The Envelope, Please
Last week I reported that members of the Tom Dunning and Domingo Garcia mayoral campaigns had been subpoenaed to testify before a Dallas County criminal grand jury investigating election fraud. Garcia confirmed the story concerning his own campaign, but Dunning went on KRLD radio last week and insisted that nobody from his own staff had been subpoenaed.
What Dunning said on the radio was not true. Jan Gore, who is running the Southern Dallas phone banks for Dunning, has been called before the grand jury under subpoena. So has at least one other staff member.
The fact that people have been compelled to testify before the grand jury does not mean that they have done anything wrong. In the past when I have come across Gore in other campaigns, it was my impression that she did not engage in illegalities. But let's stop and make a mark next to one important point: I said members of the Dunning staff had been subpoenaed. After a full day to check it out, he said I was lying; nobody from his campaign had been compelled to testify. I have two people from his campaign on tape telling me they were subpoenaed.
I'm not a lawyer. My impression of what Jan Gore does for campaigns is not exactly definitive. The bottom line is that I have no idea who may be a target of this grand jury investigation and who may be an expert witness of sorts.
Dunning said on the radio that the grand jury investigation is not focused on the current mayoral election, and that's technically true. The grand jury probe was launched last summer after the Dwaine Caraway/Ed Oakley city council race. It's focused on vote-selling in Southern Dallas generally, including instances that may have occurred in any one of several elections.
None of which is exactly the point here. You have three mayoral campaigns: Dunning, Garcia and Miller. In two of them, people involved in the campaign have to go downtown under subpoena and talk to this grand jury, which expects to produce criminal indictments within the next few weeks. One does not.
The difference is simple. The Garcia and Dunning campaigns both have relied heavily on the traditional machinery that delivers the "bought" vote, whether it's bought through illegal activities or bought through a system of so-called "walking-around money" that may well fall within the boundaries of the law. The Miller campaign has not gone that route.
Next question: Why does anybody have to buy a vote?
The reason Dunning has to pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Southern Dallas voting apparatus is because his supposed historical bond with black Dallas is a farce. When I talked to Gore at Dunning campaign headquarters, I told her it was my impression that Dunning had no name i.d. and no reputation in Southern Dallas at all before this campaign.
"He absolutely didn't," she said. "We had to build some name i.d."
She said Dunning's money was all-important: "Every penny that Mr. Dunning put over here in this community, baby, it was worth it, because he wouldn't have ever been in the runoff if it hadn't been for our efforts over here."
Gore and I discussed the role of Kathy Nealy, Dunning's principal political operative in Southern Dallas. Last week Nealy refused to answer questions about how she spends Dunning's money and accused me of racism for asking. Consultants for Domingo Garcia and Laura Miller opened their books to show how they spend campaign money.
I asked to see how the consultants spend their money, because all three of the campaigns have voiced suspicions about the others paying for endorsements. The endorsement issue is only one window on a very gray ethical area in which cash becomes a major campaign tool.
In Southern Dallas, where campaigning is often personal and door-to-door, large sums may be spent for so-called "walkers," who carry campaign literature out into the neighborhoods. Dunning also was asked at a news conference last week whether his campaign had been making cash contributions to Southern Dallas churches where he's been invited to speak. He conceded that he and his staff may "put some money in the collection plate."
Gore told me that she and Nealy both work for a flat fee. All of the other money that flows through Nealy, she said, goes for legitimate campaign expenditures.
"The thing I can tell you about Kathy Nealy that I know and I've known for 20 years is that Kathy Nealy gets a fee, and I get a fee. I think Kathy Nealy's fee for this gig is $10,000 a month. Everything else goes to where it's supposed to go."
However Tom Dunning may be putting the money out there, legitimately or otherwise, one thing is clear: If he were not paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in street money for his support in Southern Dallas, he would have no support there at all. A good example of how Dunning relates to black people is the meeting that was arranged for him early in the campaign by one of his own (former) supporters, the Reverend Charles Stovall of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
People at the meeting told me the moment they asked Dunning challenging questions, he got mad. Dunning himself admitted as much to me, but I also discussed the meeting at some length with Stovall and community activist Lee Alcorn.
Alcorn has a reputation as somewhat of a firebrand, although he's a pretty gentlemanly firebrand. He did picket Laura Miller's house with Dallas County Commissioner John Price, but Alcorn was the one who asked the other picketers to take the dirty words off their signs. Stovall is a strong but very polite man who rarely raises his voice.
I was trying to get some kind of a gauge of Dunning's behavior at the meeting. I asked if we were talking about something like the old days in Dallas when you had white-templed, well-heeled golfer guys on the city council who turned red in the face and went into near convulsions with their eyes popping out whenever Elsie Faye Heggins, one of the city's first black council members, asked a direct question.
"Was it that extreme?" I asked.
Lee Alcorn said, "Yes, he was very much that extreme. I've had a lot of experience looking at people and trying to get a read on them. Dunning was very uncomfortable. He was like offended that we would question anything about him, and who are we, little nobodies as far as he was concerned."
Look, I'm not saying any of this makes Tom Dunning the great Satan. He's just a man of a certain age and time. This should be a no-brainer for the average white person over 25 years of age in this city: If you wanted to appoint someone to go forth and bring peace and harmony to the varied races of the earth, would you pick your dad?
The real story of the January 19 election--an amazing story--is that Laura Miller devastated Tom Dunning in precisely the middle-class and more affluent neighborhoods that should have been his stronghold. The sheer margin of her victory is the untold news story of the campaign.
It's hard to ignore the absolute foolishness of The Dallas Morning News editorial page with its daily Dunning endorsements. ("This just in: Additional good things about Tom Dunning come to Rena Pederson in dream.") But the News has played the election pretty straight on its news pages, with one caveat: It has not done the obvious analysis story. Within 48 hours of the final results in the January 19 election, the headline stripped across the front page should have been: "MILLER ROUTS DUNNING IN HIS OWN BACK YARD."
The final tallies were thunderous. In city council districts 10, 11, 12 and 13--the districts of Alan Walne, Lois Finkelman, Sandy Greyson and Mitchell Rasansky, amounting to the entire northern tier of the city--Miller beat Dunning by margins of 12 to 14 percentage points.
But look what she did in District 9 in northeast Dallas and Lake Highlands, which belongs to Miller's most staunch detractor and the Dunning campaign's most out-front cheerleader on the council, Mayor Pro Tem Mary Poss: In Poss' own district, Miller beat Dunning by 2-to-1. 2-to-1. That's the kind of result you normally only see in a Teamsters election.
I'll get some disagreement on this, I know, but I also think that if you look closely at the margins of the Miller win in middle-class and affluent African-American neighborhoods, she did very well.
What did that leave Tom Dunning with? It left him with a solid bloc of poor African-American precincts in the southern tier of the city, long ignored by City Hall but trained to vote on command, where the vote can be had for money. In that area this man who can barely get through a face-to-face meeting with black people without losing his temper rolled up an impressive victory. Of the 670-odd voting precincts in this city, 21 have populations that are 90 percent or higher African-American. Dunning took every one of them by an average tally of 69 percent.
Could your dad do that?
The African-American and Latino communities in Dallas have lots of savvy, smart, wired-up leaders who despise the system I'm talking about. In recent weeks there has been some exciting movement among that cadre away from Dunning and toward Miller.
But the money still flows, and the Southern Dallas machine is still a critical element in how the February 16 runoff election will be decided. This is the same sad story of the big guys and the bought vote that brought us the arena deal and the Trinity River project. It's why Dunning's people and Garcia's people have to talk to the criminal grand jury. The whole thing is a terribly sad and corrosive legacy of the bad old days of plantation politics, in which no one is cheated more bitterly than the poor people whose votes are peddled like a commodity.
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.