The Race Race

The candidate points disapprovingly at discarded crack vials littering the stoop of an East Oak Cliff convenience store. Then he reaches into his stylish black suit and gives a stringy-haired drifter five bucks for dinner. Dwaine Caraway, friend of the downtrodden, explains his generosity. "He didn't buy a quart of beer," he says. "He bought a hamburger. It may have helped someone avoid getting knocked in the head."Raised in the neighborhood and disgusted by its persistent ills, Caraway, who is campaigning aggressively to succeed his wife, Barbara Mallory Caraway, as the Dallas City Council member for District 6, pledges to fight such maladies. Which, he says during a long drive in his Cadillac through the serpent-shaped district, which takes in a sizable swath of Oak Cliff and West Dallas--as well as an ill-matched chunk of North Dallas--can mostly be blamed on one thing: No one's kicking butts at home or in the schools anymore.

Driving across a dilapidated Trinity River bridge on his way downtown, Caraway, a youthful-looking 48, reminisces about the halcyon days of schoolhouse whuppins. "They took discipline out, and that's when we lost control," he says. "Kids began threatening teachers."

Caraway, a former vice president of the Dallas Parks and Recreation Board, has made such uplift-through-order platitudes the center of his campaign. As a council member, he vows to press for stepped-up police patrols. "The problem is prostitution and drug houses," the voluble candidate says. "When you address those problems, kids can come out to play and people can sit on their front porch."

He offers little more in the way of specifics. Yet in a field of five candidates--one of whom was arrested twice for violent incidents with women, though never convicted, and another whose attitude toward publicity consists of cheerily breaking off interviews soon after they've started and never calling back--Caraway qualifies as the man to beat. He gains his front-runner status through name recognition, both for his well-publicized though unsuccessful bid for NAACP chief in 1998 and for his marriage to sitting Councilwoman Barbara Mallory Caraway, a former DJ at gospel radio station KHVN-AM 970. (Dwaine is also a former radio DJ.)

Which isn't to say he isn't carrying some serious baggage. Law-and-order talk aside, the Caraway name has become synonymous at City Hall with a loosey-goosey attitude toward ethics. Dwaine Caraway's council run comes after four stints as campaign manager for Barbara Mallory Caraway, whom he wed in 1994. She rewarded him by appointing him to the city parks board in 1993. When she renewed his appointment post-nuptials in 1995, that ethically dubious act became one of the cases in point as the city crafted a ban on nepotism as part of its new ethics code.

Adding fuel to ethical questions are the generous consulting fees Barbara Mallory Caraway paid to her husband during recent campaigns, and allegations of payoffs to the Caraways from the former manager of southern Dallas' Redbird Airport while he was struggling to hang on to his city contract. What's more, Dwaine Caraway filed for personal bankruptcy in late 1999, although he later withdrew his filing, prompting some to ask why he wants a $50-a-week job. Caraway, who jokes he's guilty only of "trying to help others before helping myself," insists his ethical standards are stellar and his financial troubles past. He says he's worked out payment plans with his creditors and is attempting to launch a new business.

By early April, Caraway had raised $31,070 to fight for the small pool of people who actually bother to vote in District 6 elections. In 1999, a mere 3,248 of the 36,059 registered voters cast ballots. Despite complaints from some vocal City Hall critics that she's a do-nothing council member, Barbara Mallory Caraway gained 1,962 of those votes to win a fourth--and final, under term limits--stint on the council. Her runner-up was civil rights activist Roy Williams, with 747 votes.

Dwaine Caraway points to new recreation centers built in black neighborhoods and other amenities as proof he gets the job done. But in what has become Dallas' most closely watched contest in the May 5 municipal election, several factors have put Caraway's coronation in doubt.

The first is the fact that he faces four challengers. Leading the pack is Ed Oakley, Barbara Mallory Caraway's appointee to the City Plan Commission and a general contractor active in Dallas civic life. There's also Roy Williams, the biennial candidate and civil rights activist; Robert Beckles, an attorney whose candidacy is even more of a long shot since allegations surfaced recently that he had violently attacked two women (Beckles admits he was arrested twice but downplays the incidents); and Kawania Lynn, a West Dallas resident with a bounced-check conviction who didn't grant an interview or sit for a photograph with the Dallas Observer.  

The last three stand little chance of getting elected. Beckles and Lynn have neither strong neighborhood bases nor political organizations. Williams, who has always garnered at least 500 votes in the many races in which he's run, lacks a critical mass of support. Yet collectively, the trio, all of whom are black, could make a mark by splintering the black vote and throwing the race to Oakley, a white candidate who has strong support in vote-rich North Dallas and among Southwest Oak Cliff's white and mixed neighborhoods.

That, say some African-American leaders, would be a disaster. A resident of Southwest Oak Cliff, Oakley brushes off the race factor. He counts among his supporters blacks who appreciated his efforts to rezone their neighborhoods. "Does that mean because I'm white I have to move somewhere else?" Oakley asks. "Are we going to segregate communities again?"

Such appeals to high-mindedness don't impress Dallas' old-school black leaders. "The election of an Anglo in a district established to empower minorities is a violation of the spirit of 14-1," says Diane Ragsdale, an activist and former city councilwoman who doesn't live in the district. Meanwhile, an influx of Hispanics has drastically altered the complexion of District 6, which has 82,000 residents. New census figures show that a once-solid majority black district is now only 44 percent African-American, with 39 percent Hispanic and 15 percent white.

More than any other council race, this year's fight for District 6 highlights the shifting legacy of 14-1 in an increasingly diverse city. What kind of politics emerges when no group has a clear majority?

Whatever the answer to that question, Caraway continues to play his cards as though the race is all about race. As for his chief challenger, he says, "Oakley has the right to run, but he's in the wrong race."

What he means, more to the point, is that Oakley is the wrong race.

It's Wednesday night on March 28 at the West Dallas Multipurpose Center, and about 20 mostly elderly residents have gathered for a candidates forum. Since only 23 out of 847 registered voters in this neighborhood cast a ballot in the 1999 city council election, those gathered could very well represent the entire voting populace of Precinct 3126.

Williams is first to speak. Earlier in the evening, two Williams volunteers had handed out campaign fliers. "Community Leadership for Unsolved Problems," reads one, which touts Williams' stand for "environmental justice" in neighborhoods such as West Dallas with histories of lead contamination. Despite his appeal to local interests, Williams actually lived in North Dallas until January.

With a mane of billowing gray hair and a face creased with age, Williams, 58, looks the part of an elder statesman. Yet in spite of four previous attempts, he's never won election to the council he fought to diversify. A plaintiff in the landmark 14-1 case, he sued because the old, mostly at-large city council election system in place until 1991 effectively blocked minorities from office. A federal judge imposed 14-1 (shorthand for 14 council districts and one at-large mayor) on Dallas.

Williams' own failure to capitalize on his successes in court is an ironic coda to that era. Still, he styles himself as the heir to the old-school black activist tradition once championed by former Councilman Al Lipscomb. A fixture at city council meetings during open-mike time, Williams bemoans "eight years of no change" under Barbara Mallory Caraway, suggesting the district will get more of the same under husband Dwaine. "The lead smelters should have gone away in those eight years," he says, referring to a battery recycling plant that contaminated West Dallas for decades and is only now being disassembled.

Dwaine Caraway is next. After rattling off his connections to the black community--Oliver Wendell Holmes Middle School, Franklin D. Roosevelt High School and Texas Southern University--he lashes out at Williams for criticizing his wife. "For us to sit up complaining, saying, 'What's been happening over eight years,'" he thunders. "The lead smelter should have been gone 40, 50 years ago. It should have never happened!" His oration rivets the audience, which responds with "Mmm-hmms" and "all rights."

"I do my job well," he concludes in fiery preacher mode, promising to defend the neighborhood from the predations of wealthy developers. Not that anyone is beating down the doors to develop prime real estate in tired West Dallas. "Let's not be fooled and let these developers come in..." he says. "Because that is the plan."

Next, Oakley relates his successes obtaining single-family zoning for the mostly black Arlington Park neighborhood, the 10th Street Historic District and The Bottoms neighborhood in the Trinity River floodplain, which stabilized the areas by blocking industrial development. The audience responds with a polite murmur, a definite accomplishment for Oakley.  

But then Oakley falls into a trap of his own making. He talks about bringing nationally known businesses to West Dallas like Starbucks to spur economic development the same way Oak Cliff has done. Dwaine Caraway seizes on that remark. "We can fix the coffee, too," he says. "It ain't nothing but coffee. We'll get out there and sell it."

Later in the evening, an audience member berates Beckles when he asks rhetorically how to stop prostitution and drugs. "You keep asking us," she says. "You're the candidate."

Near the end of the forum, Williams makes a bizarre, vaguely anti-Semitic remark. "The dollar goes through the Jewish community eight times before it leaves," he intones, but "the dollar only goes through [the black community] one time."

The evening ends with smiles and handshakes. Afterward, a middle-aged man walking across the parking lot sums up West Dallas' choice. "The people are with Roy or Dwaine," he says.

There's one small problem with "the people" in West Dallas. There aren't many of them, and the area has a history of woeful voter turnout. As part of a federal desegregation decree, some of the black public housing residents who used to live in West Dallas have dispersed to subsidized housing in white neighborhoods.

Oakley is aware of the district's changing demographics. And he knows where his strength lies: in the chunk of North Dallas that unhappily finds itself within the boundaries of District 6. There, and in racially mixed Southwest Oak Cliff, fewer registered voters live, but they do vote. In one North Dallas District 6 precinct, 250 out of 1,732 registered voters, or 14.4 percent, trudged their way to the ballot box in 1999, a much higher percentage than in most West Dallas or East Oak Cliff precincts.

That's why, on a recent Sunday evening, Oakley can be found speaking at a well-attended "coffee" held in a North Dallas neighborhood near Walnut Hill Lane. He was the only candidate invited by white quasi-suburban neighborhoods that have built an energetic grassroots organization to champion his candidacy.

Oakley, who in 1993 ran unsuccessfully for Oak Lawn's District 12 council seat, has since delved into the minutiae of civic life. (He's owned a home in District 6 since 1988 and says he has made that his permanent home.) His press kit lists membership in at least 30 city panels, homeowners groups and task forces. They range from vice chairman of the City Plan Commission, from which he resigned to run for the council, to the Dallas Independent School District Future Facilities Task Force.

"The reason I'm running," he says, "is because people have asked me to run. They want someone to represent them who's honest and has integrity."

Despite the criticisms of a few black leaders, Oakley insists he's a candidate for everybody. He says his most fulfilling accomplishment during six years on the Plan Commission was helping black neighborhoods get residential zoning. "No one in the past at any time had helped these people," Oakley says.

Still, his election rivals have accused him of harboring a pro-developer, big-business bias. Oakley, a contractor who doubles as property manager for Caven Enterprises, a gay nightclub group that owns several Oak Lawn watering holes, resists that label. He's for planned commercial growth, he says, especially in neglected areas south of the Trinity. "If you're going to have growth, you're going to have to manage it," he says. "You're going to have to give the people who live there and own property some control over their destiny."

Tonight at the Chapel Downs Club, an aging community center with an algae-green outdoor pool, the crowd of about 50 empty nesters and senior citizens is friendly. But they're aggrieved at what they perceive as neglect of their area. One by one, they vent pent-up frustrations at Oakley, who stands on a small stage answering questions.

He responds with a stunning campaign promise. He promises that, if elected, he will work to sever the North Dallas sliver of his district and put it in a consolidated North Dallas district, a move wholeheartedly sought by the audience. He proceeds to answer questions about strip clubs, bingo halls and code enforcement, eventually concluding the Q-and-A by pumping the crowd in rally-like fashion. The meeting adjourns with high enthusiasm. "He will listen to us," says Frank Payne, a physician in the audience.

Afterward, Oakley expands on his plan to sever the vote-rich North Dallas hinterlands from District 6. It's the right thing to do, he says. "I may end up in a district that I can't win in two years. But I don't want to draw the lines so I can win this seat." For now, Oakley says changing demographics have tilted the race in his favor. "I'm going to win this without a runoff," he boasts. "I only need 2,000 votes."  

Such pronouncements have made black leaders apoplectic. "The city's black community has long been ridiculed nationwide for its backwardness and lack of political foresight," wrote columnist Rufus Shaw in The Elite News, a small, black weekly newspaper. "Nothing would solidify these notions more than for us to lose two city council seats that were created for black folks to white candidates." (Southern Dallas' District 4, where white former Councilman Larry Duncan has challenged incumbent Maxine Thornton-Reese for his old seat, could chip another seat from the council's black voting bloc.)

Oakley detects a prejudicial subtext to such alarm. "Do you know why they're saying that?" he asks. "Because they have nothing else they can say about Ed Oakley."

After making an appearance at a Hispanic immigrants' rally downtown, Dwaine Caraway points his Cadillac toward Arlington Park, a close-knit black neighborhood just south of Love Field. He passes a small frame house at 1943 Chattanooga Place, which Williams currently lists as his residence.

According to county records, the house belongs to Edwina Rogers, who rents a room to Williams. Yet as late as January in his weekly open-mike speeches to the city council, Williams listed 5881 Preston View Boulevard, No. 141, near the Galleria in North Dallas, as his home. Despite the swift relocation, Williams insists he followed the law. He presented election officials a lease dating back to August.

Citing the difficulty of challenging a candidate's professed address--living and running in different districts is a time-honored tradition in Dallas, however illegal--city officials accepted the Chattanooga Place address.

That makes Caraway furious. Animosity between the two candidates runs deep. Williams briefly served as Barbara Mallory Caraway's plan commissioner before she dumped him for voting to rename Oak Cliff's Illinois Avenue after Malcolm X. (She later voted to rename Oakland Avenue in honor of the slain black separatist.)

"You ain't going to see [Williams] spend one night here," Dwaine Caraway cracks. He also dismisses Williams' activist credentials. "I can appreciate everyone that's ever taken part in the struggle, but a lot of people are professional users of the struggle," he says. Williams, for his part, insists he's living in District 6 and turns around Caraway's criticisms: "Where was his presence during the struggle for 14-1, affordable housing and the anti-apartheid resolution?" All of which Williams cites as personal accomplishments.

Caraway stepped onto the political scene as an adviser to former Mayor Steve Bartlett, a white former GOP congressman who once voted against the creation of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Bartlett appointed Caraway to the South Dallas/Fair Park Trust Fund. A 1993 profile in The Dallas Morning News dubbed Caraway and two other black Bartlett advisers "the new insiders."

It seemed an unlikely alliance, but Bartlett cottoned to the three because of their belief in black economic independence as a means of solving social ills. Those sentiments ran up against the we're-the-victims-here ideology of an older breed of black leaders, epitomized by Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price. These days, Caraway is anathema to that crowd. "Caraway is more about trying to enhance his own image, his own wealth," says Lee Alcorn, former director of the Dallas NAACP who beat Caraway in a bitterly contested election for president of that organization. Caraway shoots back: "All [Alcorn] cares about is getting his picture in the paper."

Despite such enmity, Caraway's campaign account is flush: As of April 5, he had collected $31,070 in contributions, four times more than Williams, his closest financial rival. Oakley drew only $4,000 but claims his donations increased dramatically after the April 4 filing deadline.

Caraway also advises several council members. Councilman Don Hill, who represents parts of South Oak Cliff and Pleasant Grove, contributed $1,000 to his campaign. In a 1995 Observer article, one anonymous council member said, "As far as we're concerned, [Barbara Mallory Caraway] just keeps the chair warm for the real councilperson, Dwaine Caraway."

He's proud of his entrepreneurial drive, even though his advertising business recently hit the skids. North Dallas billboard bans and a nationwide tobacco settlement that nixed cigarette billboards snuffed out much of Caraway's business. The financial disclosure form he filed last month for his candidacy lists debts of $5,000 or more to at least 14 institutions, including Bank One, American Express and the IRS.

Caraway in late 1999 sought bankruptcy protection but then withdrew his filing. He now says he's worked out payment plans for most of his debt. "I could have done it and said forget everybody," he says. Having sold his billboards, he now hopes to revive his cash flow with kiosk advertising inside restaurants and other public places.  

Back in Arlington Park, a neighborhood built by black World War II veterans, Caraway drives past a new recreation center with a gym and playground. Caraway takes credit for getting it built during his park board service. "That's my proudest accomplishment out here," he says.

With its relatively high voter turnout, Arlington Park is a focal point for Caraway, who has campaigned there vigorously: 153 of 702 registered voters, or 22 percent, turned out for the 1999 council election to vote en masse for Terrence Gore, who finished third in the race to Mallory Caraway. The residents were angry at the councilwoman, who in 1998 voted to grant a special use permit for an apartment building there.

Leaving Arlington Park, Caraway crosses into West Dallas, one of the city's most blighted areas. East of Hampton Street, home after home is abandoned or burnt out. Drug dealers sit brazenly in cars, looking for buyers, and hookers troll the sidewalks. But little signs of resilience are also evident. A man works on a tidy lawn while two children play nearby. A few blocks over, a new home is half-built.

Caraway visits Willie Mae Spencer, an elderly woman who spoke at the Multipurpose Center. She ushers the candidate around the area in her Taurus, pointing out neighborhood ills. "When I'm going to church, the devil is so busy," she says with dismay.

"Drug houses, prostitution, they got to go," Caraway agrees. "But the drugs first because they are dangerous. The drugs are what get their heads bad."

Back in her sauna-hot home, Spencer serves up Cokes with ice. Caraway promises to call city agencies and demand a stop sign at a busy intersection nearby. "I just won't be getting Mrs. Spencer a stop sign," he says later. "I'll be saving someone's life."

It's a Monday night at the North Oak Cliff library branch, and the League of Women Voters won't let Williams speak at their candidates' debate. It turns out he mistakenly faxed his application to the wrong office.

League representatives are adamant that he not sit with Caraway, Oakley, Beckles and Lynn until Tim Dickey, a North Dallas activist who lives in the district, stands up to protest. "Your bureaucracy is overriding my democracy," Dickey says indignantly. The women, who run a tight ship for their voter education programs, eventually concede after a show of hands by the audience.

During the debate, Caraway smoothly deflects insinuations that he's a quasi-incumbent. He even has the nerve to argue that his wife's reappointment of him isn't nepotism, which he defines, with the help of some dictionary, as a transfer of governmental largesse to relatives--not appointments to boards.

Williams later slams Caraway as soft on sexually oriented businesses, or SOBs, which still proliferate in the northern part of District 6 despite determined opposition from neighbors. "We know some people in this race have a connection to the SOBs," Williams says, referring to Barbara Mallory Caraway's acceptance in 1999 of $2,000 in campaign donations from Burch Management, owner of some of Dallas' most popular strip bars. Facing negative publicity, she later returned it.

While Williams and the other candidates urge crackdowns on the SOBs, Caraway stresses conciliation. Strip-club détente can be reached when city officials can talk about compromise solutions "openly, without ridicule." Until then, the SOBs will run legal rings around the city. "If they sell seven Cokes for seven dollars each, and they all band together," he says, "they have a lot of money to fight the city."

In his fourth council run, Williams could be Dallas' own Harold Stassen, the candidate who ran for president 10 times. Executive director of Rainbow Bridge, an inactive nonprofit youth organization that owes $2,277 in property taxes to the city, Williams says he works on commission as a salesman for Medical Air Services and Associates, an emergency air transportation company. He insists his chances of winning are good. "Every time I've run, I've run to win," he says, blaming parochialism for his electoral failings. "I'm from East Texas and that has always been a factor."

Williams expresses bafflement that he's not a council member yet. "You would think in '91 we both would have walked in, because we tore the system down," he says of himself and Marvin Crenshaw, the other 14-1 plaintiff who's challenging incumbent Leo Chaney in District 7. "People have not appreciated the work Marvin and I did."

Also present at the debate is Beckles, 51, a private-practice attorney who ran an unsuccessful 1992 campaign for state representative. A Bronx native who came to Dallas to attend Oak Cliff's now-defunct Bishop College, he's served on several city and civic panels, including the Health and Human Services Committee and Preservation Dallas.  

In person, Beckles is easygoing, but he doesn't hesitate to criticize other candidates. He faults Dwaine Caraway's advocacy of a $2.3 million clubhouse at Cedar Crest golf course (now halfway finished) during his parks board tenure. "It's a total waste of taxpayer dollars," he says.

Beckles has done little campaigning. Last week, his campaign hit a serious snag when the Morning News reported two past arrests for violent attacks on women. The first involved a 1992 domestic dispute with his wife. According to an arrest report, Beckles' wife said he pushed her down outside their home and kicked her in the head three times. She later declined to press charges. In the News, Beckles called the incident "a family thing that got out of hand."

Similarly, an ex-employee who complained in 1994 that Beckles bound, gagged and hit her, then forced her to perform oral sex, also declined to prosecute. Beckles says police blew both incidents "out of proportion." He won't comment what exactly the cops got wrong in the second case but stresses he wasn't convicted of wrongdoing and therefore did nothing wrong.

Lynn, 37, an administrative assistant at a law firm and producer of the "Good Ole Gospel Hour" show on local public access television, is the final contender. A West Dallas resident and political neophyte, Lynn also has some legal baggage, including a 1993 misdemeanor bad-check theft conviction, a 1995 eviction and several lawsuits against her for debts. Attempts to interview Lynn in-depth were unsuccessful: She cheerfully cut off phone conversations with excuses that she had to go to the post office or see a friend.

Caraway is probably right: The race for District 6 boils down to race. While whites who are planning to vote for Oakley often say he represents their interests better than the anti-crackhouse candidate, others admit it's a Caucasian thing. Is that any different, they ask, from black voters who will only vote for a black candidate?

Meanwhile, the Oakley camp has taken Dwaine Caraway to task for shoddy campaign finance reporting. Pat Cotton, a political consultant to District 13 candidate Mitchell Rasansky and an Oakley ally, says the sloppiness of Caraway's April 4 contributions and expenditures report shocked her.

In that report, Caraway doesn't list full addresses for contributors, and some names are illegible. The abbreviation "app," for "approximately," is noted in front of dollar amounts of up to $5,000. "I'm shocked [the city] would accept it," Cotton says. "Barbara's been in office eight years and he hasn't learned to fill out an accurate report?"

Caraway attributes such criticism to "racial pettiness" and "fear the takeover they planned is being spoiled." Even so, he told the Observer he would submit a revised report with full addresses to the city secretary. What of approximate figures on his report? Caraway says he has receipts to back them up.

Dodgy recordkeeping, it seems, is a Caraway family practice. Last year, records revealed that Barbara Mallory Caraway paid Dwaine Caraway's Profile Group at least $16,000 over several years for political consulting and billboards. Caraway defended the payments as fair since other candidates paid him for work as well. "You can't charge one and don't charge the other," he told the Morning News.

In addition, Caraway recently settled a lawsuit alleging he and his wife conspired to take over Redbird Development Corp., an airport management company at southern Dallas' city-owned Redbird Airport. Tennell Atkins, Redbird's CEO and a former Lipscomb campaign manager now working for Williams' campaign, alleged that Councilwoman Caraway pushed to have a city lease at Redbird terminated after he refused to make her husband a partner in his venture. Neither Atkins nor Caraway would comment on the lawsuit's out-of-court resolution.

Such incidents far from mind, Caraway finished a recent weekend day of campaigning at Fair Park's South Dallas Cafe. He spoke admiringly of the restaurant's collection of sepia-toned historical photographs, which depict shop owners from a once-vibrant black business district in Dallas. Outside of the restaurant was blight and despair, and Caraway wondered what happened. "It goes back to family," he said. "It goes back to church on Sunday."

Some black political insiders fear that if next month's election comes down to a runoff between Caraway and Oakley, Caraway will lose because of poor voter turnout in the district's black neighborhoods. If Caraway and Councilwoman Thornton-Reese both lose to white candidates, it will rattle the foundations of black politics in Dallas. But Caraway is optimistic. "The race is just getting ready to start," he says. "I'm about ready to run the most aggressive campaign you've ever seen."  

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