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Sandra Crenshaw, Mental Illness and the Race for the Texas Legislature.

Sandra Crenshaw, talking with Schutze when she was on the City Council. during the Don Hill corruption trial in 2009.
Sandra Crenshaw, talking with Schutze when she was on the City Council. during the Don Hill corruption trial in 2009.

No one who knows former Dallas City Council member Sandra Crenshaw would dispute her intelligence or obsessive dedication to public service. It's her long and well-documented history of erratic behavior, the most recent case involving the alleged theft of a rental car, that raises questions about her fitness to hold public office.

Suffice to say that pretty much everyone was flummoxed when The Dallas Morning News endorsed her in the race for Texas House District 110 over the weekend.

Weirder still, the editorial offers only glancing allusions to Crenshaw's past antics. She "has her own shortcomings," the paper writes, and is "no stranger to handcuffs." But if she is able to "slow down and focus," she will do a far better job than incumbent Toni Rose.

See also: Former City Council Member Sandra Crenshaw Indicted for Theft of Rental Car

In an email to Unfair Park this morning, Morning News editorial page editor Keven Ann Willey explains the editorial board's decision to smooth over Crenshaw's rougher edges.

"We felt that by noting her erratic behavior we were signaling to voters her occasional irrationality without getting into the details of various diagnoses," she writes. "Those diagnoses are best disclosed by Ms. Crenshaw."

Besides: "We could not, in good faith, recommend Ms. Rose."

The Morning News' reluctance here is understandable, but surely readers deserve a more direct explanation of why the paper thinks she's not going to do crazy stuff once she's elected. Even if the paper thinks Rose is godawful, it could have endorsed no one.

Crenshaw is apparently ready to offer such an explanation. Yesterday evening, D's Tim Rogers published a letter she'd written in response to his earlier Frontburner post citing court documents calling her "mentally ill."

Crenshaw's response is remarkable: impassioned, lucid, and honest. In it, she admits that she's struggled with mental illness (she doesn't specify what it is, and she hasn't responded to our request for an interview) but writes that "cognitive behavioral therapy has helped me to slow down but my focus is never more clear."

It was through my family tree research, that I discovered that mental illness runs on my maternal side of my family and that I have a different father from my four siblings who are or have been functional alcoholic and drug addicts. We were raised by a physically, mentally and verbally abusive mother and my siblings have been accused by the state of abusing their children. This discovery was devastating. My maternal grandfather died in a mental institution in South Texas. My mother died in 2009 of cirrhosis of liver after drinking to self medicate.

In 2008, after the horrible public humiliation that my family and I suffered from the coverage from this publication and your posters about the Texas Two Step, my nieces and nephews were teased and harassed, not by their friends but by the adult staff at Singing Hills Recreation Center. The city took action against the staff, but I realized then extent of the toil that my activism had taken on my family who predisposed to mental illness. They did not choose to have their lives disrupted by my public life. As I began to see manifestations of personality disorders from their life experiences, I found myself at my most vulnerable moments. I could not protest their plight away. I couldn't litigate it, I could not get petitions to help them. I voluntarily submitted myself for help in order to help them and fight against the bullies who take advantage of the poor. Generations will continue to suffer if politicians and the media do not stop stigmatizing mental illness. No one will get help if they have to humiliated as I have here by the DA and the Frontburner.

It's the kind of statement that makes you stop chuckling and gaze down at your toes, ashamed. It also serves as a reminder that there's a huge stigma around mental illness, and that Texas has a woeful record on mental health funding.

Crenshaw will without doubt be a vocal advocate on such issues. Given that she appears to have mental illness in check, why not send her to Austin?

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.


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