Unfit to Print
Elected officials, as a rule, should not call a detractor, no matter how vicious, a "jailhouse bitch," but the typically profane and intermittently profound John Wiley Price had his reasons. The object of his anger, Darryl Blair, had torn the longtime Dallas County commissioner into a million little pieces in a column for his father's newspaper, Elite News, then housed along parallel rows of rundown buildings that straddle a DART line on South Lancaster Street. The two men both portray themselves as protectors of black Dallas, but on this particular day, they squared off against one another.
Darryl Blair would tell the police that on September 1, 2004, Price shoved him and threatened his life in the Dallas City Council chambers. Price said he only mocked Blair, and later, on his radio show, continued to ridicule his adversary for working as an informant for the Dallas Police Department. Today, the tall, trim 55-year-old county commissioner with thinning cornrows is on the verge of having yet another last laugh. Last November, he prevailed in a libel lawsuit against the Blair family, and with mediation talks faltering, Price could shut down the weekly while kicking a fresh layer of dirt on the cadre of black ministers who support the paper and have never embraced him as their kind of leader.
If only Darryl Blair had listened to his brother. Jordan Blair, an active member at St. Paul AME church who has worked at Elite News for 13 years, saw Darryl's missive against Price before it went to press, and while he's hardly an admirer of the county commissioner, he didn't like his brother's choice of words. "We don't pick fights with people," he says regretfully. But Darryl ran his column anyway, publishing it in the February 13, 2004, edition--perfectly timed, it seemed, to batter Price just weeks before he faced a primary challenge from former Justice of the Peace Charles Rose for the District 3 commissioners court seat. That district includes southern Dallas and chunks of Mesquite and Oak Cliff.
Although Blair wrote that Rose is the "clear and proven choice for the leadership role"--an evaluation district voters would later resoundingly reject--he mostly focused his attention on John Wiley Price. Like the American Idol contestants who begin their songs loudly, earnestly and without a trace of nuance, Blair started his column by writing that Price had failed to represent the southern sector for all 20 years of his tenure. He called him a "cold body" and a "seriously flawed character." Then in a passage that might ultimately shutter the newspaper his father started more than 50 years ago, Blair characterized Price, who has been married and has a son, as a gay predator and sexual deviant: "That person is none other than the bankrupt, the indicted rapist and manseeker, who approached a man (I have a signed affidavit) who was greatly offended and angered for JWP having made the pass at him in that direct and forward way inquiring about his private parts."
Blair continued with a flurry of jabs, calling Price a "bully shakedown artist," a "rogue and criminal commissioner" and a "womanizing type of person." He accused Price of extorting money from local businesses, mismanaging his own money and leveraging the power of his elected office to avoid convictions on various felony charges. He wondered how Price could declare bankruptcy and still continue to "drive and purchase new exotic automobiles." He then returned to the theme of Price's sex life.
"If John Wiley Price is uncertain about his sexuality, then how can he be focused and purposed [sic] drive for the district?"
The next week, Darryl Blair hounded Price again in Elite News. Harping on issues of "Character, Integrity and Honesty," an odd platform for a columnist with a criminal record, Blair accused Price of using his office to amass a real estate fortune. He criticized him for not avidly coming to the defense of fired black Dallas police Chief Terrell Bolton and supporting the elimination of two historically black seats for constable and justice of the peace, one of which belonged to Rose.
"How can John Wiley Price continue to sell out the community?" he wrote. "It's because he has no integrity, he has no character, and he has not a degree of honesty."
With the primary now less than two weeks away, Blair would not let up. When Price found himself at a political forum hosted by the League of Women Voters, someone asked him a question stemming from the Elite News stories. As irritating as that might have been, the fact that the person asking the question was Darryl Blair only made things worse, much worse.
"I asked him how many times he filed bankruptcy, and did he see that as a precursor to being a good steward of public funds," Blair acknowledges.
Why in the world would a small black newspaper attack the most powerful black man in Dallas of the last 20 years? There's probably a host of petty reasons to explain the unpleasantness between the Blair family and John Wiley Price. But in a way the showdown between the county commissioner and Elite News reflects a wider gulf between Price and the pastors in southern Dallas who advertise in the paper and distribute it in their churches. From profiling ministers in their pages to supporting the candidates the churches endorse, Elite News is the unofficial voice of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (IMA), an old guard of black ministers largely based in the Fair Park area, Oak Cliff and the southern edges of the county. There are exceptions here and there, but that group has never warmed to Price's bare-knuckled, confrontational style of political leadership, in part because that style has highlighted their own impotence.
The Blairs insist that they are not the hired guns of the black preachers, although their holy war against Price, coming right as he faced a challenge from Rose, the preferred candidate of the ministers, suggests that the age-old rivalry remains intact. But if the paper's pursuit of Price seems obsessive and fanatical, the columns on the county commissioner weren't exactly wild works of fiction. In court documents, the Blair family claims that the offending column was merely a factual rendering of the public record. They also said Elite News relied on information from a 1991 article Laura Miller wrote when she was a contributing editor to D magazine. The source of a reservoir of enmity between Miller and Price, the D magazine feature, titled "The Hustler," portrayed Price as an absentee father and a sell-out to black Dallas who consults with businesses on how to squelch minority protests. Miller claimed Price steered businesses to a gas station he owned and extracted donations from minority firms who were doing business with the city. Most memorably, Miller interviewed three unidentified women who claimed that Price raped them.
Miller's story ultimately led to Price's indictment on a rape charge. And while the woman later asked prosecutors to dismiss the case, Price did not sue D magazine.
While Miller's story was certainly a template for Darryl Blair's crusading agenda, he was the one who added the new and bizarre twist of Price being a "manseeker" who makes brazen sexual advances to veritable strangers. That last accusation left even Price's detractors shaking their heads.
"I have never known him to have any kind of relationship with any men," says Betty Culbreath Lister, his former administrative assistant who's now an ally of Laura Miller. "Plenty of women but no men."
After the Blair family failed to show up for their libel trial, a county judge issued a default judgment of $850,000 against them. The Blairs filed a motion requesting a new trial and blamed their attorney, Phillip Layer, for failing to keep them abreast of the proceedings, but a judge ruled against them yet again. (Layer did not return phone calls from the Dallas Observer.) If the cash-strapped Blair family is to appeal the ruling, they would have to pay an appeal bond in the ballpark of $85,000, which is more than what they've offered Price in an out-of-court settlement. Operating as it is, week to week, out of a tiny office in South Oak Cliff, the already struggling Elite News couldn't afford to pay even a fraction of what the judge has ordered.
The Blair family never produced for a judge the affidavit that Darryl Blair claimed corroborated his characterization of Price as a gay predator. But after repeated requests, Blair finally gave the affidavit to the Dallas Observer last week. In it, a man named Charles Strain Jr. alleges that in the summer of 1986, he was propositioned by Commissioner John Wiley Price.
In a brief interview with the Observer at his home, Strain, a former professional boxer, declined to talk about the details of his alleged encounter with Price. Now in his 40s, Strain, like Blair and Price, has a criminal record. He gave a notarized affidavit to Darryl Blair, dated February 11, 2004, nine days before the paper published the first of the controversial columns on Price. Strain said he agreed to talk to the Observer to help the Elite News. Tellingly, the notary public on Strain's affidavit works with a local bail bondsman who has had run-ins with Price.
Price's attorney, Leon Carter, dismisses Strain's claim. "This affidavit doesn't change the facts; it's not true; it's two years late, and they're $850,000 short," he says.
Started in 1949 as a sports newspaper by William Blair Jr., who'd been a baseball player with the Negro Leagues, Elite News is a tiny tabloid-sized weekly directed mainly to black readers in Dallas' southern sector. Aside from a typically strident and well-read weekly column from Rufus Shaw, the paper is a collection of refrigerator-clip items, like a recent piece on a 96-year-old woman who still regularly attends church. Elite News is also known for its directory of ministers and upbeat stories on black community members, particularly those who advertise.
But the family paper is not afraid to provoke outrageous fights, particularly against perceived enemies of black preachers. Recently, Elite News lost another lawsuit after publisher Jordan Blair was found to have accused community activists Roy Williams and Marvin Crenshaw of being double agents for Mayor Laura Miller. During the first recall drive against Miller in 2003--launched after the firing of Terrell Bolton--Crenshaw and Williams were circulating one petition, with black pastors circulating the other. At the urging of the Reverend Stephen Nash, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, Crenshaw and Williams attended a church meeting to discuss joining forces.
The two men, who were plaintiffs in the 14-1 federal lawsuit that increased minority representation on the city council, arrived at the church only to be ambushed. Crenshaw and Williams told a district court that Blair spoke up at the church meeting and said they were being paid by Laura Miller to stop the recall movement. Although he did not provide any evidence, Blair urged that they be kicked out of the church. Witnesses would provide testimony corroborating Crenshaw and Williams' account of the meeting. Later, in Elite News, the paper obliquely referred to Crenshaw and Williams as "a few who have been placed in the community to sell out and divide the community." Although the two men were not named, a special magistrate ruled that the Elite News and Blair had defamed Williams and Crenshaw. The court has yet to award a judgment.
In the often befuddling world of southern Dallas politics, where former Dallas City Council member Sandra Crenshaw likes to say there are no permanent enemies or friends, very personal blowouts seem to emerge out of thin air--spun from a wayward piece of a gossip, a tiny shift in loyalties or a wrongly perceived gesture of disrespect. Deep, fundamental issues aren't always at stake. But it's not a coincidence that two of the more notable targets of Elite News, a pair of community activists and a Dallas County commissioner, have achieved political reform and power without relying on the muscle of black preachers.
When they were the voice of their community, black ministers kowtowed to the white business class that ruled over Dallas for decades. Price's emergence and stubborn autonomy relegated them to secondary players in the local political theater. To this day, they seem to hold a grudge; two years ago, like Darryl Blair, they supported Charles Rose in his ultimately doomed attempt to unseat Price.
As the founder and publisher of Elite News, William Blair Jr. was a close friend and ally of the late Reverend S.M. Wright, the founder of the People's Baptist Church and the powerful president of the IMA for decades. To many people active in various civil rights battles in Dallas, both Wright and Blair were perceived as casting their lot on the side of the white establishment, eschewing boycotts and protests against racial discrimination in favor of maintaining their access. In hindsight, they were on the wrong side of history. That might be why, after Price tangled with Darryl Blair at City Hall, he threw a barb at his antagonist's 84-year-old father.
"It's always been a political thing, and it's probably always been a personal thing," Price told a television reporter about his troubles with the Blair family. "The sins of the father, I guess, are visited on the son."
Whether he meant to or not, Darryl Blair highlighted the deep divisions that run throughout southern Dallas. In a way, it's unfair if not condescending to expect blacks to speak with one political voice. There are factions in North Dallas too. But the rifts in black Dallas have more troubling roots, stemming in part from the failure of some influential black leaders like Wright to play a role in the Civil Rights Movement that swept across the South. The echoes of that failure can be heard today from the all-thumbs campaigns to recall Mayor Laura Miller, led by southern Dallas pastors, to a polarizing feud between a black leader and a black-owned paper.
In the shadow of the Cotton Bowl, where the downtown skyline perches on the horizon, the South Dallas Cafe is bustling with customers on a sunny March afternoon. Former Mayor Ron Kirk is leaving as the Reverend Peter Johnson arrives, and they greet each other warmly. Soon afterward, Dallas school board member Ron Price will hear Johnson's voice from across the restaurant, sneak up quietly and give him a hug.
Now active with the Dallas Peace Center, Johnson made a name for himself as a local organizer for Martin Luther King Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In 1970, Johnson led a boycott against Safeway grocery stores for not promoting black employees above the level of floor sweeper.
"The chairman of Safeway came out and negotiated with us and said he never had trouble from the 'nigger' community until I came and stirred the 'niggers' up," Johnson recalls.
While attending Southern University in Baton Rouge, Johnson began to work for Martin Luther King Jr. He was already friends with a few members of King's inner circle, including Andrew Young, the future mayor of Atlanta. One evening in the early 1960s, King had a meeting with a labor leader in New Orleans. King, though, was tired and asked Johnson to make him a cup of coffee.
King had just returned from a trip to Dallas after being invited to speak by a rabbi. Fearful of how the emerging King and his bold ideas on civil rights would shake up their comfortable ways of interacting with whites, many black pastors asked their parishioners not to attend King's public appearances. As Johnson returned to the room, King was talking to his inner circle about his time in Dallas. Johnson turned to King and gave him his cup of coffee. There were tears in the minister's eyes.
"It always affected him that black people boycotted him," Johnson recalls. "He was really hurt; he was visibly shaken by it."
King's subsequent trips to Dallas were not much better; the city's black preachers never really embraced him. That's when Johnson began to hear some of King's advisors talk about the Reverend S.M. Wright, the most influential black pastor in Dallas. To them, Wright and his fellow ministers were mere pawns of white city leaders who rewarded them with access and small favors in exchange for keeping the black community in its place.
"Ralph Abernathy despised the black preachers here," Johnson says about King's closest friend. "He thought they were the biggest Uncle Toms."
Johnson himself would later battle against Wright after Johnson successfully negotiated a hiring agreement with Safeway. The SCLC had been boycotting the grocery chain, pressuring the company to begin promoting blacks at their stores. During the boycott, however, Johnson said that Wright was preaching about crossing the picket lines.
Today, Wright has a four-mile section of South Central Expressway named in his honor. In 1995, then-Governor George W. Bush spoke at the dedication ceremony. But before Wright's death, as his power waned in the late 1980s, ministers and activists began to chip away at the preacher's status as a living legend. The ones who fought against racial discrimination said they never counted on him as an ally.
Bishop Emeritus Mark Herbener, who served as the pastor at South Dallas' Mount Olive Lutheran Church for 26 years, was one of the few preachers in Dallas who welcomed the fight for racial equality. His church served on the front lines, hosting marches and demonstrations, while a cast of civil rights groups, including the SCLC, gathered there as well. But as Herbener, a white pastor, was battling for civil rights, many of his black colleagues in cloth stood in his way. Like Johnson, he says that Wright was co-opted by the white community, particularly the Dallas Citizens Council, a private group of business leaders who controlled city politics for decades.
"The Dallas Citizens Council were trying to 'keep the peace in Dallas,' and their way of keeping the peace was to do their best to keep Martin Luther King out of the city of Dallas," Herbener says. "And how do you do that? You tell S.M. Wright, 'We don't want him to come to town.' When Martin Luther King did come, they did their best to boycott him."
Like a lot of leaders, Wright failed to embrace change.
"With Reverend Wright being the leader of the only African-American ministerial group in the city, he built quite a bit of influence and quite a bit of power," says the Reverend Charles Stovall, who has been active with the SCLC. "But Dr. King was a new factor; he was someone who was coming in with ideas that shook the very structures, institutions and relationships people had relied on for a very long time."
Wright's supporters--and many are still around--say that the minister used his relationships with city leaders to help his parishioners, not to enhance his status.
"He was always trying to help his people out, but he had to deal with the whites to get things done," says Virginia Hill, a Democratic precinct chair and longtime parishioner at S.M. Wright's church. "That doesn't mean he was on their side."
But interestingly, when asked why her pastor didn't take part in some of Dallas' most important protests for civil rights, the affable 73-year-old betrays a mindset that prefers compromise and negotiation on fundamental issues.
"He didn't have to get involved in a boycott. He didn't get out there and march with them and look like a raggedy doll," she says. "He used the phone and went to the people in charge."
Former Justice of the Peace Rose, who garnered the support of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance in his race against Price, takes a more moderate view of Wright, his former friend and mentor. He says that while Johnson and Stovall deserve recognition for their activism, Wright was effective in his own way. "He might have done things that I would have done totally different, but I respect what he was trying to do," he says. "I think Wright was trying to do the right thing overall."
But like Johnson, Mark Herbener is still wounded by how Wright obstructed the good fight against discrimination. "I have said he was the most powerful black leader in Dallas, not because of what he did but what he stopped," he says. "It's appalling that an expressway is named after him because he was supposedly a civil rights leader."
Now 84, William Blair Jr. appears to be a soft-spoken gentleman who dresses in a finely tailored suit and cuts a regal presence at the Elite News offices. Both of his sons see him as a living legend, a modest man who in his day was a power broker between gubernatorial and mayoral candidates and many black churches south of the Trinity. He also pitched a no-hitter in a Negro League tournament game, a feat his sons never knew about until they were older.
Blair was Wright's closest confidante at the pinnacle of the minister's prominence. During the 1960s, S.M. Wright helped Blair distribute his fledgling paper in churches throughout Dallas, instantly boosting his readership. At the time, Darryl Blair says, a local black paper had been going out of its way to criticize local ministers, so Elite News took up their cause.
The elder Blair would also serve as the political liaison for Wright's Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, escorting candidates the group endorsed through churches in southern Dallas.
But Johnson, who is adamant about clarifying Dallas' historical record, says that just like Wright, Blair used his position to oppose racial progress.
"Mr. Blair and S.M. Wright were against everything the Civil Rights Movement stood for," Johnson says. He even recalls the elder Blair making public statements against King and integration.
In the offices of Elite News on West Ledbetter Street, a thoughtful Jordan Blair defends his father from these types of criticisms, which he's clearly heard before. Talking about King, Blair says that his father "revered" the slain civil rights leader. But on the topic of integration, Blair concedes that his father sees a darker side.
"My father will tell you that integration hurt us in some ways, because we don't own our own grocery stores, our own cleaners and our own gas stations; we buy goods and services from everyone but us," Blair says. "And that's the part that he said hurt us. There were some good things with it, but overall there were some very bad things."
Like his brother, Darryl Blair is careful in responding to Johnson's remarks about Wright and his father. "I think a great deal of Peter. I respect Peter. We talked at Coretta Scott King's funeral; I never knew he had those feelings about Reverend Wright," he says. "I don't know that he's wrong. I never talked to my dad about the Civil Rights Movement and what he did or did not do. But Peter and I never had that conversation where he might have said, 'I respect your dad, but I disagree with what he did.' He never said anything."
But Johnson is hardly the only critic of Blair and Wright. Many political operatives at that time, particularly those who worked on behalf of progressive candidates, resented how they couldn't win the support of the IMA without a well-placed donation. "I remember the Democratic chair telling me, 'You just write a check to S.M. Wright; that's just what you do,'" says Lorlee Bartos, who helped run Annette Strauss' mayoral campaign in 1987. It also helped to make William Blair and some of the other black publishers happy.
"When you ran somebody for office, you had to run an ad in Elite News and several other competing publications," Bartos says. "You had to cross the t's and dot the i's of the people who were considered to be the leaders, whether or not they really were."
In 1984, John Wiley Price, then a clerk with a local justice of the peace, was considered a long-shot candidate to become the first black Dallas County commissioner. The favorite was the beloved Elsie Faye Heggins, a former mentor to Price who had served on the Dallas City Council. Admired for her frequent stabs at the mayor, her colleagues and even white business leaders, Heggins built a devoted following in black Dallas. A resident of the Fair Park area, Heggins rose to prominence in 1969 when she, along with J.B. Jackson, who sat on the DART board during its early years, and future council member Al Lipscomb fought against City Hall, which was then trying to snatch neighborhood homes to build more parking spaces for the fairgrounds.
Led by the Reverend Johnson, the Fair Park neighbors threatened to disrupt the televised Cotton Bowl parade unless Mayor Erik Jonsson met them at his office. Although the IMA was again on the wrong side, urging the neighbors to agree to a "cooling-off period," the mayor consented to a meeting. The Fair Park residents still lost their homes, but the city offered them a higher price.
Although a modest victory, the Fair Park protest was a symbolic triumph, marking one of the first times blacks in Dallas forced the hand of white city leaders by confronting them directly. Fair Park then became a political base, with the triumvirate of Jackson, Lipscomb and Heggins as its stars. Together, they owed their prominence to no one, particularly not to S.M. Wright, and subsequently the Fair Park camp became a rival to the IMA and its approach to race relations.
But by 1984, the Fair Park group faced a threat of their own from a new generation of young, educated blacks based primarily in Oak Cliff. That group included Rufus Shaw, the Elite News columnist; Dwaine Caraway, future head of the local chapter of the NAACP; Royce West, now a state senator; and Don Hill, now the mayor pro tem. John Wiley Price was also in the mix.
"You name anybody in the political scene now in their early 50s, and they were in that group," Shaw says.
Like Heggins, Price was a brash, independent voice who believed that direct and open confrontation with whites in power was the only way to achieve racial justice. Later, as a commissioner, Price faced criminal charges when he angrily whitewashed billboards advertising liquor in South Dallas. He also led protests against local media, including WFAA-Channel 8 and the Dallas Times Herald, after they appeared to perpetuate black stereotypes in a pair of stories.
Faced with two independents who were hardly his pawns, Wright had no easy choice on whom to endorse. After a protracted internal debate, the IMA decided to support John Wiley Price. Thanks, no doubt, to the IMA, Price would win, though by only a few thousand votes.
After Price's unlikely triumph, he quickly and publicly disavowed S.M. Wright, infuriating the minister and the IMA. Sandra Crenshaw, who would become a city council member and ally of Al Lipscomb, remembers Price proclaiming, "I'm the maestro now."
In 1998, Wright complained to The Dallas Morning News that Price was ungrateful. "He betrayed us," Wright said. "He said he won without our support and the ministers were dead politically."
But the ministers might as well have been dead as far as Price was concerned. After a surprisingly successful first term in which Price won acclaim for his fiscal conservatism while increasing the number of minority companies doing business with the county, Wright and the IMA nonetheless supported a pastor's son to run against the incumbent. Price gleefully ridiculed his overmatched challenger and won with more than 70 percent of the vote. If Jackson, Heggins and Lipscomb marked the first real threat to Wright's power, Price, then 37, toppled the aging minister once and for all, exposing his cadre of pastors as political lightweights. Nearly 20 years later, the IMA is still trying to beat Price, but even with the help of Elite News, it hasn't come close.
After Darryl Blair wrote that Price comes on to men and uses his elected office to extort local businesses, the Dallas County commissioner contacted attorney Leon Carter to explore his options. A highly regarded trial lawyer, Carter told him that just because he was a county commissioner didn't mean he had to sit back and take a beating. So Carter penned a sharply worded letter to the Blair family and demanded a retraction. "Mr. Price's status as a public official does not mean that he has consented in some way to defamation and character assassination by a publication such as yours," the letter read.
The Blairs' attorney, Phillip Layer, wasn't exactly looking to make amends. In a letter back to Carter, Layer vigorously defended his client, saying that the article in question represented the newspaper's opinions and did not attempt to masquerade as a "documentary piece of journalism." Besides, Layer wrote, Price's record, which includes nearly 20 criminal charges, "more than adequately speaks for itself." (Most, though not all, of those charges have been dismissed.) Referring to Carter's claims overall, Layer referred to them as a "lame effort to intimidate my client's exercise of free speech."
In fact, as scandalous as Blair's column may have appeared, much of it arguably is not libelous, in no small part because its characterizations of Price as a "rogue and criminal commissioner" stem from actual events.
Price is the Terrell Owens of Dallas politics, an immensely talented commissioner who, while often the voice of reason on vital issues of public policy, seems to have little self-control. A Houdini character who flirts with political catastrophe and emerges remarkably unscathed, Price has beaten a host of serious charges, among them, threatening a judge and breaking the ankle of a carpenter. He's declared bankruptcy. In 1991, he was convicted of criminal mischief for damaging the car of a Plano woman. That same year, the Dallas Times Herald reported that Price submitted a urine sample to the Dallas County Health Department in response to whispers that his behavior stemmed from steroid use. Test results came back clean.
In addition, while Blair's characterization of Price as a "bully shakedown artist" went relatively unsubstantiated in his column, the longtime county commissioner has endured those accusations before. The first time came in Laura Miller's D magazine article. Thirteen years later, in his column, Blair obliquely refers to the plight of Corey Toney, a bail bondsman in Oak Cliff, who was portrayed to be a victim of an alleged shakedown. In an interview with the Observer, Toney says that he met with Price in the commissioner's office in April 2003. At the time, he says he was hoping to renew his bail bond license.
Toney's account of the meeting is this: Price warned him that he was running with the wrong crowd, singling out Jordan Blair and Dwaine Caraway, two friends of Toney's. The commissioner said that those two men couldn't do anything for him. After a few more rambling remarks, Price mentioned the name of a rival bail bond business. Price allegedly told Toney that they take care of him, and he takes care of them. "Ain't nothing free," Toney claims Price remarked.
A disgusted Toney told Price, "I don't owe nobody nothing but God."
Later, the bail bondsman claims, Price surprised him when he was dropping off his daughter at daycare. The county commissioner came to his car window and yelled at him. "I'm going to kick your young ass," he allegedly said.
Jordan Baccus, who has known Price for years and was in the car with Toney when Price came up to him, says he doesn't remember the commissioner making any kind of physical threats. He does, however, remember the commissioner making some sort of intimidating remark about Toney's business. After the encounter, Baccus and Toney went straight to the FBI. Toney, who showed the card of the agent with whom he spoke, says that the FBI didn't seem like they had any plans to investigate his allegation. No charges were ever filed.
I tried to talk to Price, but before I could ask a question, the commissioner put his hand in my face and said he didn't talk to the Observer. His lawyer, however, says that Price denies Toney's account and says that he would never ask for money in return for a political favor.
Despite the appearance of some corroboration for Blair's column, the paper made no effort to interview the commissioner before its column came out, according to Carter. But there is a difference between a reckless column and a libelous one, and if the Blairs' attorney brought up these revelations in trial, it might have made a difference.
"We're all worried about it," Jordan Blair says. "It's amazing that you would have somebody of the commissioner's status who wants to put a black newspaper out of business, but he never did anything against the white newspapers that basically wrote the same thing about him."
Leon Carter, however, says that Price is open to a settlement, but the Blair family has offered only a little cash plus a few perks--including a guest column--that the commissioner doesn't want. Carter says that his client is aware that Elite News may fold, but that's not his problem.
"They've been so irresponsible, whatever happens, happens," Carter says, characterizing Price's attitude about the newspaper.
Ironically, while Elite News represents many of the same people who failed to embrace Martin Luther King while he was alive, the paper has hosted an annual parade for the civil rights leader for 20 years. This past year, Governor Rick Perry attended the Elite News' commemoration of the late King's life and legacy. If the paper goes out of business, Elite News' association with one of the most iconic figures in American history will cease. To some, that's exactly what the civil rights martyr would have wanted even if he might have chosen someone other than Price to deliver the final blow.
"The sad part is that the people who now laud Martin Luther King were the people who boycotted him," Bishop Mark Herbener says.
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