It's Time to Kick Our Addiction to John Wiley Price

Pretty soon, any day now, maybe tomorrow, well, possibly in a week or so, I may join a 12-steps program in which I stand up at the beginning of every meeting and say, "Hi everybody, my name is Jim, and I can't stop talking about John Wiley Price."

Not today.

If you are visiting from out of town or just don't follow local politics much, this is about the county's most powerful politician, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, target of a massive FBI public corruption investigation, although he hasn't been charged with anything yet.

He's in trouble. Last week the feds made public an affidavit alleging that Price took kickbacks from an African-American political machine run by a lady named Kathy Nealy in return for his help getting current Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings elected.

When it came out, Rawlings issued a statement saying he didn't know nothing about nothing: "The campaign was not involved, and has no knowledge or information of Ms. Nealy's activities beyond the services expressly listed in her contract. If she was involved in other activities related to the campaign, her involvement was as an independent actor, and not as a representative of the campaign."

I swear to God, they've got this statement stuck to the refrigerator with a magnet in the break room down at the Dallas Citizens Council. That's the elite private outfit that chooses downtown suit candidates for mayor and runs their campaigns.

Ten years ago, when certain "irregularities" showed up in the Nealy-run phone banks for Citizens Council suit candidate Tom Dunning, he gave me the same statement verbatim from his own lips in person, adding, "How would I know what goes on down there? That's the South Dallas campaign."

Citizens Council candidates always have two campaigns. You have the white people campaign and the black people campaign. By the way, Dunning is a good guy and an extreme straight arrow. That's just how it's done. It's how Price and his black political machine insist it be done.

In 2002, when I asked Nealy what she did with all the money sluiced into her account by the Citizens Council candidate, she called me a racist.

I always wondered if that also worked at the 7-Eleven? "Give me a pack of Luckies, non-filter kings, soft." "That'll be $7.50." "That's racist."

Anyway, it has always worked for Nealy when anybody asked her for receipts for her campaign money, I guess until the FBI called. Whenever you ask the Citizens Council guys what the money's for, it's what they say every single time: We don't know. We don't ask. That would be racist.

But not everybody rolls that way. In 2002, Laura Miller refused to pay to play. She wouldn't hire Nealy, whom she had painted as a bag-man when she was doing my job here at the Dallas Observer. Miller, who won the election, beat Dunning badly in his own backyard, sweeping the very North Dallas precincts a Citizens Council guy is supposed to own.

Before the election in the one face-to-face meeting Dunning had with black community leaders not allied with the Price/Nealy machine, those leaders demanded that Dunning declare his position on key community issues. He blew up and marched out, angry.

Nevertheless, when the votes were counted, even though Miller had killed him in his own backyard, Dunning, the rich white guy, did fantabulous in the poor black precincts dominated by the Price/Nealy machine.

If I may, I shall quote my favorite writer, myself. On February 7, 2002, I wrote:

"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."

Because she wouldn't pay Nealy, because she had exposed corruption in black and white politics in Dallas with a strong focus on Price, Miller was then and is still today painted as a racist by Price and his cadre.

In the column I am working on for next week's paper, I want to point out that black southern Dallas has consistently voted against honesty, against progress, against inter-ethnic neighborhood cooperation and against any kind of civic responsibility in citywide elections.

But we are told nevertheless -- we are beaten about the ears, in fact -- that it's everybody else's job to clean up and bring prosperity to the black precincts.

After decades of watching this dismal scam operate, you may have to forgive me if I have become a bit jaded. I look at the editorial campaign of The Dallas Morning News, 10 holes in the bucket or something, about all the stuff it's my job to clean up in South Dallas, and I can't help wondering if this isn't part of the same old sleazy political deal.

You know what? I'm starting to wonder if maybe it isn't time for southern Dallas to clean up its own crap and leave me the hell alone.

The other guy who refused to pay to play was Rawlings' opponent, David Kunkle. In his years as Dallas police chief, Kunkle built up a fine track record as a true friend to southern Dallas, capable of being tough when tough was called for, compassionate when compassion was needed.

In return for that, Price blanketed the radio waves with ads painting Kunkle as a stooge of Miller and thereby a proxy racist. It worked. Rawlings got the Dunning vote. As we now know from the FBI document, Price got paid.

I am not calling Mike Rawlings a crook. I don't believe that. I think he's a straight guy, like Dunning. These guys do it the way it's always been done, the way that black Dallas, through Price, has always told them to do it. Anybody who questions that system is called a racist.

What's the bottom line? Hell, I don't know. Thinking about it. Couple weeks from now, 12 steps, I promise. Not ready quite yet.

Maybe it's time for the rest of Dallas to start consciously and deliberately voting against southern Dallas, as long as southern Dallas continues to support the Price/Nealy machine. How the hell can we be expected to fix all the holes in southern Dallas' damn bucket if we don't fix the holes in our own first?

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze