviction for abusing his wife. In fact, the school board member has several sworn affidavits from people who knew his wife that cast doubt on her version of events, but regardless, the two teachers wanted to express their discontent. Shortly after they called the union, Price showed up at Madison in the middle of the school day wanting to talk to their principal, union rep and the teachers themselves.
"One of my reps came to my room and said, 'Ron Price is here, and he wants to talk to you, and I said, 'I'm in class. I don't have time to talk to him right now,'" says Gaines, who teaches computer applications at Madison. "He just came in the middle of the day without any notice. He just showed up."
Price explains that he went to Madison at the urging of the local AFT President Aimee Bolender. He says he merely wanted to defend himself and brought copies of the police report and affidavits that he thinks exonerate him from an unfair conviction. Remarkably, he tries to spin his attempt at a confrontation as a testament to his character. "That shows the willingness I have to open myself to people who may disagree with me."
Over the last year, the leadership of the Dallas Independent School District has taken decisive steps to model the school system after a modern-day corporation, with a central line of authority that adheres to standard business practices. This move has threatened to make Price and his up-close-and-personal style obsolete. For years, Price, 39, has blended his role of board trustee with that of a community leader, school superintendent and peacemaker, putting out fires in some cases, provoking controversies in others. But now a new bloc of trustees, overriding the heated concerns of Price and his African-American colleagues, has voted to lessen the power of the board, stripping themselves of their individual perks as a way to bring professionalism and accountability to an institution historically lacking in both.
Placing their faith firmly in school Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, the new guard has sought to streamline operations. Distrustful of unions, inclined toward experimenting with private-sector hallmarks such as merit pay, the majority bloc views DISD as a sloppy, unwieldy bureaucracy focused more on preserving a dysfunctional status quo than educating kids. This is, after all, an institution that for years has allowed its employees to buy hundreds of thousands of dollars of frivolous merchandise on district credit cards, as the Morning News reported at length recently.
"In my mind, the reformers are focused on one thing and one thing alone: student achievement and how do we get the best adults in the room to maximize student achievement?" says trustee Edwin Flores, who works as a biotechnology patent attorney. "Those who are wedded to the past, who liked what DISD was doing before, they're a little more adult-focused. I think Ron has voted for kids sometimes, and I think he's voted for adults sometimes."
If only it were that easy. If anything, the new bloc has distinguished itself by a solid trust in cold, hard data over the types of anecdotal evidence that used to drive decisions. In the past, any single board member could veto changes to the attendance zones in his or her district. Now, which schools kids attend is an administrative decision. That doesn't sound like much, but for DISD, it's a big deal. At a public meeting in May, nearly a dozen teachers, parents and students in South Oak Cliff begged the administration not to rezone children to different schools, going so far as to say that it could trigger gang wars. Their school board member, Lew Blackburn, implored the administration and Hinojosa to compromise, but they were unmoved. Attendance rates dictated that the zoning lines be redrawn, the administration explained. Satisfied with that reasoning, the new guard voted to keep their new zoning plan intact. The African-American members of the board--Blackburn, Price and Hollis Brashear--watched in horror.
At the new DISD, where it's not personal, it's just business, Price remains old-school. His colleagues insist that the days of the board micromanaging education are over, but Price still walks down the halls of his high schools to see what's going on. He has brokered meetings between hostile teachers and principals and hands out his cell phone number to students.
"He's in there working with principals, working with his area superintendents and his teachers to get the things he needs in his district," says Dale Kaiser, president of the Dallas chapter of the National Education Association. "And if he thinks a particular school needs a change of whatever kind, he's not shy about making that known to the principal."
Price is still all about ward-style politics, leveraging his status and unlikely star power to give his constituents what they want.
While it's hard to imagine any of his wonkish colleagues in any other elected office, Price is a natural politician whose interests expand to larger community concerns, from gang violence to high school tracks where elderly ladies can walk at night. But his penchant for controversies, confrontation and ethical imbroglios threatens to make him a relic--or perhaps a candidate for city council.
Over the last few weeks, Price has vacillated about whether he'd run for the South Dallas council seat of Leo Chaney, who is being term-limited out of office. The ambitious Price explains that relocating from DISD to City Hall is a mere lateral move. But with last week's announcement that Mayor Laura Miller is dropping out of the race, the veteran school board member now says he's considering a run for the top spot, reporting that he'll be meeting with business leaders, with whom he has very close ties, to discuss a possible candidacy. Of course, Price is not exactly zeroing in on the cutting-edge issues of the moment.
"Number one on my list after getting rid of drugs in my district is a city ordinance that will outlaw sagging," he says proudly. "I don't think it is appropriate for a man to walk around publicly with their underwear showing or their pants below their buttocks."
While the corporate leadership approach of Hinojosa and the trustees may have shortcomings, the public face of DISD has come a long way from the 1990s when the district was about as harmonious as the Gaza Strip. The lowlight of that period was the felony conviction of school Superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez, who didn't exactly draw a clear line between the school budget and her personal bank account. In addition, just about every school board meeting gave prospective parents a laundry list of reasons to move to a neighboring district.
Even the New Black Panthers showed up at a few meetings. In one case, they assaulted a Hispanic DISD employee while a gaggle of DISD security guards looked on passively. Mostly, however, they heckled the board with taunts of racism.
"Mr. Keever is a grandson of the Klan!" yelled one New Black Panther at then school board President Bill Keever during a meeting in January 1997. "Keever is a Klansman, he hook up with R.L. Thornton."
African-American trustee Kathlyn Gilliam, who served on the board for 23 years, particularly stoked racial animosity. At times she even seemed to be collaborating with demonstrators during breaks in public meetings. So in 1997, when Gilliam had a smart, young, reform-minded challenger named Ron Price, the Morning News endorsed him without qualification, citing his activism and energy. In particular, the paper was impressed with how Price founded a youth group called the Pearl Guards, which fought for zoning regulations to lower the number of liquor stores clustered around South Dallas schools.
At the time, Price was working at Madison High School, where he was responsible for handling security on campus. Approaching 30, Price wasn't exactly on the fast track to success, but despite his rather anonymous job, he managed to stand out. "The kids, the parents, the teachers, they all loved him," says Leon Hamilton, principal of Madison when Price worked there. "He always kept a smile on his face. I never saw him get angry. He just drew people to him, especially troubled kids. He had a great rapport with them."
In addition to the Morning News, Price garnered support from the white business community, adding an odd dynamic to the race. While that group as a whole has largely given up on public education, judging by where they send their own kids to school, they took a liking to the young Price and set out to get him elected. Donors such as developer Harlan Crow and banker Robert Lane opened up their checkbooks to the challenger and handed him a decisive fund-raising advantage.
Price ended up winning by a scant 34 votes as Gilliam bitterly accused him of buying the election, but while Price did have the backing of the white establishment, he did surprisingly well in South Dallas where residents also had tired of Gilliam's confrontational style.
Nine years later, Price would again be involved in another tough election, eking out a close win against challenger Bernadette Nutall. This time the roles were switched: Price was the entrenched incumbent closely wedded to the district's troubled past while Nutall filled the part of the outsider bent on reform. Earning the endorsement of the Morning News, Nutall harped on Price's cell phone bills and travel expenses, which were picked up by DISD.
"I see him as a self-promoter," says Nutall, who helps operate a South Dallas summer school for girls. "There are schools without books, and we have $19,000 cell phone bills?"
Price won by 67 votes. Blaming his slim victory on an onslaught of bad press from the Morning News, Price had little to say about his challenger.
"I wasn't even going to run until other people started begging me to run," he says. "They said you need to run. You can't have her on the board."
While Price continues to complain about the tactics of his challenger, he was the one who ran a rather underhanded race. In his campaign flier, Price included the names of dozens of organizations, ministers and political leaders who "supported and endorsed him." But some of them never backed Price. The Dallas Breakfast Group, an influential organization of local business leaders listed as one of the groups that endorsed Price, does not endorse candidates. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, who is listed on the flier, had backed Price in the past but stayed neutral in the 2006 race. When pressed, Price says that both Johnson and the Breakfast Group support him, even if they did not endorse him.
"That's splitting hairs," he says.
Among Price's most loyal backers are the two main teachers unions in DISD. Currently at philosophical loggerheads with Hinojosa and the majority bloc, the unions have been able to count on Price as a steady ally, which is especially vital to them now after recent board elections saw the defeat of former board President Lois Parrott.
"When Lois Parrott lost, there was a quantum shift on the board," says Aimee Bolender, president of the local AFT chapter. "The current leadership is exemplified by Jack Lowe, the new president of the board, and it's modeled by good business practices, which in their mind is good test scores."
The new bloc sees their role as akin to board members of a Fortune 500 company, giving their CEO, Hinojosa, the support he needs to reshape DISD. Among the changes the new board has supported is a controversial initiative that will allow the administration to fire teachers more or less at will. After several teachers spoke out against this measure last May, the board voted 5-4 in favor of the administration. Price and the other two African-American board members, along with newly elected trustee Adam Medrano, voted against the proposal.
Price probably earned the undying loyalty of the unions when he voted against a proposal from then Superintendent Mike Moses to tie teacher evaluations to test scores in 2004. Two years later, Price spoke out against one of the hallmarks of the new bloc's agenda: offering incentive pay to principals based in part on the test scores of their students. But the new bloc clearly had the votes, and it passed unanimously.
Trustee Edwin Flores, who recently reviewed educational case studies at a think tank in Los Angeles, says that he ran on the incentive pay for principals and won with 75 percent of the vote. Clearly, he says, a mandate exists for shaking up the dated bureaucracy at DISD, and trustees tied to the past struggled during the last elections while he and Leigh Ann Ellis, who upset Parrott, coasted to easy victories.
"Unless we implement these major reforms and we do so boldly and deliberately and with research and accountability to back it up--and unless we do it all at the same time--you don't know if the experiment works. And you have to experiment," he says. "We've seen the results of the past, and I would bet dollars to doughnuts the taxpayers don't like it."
Price rarely brings up his opposition to key tenants of the new bloc's self-titled reform movement. Indeed, he hardly seems bothered by it. While his colleagues cite the latest educational research and pepper conversations with phrases such as "data points," Price has a more old-fashioned approach to his job. Since his election in 1997, Price has held a series of flexible jobs, including doing out-of-state sales and educational consulting work. Now he owns a pizza place on the Mesquite border. It's been years since Price held a regular 9-to-5 job, but that's because to him being a school board member is a full-time gig with the demanding task of giving your constituents what they want.
After fielding suggestions from parents and teachers on the merits of a school uniform policy, he pushed to implement it for most grades in the district. He holds regular meetings with the easily irritated parents in his district, which includes South Dallas and part of East Dallas. He supported using part of the 2002 bond program to build tracks behind nearly all DISD high schools, which nearby residents love. Finally, in a huge bureaucracy such as DISD, where simply getting an administrator on the phone is almost impossible, Price is the one guy people in his district can find.
"He's just a big lovable teddy bear, and he'll shoot me for saying this, but it's true," says Kaiser with NEA-Dallas. "He genuinely listens to people when they talk to him...And when he's able to take care of their problem, he's got them."
To his critics, Price's ability to win friends and influence people doesn't always stem from a kind heart. On May 5, during a campaign in which his ethics were up for debate, Price took a group of guidance counselors in his district out for lunch at the Pappadeaux restaurant on Oak Lawn Avenue. DISD picked up the check, which came to a hefty $1,457.56. Price says that the lunch was a token of appreciation and that he often takes teachers out to lunch to reward them for their hard work. But according to one guidance counselor who was at the luncheon, Price used it to answer criticism that had appeared in the Morning News. In one conversation, he spoke simple Spanish phrases to deflect a recent story that cast doubt on his claim that he did not speak English until the age of 11.
Until recently, Price and other board members had $3,000 in discretionary money that they could use in their districts. Price used it to hold dinners for parents and teachers, send out mailers about district events and purchase trinkets for deserving students. To the so-called reformers, this amounted to nothing more than a slush fund, and in November they voted to end the practice as a part of an ethics bill. Also included in the measure were more stringent financial disclosure requirements.
Price and his black colleagues called the measure racist, and none of them showed up at the meeting at which it passed. Six months later, he still says that the elimination of the discretionary fund penalizes minority districts like his, where the trustees don't have the personal income to spend on district projects.
Trustee Jerome Garza, who voted for the ethics bill, says that it's a part of a larger agenda for many new members to re-focus DISD priorities. "We didn't want boondoggles out there," he says of the fund. "We wanted trustees to use it wisely, and there is a clear perception in the community that this is not what we were doing."
To Price's detractors, it's a wonder he has managed to remain in office, considering how he had to beat back a litany of bad press about his spending, ethics and character. On the day of the election, the Morning News ran another editorial endorsing his challenger while resurrecting his 2003 conviction on a misdemeanor family violence charge. That's a tough shot to overcome. But even if Price earned the drubbing about his conduct in office--and that's an arguable point--the portrayal of him as a slick showman out only for himself misses a good part of who he is.
Price's friend Omar Jahwar runs a gang intervention program called Vision Regeneration. About a year ago, Jahwar called the school board member at midnight after a gang shooting on Jamaica Street in South Dallas, close to where Price lives. Jahwar says that a gang called the 187 Crips shot at members of the 415 East Dallas Bloods with handguns and assault-type rifles. No one died, but the Bloods lingered, promising revenge.
Price and Jahwar soon arrived at the scene, hoping to cool some heads. "I'm not going to lie to you," Price says. "I was scared."
But he told them a series of stories--most of them corny, Jahwar jokes--and for a while everyone laughed. It seems hard to imagine that Price, a veteran public official who is about as gangsta as Cuba Gooding Jr., could connect with vengeful street thugs, but Jahwar says that he earned respect just by being there.
"Even if he wouldn't seem to have credibility, the fact is he's showing up here at midnight," Jahwar says. "Who else is going to come?"
Later in October 2005, Price held a news conference in front of the Martin Luther King statue at the MLK Center announcing a truce between members of the Crips and Bloods. Members of both gangs attended. Beforehand, Price and Jahwar had met with gang leaders in their living rooms, discussing ways to put a halt to the violence that has made South Dallas one of the most dangerous places to live in the city. In a subsequent lunch, Price deplored the destructive effects of gang warfare while showing a surprising (and arguably batty) level of empathy for their situation.
"You have some people in these organizations who feel that society hasn't been fair to them, so why should they be fair to society?" he says. "Gangs are going to be here forever, so you don't demonize them, you embrace them."
In a year in which Price made headlines for all the wrong reasons, the besieged school board member earned quite a bit of publicity for his news conference. But when the reporters and photographers finished documenting his triumph, the gang violence continued unabated.
In addition to his efforts to bring about a gang truce, last year Price worked with the Reverend David Ferrell to hold a "1,000 Man" meeting at Friendship West Baptist Church. The meeting was to serve as a clarion call for African-American men to serve as better role models for children. Nearly 2,000 people showed up.
Ferrell has read the stories in the Morning News about his friend's excessive cell phone use but claims that's a product of the school board member's expansive view of his job.
"He reached into his pocket once and pulled out about 75 messages. He had a green paper clip on one set and another paper clip for another. He said, 'These people here are from my district, and these people are from outside my district.' I said, 'When do you breathe, when do you sleep?'"
In July 2000, Ferrell was providing marital counseling to Price and his new wife, Angelia Brown Price. The two had dated only eight months before they wed, and Price believed her to be a "Bible-toting, Scripture-quoting person," Price says. On the day they enlisted the help of Reverend Ferrell, Price's wife suddenly snapped, picked up her chair and threw it at her husband. She wasn't finished.
"I got in between them. She was hitting and punching at this point," Ferrell would later state in an affidavit.
Their marriage didn't exactly mellow, and a little more than a year later they sought counseling, on October 14, 2001, Price asked his wife for a divorce. As he tells it, she didn't take it well, and he left to visit his mother for her 60th birthday. When he returned, with a plate of fried chicken in his hand, the police arrived at his home and hauled him to jail on an assault charge.
Months later, a judge found Price guilty of a misdemeanor family violence charge and ordered him to pay a small fine after the school board member admitted to pushing back on a screen door as his wife was on the other side. He claimed she was trying to shove him out of their house as he was leaving with his niece. The judge asked him, point blank, "Did you bump her with the door?"
"Your honor, [I had a] 3-year-old niece in one hand, half my body out the door leaving, a charging woman pissed off, pushing the door on me telling me to get the fuck out, and I pushed the door back," Price recalls saying.
Price says he tried to appeal the case but filled out the wrong paperwork. (Price's former wife didn't return phone calls from the Dallas Observer.)
That one afternoon with his wife will likely haunt Price for the rest of his political career. During Price's last campaign, his enemies taunted him as a convicted wife beater, while the Morning News reminded voters of his bout with the wrong end of the law on the day of his election. But Price's ex-wife's own account of what happened, as detailed on the police report, is a little sketchy. She states that Price pushed the screen door while she was on the other side, causing her to fall backward. He then "pushed her on the chin," and she fell again. Then Price left. That's it.
It may be impossible to find out what really happened between them. For Price's supporters, the Morning News' treatment of his conviction on a seemingly dubious charge looks like it was part of an editorial agenda to remove him from office.
"We were aghast that they would keep bringing that up, and it goes back to the character assassination of Ron Price," says Jim Neale, an active Republican who worked on Price's re-election campaign and serves on the school board member's advisory council.
Price has other explanations for some of the charges that have dogged him over the past year, adding a touch of gray to the bold and broad swipes at his conduct from the local press. His $19,000 cell phone charges, which were featured on WFAA-Channel 8, the Morning News and blogger Allen Gwinn's site, stemmed from his belief that the trustee's cell phone plan was for unlimited minutes at a set rate. As a result, he gave out his number to parents, teachers and even students, telling them to call him anytime.
George Williams, who served on the board with Price for five years, concurs with his former colleague's explanation. "I was under the impression that we had a set rate for unlimited usage," he says.
But Gwinn, whose dallas.org has served as a veritable watchdog of DISD and Price himself, says he warned the school board member about his cell phone usage a year or so before the mainstream press broke the story. After running into each other at a meeting, they sat and talked. Price wanted to know why the local blogger had him on his radar. "I said, 'Here's one thing: Your cell phone bills are outlandish,'" Gwinn recalls. "He reassured me he only used his district phone for business. He claimed he had a personal cell phone, and I asked him to show it to me, and he claimed he left it in his car."
Price was also caught up in the Morning News exposé on Micro System Enterprises, a DISD vendor, and its close relationship with former technology chief Ruben Bohuchot, who helped name and select a 59-foot boat for the company. Based in Houston, the firm was organizing a consortium of vendors to wire Dallas schools for computers. Micro System President Frankie Wong, who negotiated a contract with Bohuchot worth up to $100 million, also gave $25,000 in political contributions to Price, who sat on the committee that reviewed the company's contracts. To put that figure in perspective, that's $8,000 more than Price raised from all contributors when he first ran for school board in 1997--with the backing of the business community, no less.
Price, however, explains that his committee had approved the contract with Micro System years earlier, and the contribution did not influence anyone's decision. An e-mail from DISD outside counsel exonerates him, Price says.
"Likewise the political contribution to Board member Ron Price was made in 2004 and also occurred after all Board action relating to the Consortium took place," read the e-mail from attorney John Martin. The attorney also wrote that the political contribution did not have any impact on the awarding of the contract.
Still, even Price's supporters admit that the contribution does not look good.
"It was all legal; it was reported," says Dale Kaiser with the NEA. "Was it the best thing to accept monetary donations from those gentlemen? Probably not. Some of those things you have to learn."
Price endured other controversies throughout the last 12 months, but perhaps nothing was as damning as his 2005 commencement speech at Woodrow Wilson High School, located at the edge of his district in East Dallas. During an oration in which he boasted about "having the president of the United States, George W. Bush, call me from time to time on my cell phone," Price added that he was 11 years old when he moved from New York City's Spanish Harlem to Garland. But as Gwinn later pointed out on his blog, Price enrolled at the Garland Independent School District at the age of 6, not 11.
"Everything I said in my speech, I stand by," Price says more than a year later. He explains that while he did attend school in Garland as a first-grader--contradicting part of his speech--he didn't learn how to speak proper English until years later. "I failed first grade, second grade, third grade. I flunked English and reading," Price says about his formative years in public education. "I wasn't a very bright student."
Discouraged at the education her son was receiving, Price's mom, Devorah Israel, pulled him out of GISD, and they returned home to New York before coming back to Texas a few years later. In a phone interview arranged by Price, she explained her son's claims. She and her husband raised Price in Spanish Harlem. Although they both spoke English, they were often gone during the day, and her son had Cuban and Puerto Rican friends and baby sitters. He spoke at best broken English, learning from those who were trying to learn the language themselves.
"Have you ever talked to a Puerto Rican speaking English?" she says, trying to describe how her son communicated in his formative years.
It's a rather dizzying story that doesn't quite make sense. Price himself says he is only going on what his mom has told him; he doesn't really remember whether he could speak English when he was a child. But he does take a cheap shot at Gwinn, who, in this instance, merely exposed the befuddling statements in Price's speech: "So for this guy to make a mockery of how we grew up poor and how poor people have a problem with standard English, I have a problem with that. He's a racist."
The frustrating thing about Price is that the true circumstances of his life and work on the board and in South Dallas are plenty inspiring for a group of high school graduates. There's no need to embellish and give his critics more fodder.
To hear Price tell it, parts of his life sound like scenes from a sequel to New Jack City. He's been shot at three times, he says, narrowly escaping death nearly 20 years ago in Oak Cliff. At the time, he was dating a woman who was seeing a drug dealer on the side. Not happy with this arrangement, the drug dealer and his friends confronted the woman at her home and shot at Price's car as he was fleeing.
Today Price's enemies continue to take aim at him, but he's still standing. After criticizing Gwinn and Nutall, whom he views as the root of all disparaging news about him, Price offers an olive branch. "Even with these two individuals who I don't even know, I will still always pray for them and help them if they needed my help. My door is always open for Mr. Gwinn and Miss Nutall. We can pray together; we can go out to lunch together; we can just talk about educational issues together."
After barely winning re-election only to find himself out of step with a new cadre of trustees, Price was musing about running to replace Dallas City Council member Leo Chaney. On our drive to Red Oak, Price said he hadn't thought a lot about a possible candidacy but when pressed revealed that he'd given the matter at least a passing consideration.
"If I did decide to run for city council, I would take the same approach with the school district. I would take the area that I'm running for and with God's assistance and his guidance I would transform that community fast. This ain't going to be no five- or six-year plan and all this crud I hear from people."
Price then unveiled a multifaceted action plan that calls for greater grassroots efforts to improve the look and character of South Dallas. He wants to discourage loitering, toughen ordinances and code enforcement to preclude residents from having couches on their front porches and cars in their front yards. He says before he runs, he needs to know if people in South Dallas really want him in office, because he plans to make a lot of residents miserable.
"When people ask me about it I say, 'Are you sure I'm the guy you want? Because if I'm the guy you want, in six months all the drug dealers will have to leave this community. I'm personally going to come out and protest drug houses. I'm not sending the police. I'm coming. Your city council member will show up in person.'"
And Price will show up. He's likely the hardest-working politician in Dallas and certainly the most gregarious. If he's elected to the council, he'll work with police, residents, shop owners and business leaders to deal with instigators of urban blight such as beer joints and hot-sheet motels. He'll give everybody his cell phone number. He will be absolutely tireless. Of course, the same controversies that dogged him at DISD will likely pop up again in some form or fashion. Price always seems to get carried away in his deeds and his words.
"It will take me six months to clean South Dallas," he says while driving past a string of liquor stores and vacant lots. "Six. A maximum six."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.