John Wiley Price: The Best Friend the White Establishment Ever Had

Oh my God, am I just going to keep blabbing about John Wiley Price every day for the rest of my life? Will I wind up buckled into a padded chair against the wall in some long corridor with ladies in white dresses whispering to the visitors, "He's the John Wiley Price talker?"


Today I have to try one more time. I worry that the basic phenomenon -- Dallas's most powerful elected official taking blowtorch heat from an FBI investigation -- is beyond our comprehension. But we have to try anyway.

Price has two indelible personas, depending on who's looking at him. For whites who are afraid of black people he's a scary angry African-American firebrand who for a third of a century has done every single thing he can to make white people quake in their socks.

For poor black people in Dallas he's the one guy who stood up to rich arrogant racist white people downtown, spit in their eyes and then did business with them as their equal.

Neither of those Price clichés is anywhere close to the center of what's going on with this corruption probe. The investigation, which has produced no indictments but a lot of information so far, is about John Wiley Price as black Judas, a stooge and henchman for the rich powerful whites he pretends to oppose. And this is only the current chapter in a 15-year uninterrupted series of federal corruption probes of black leadership in Dallas based on exactly the same scenario.

The accusation is not that Dallas's black leaders have been too hard on white people. It's that they've been too sweet on them.

The previous two cases produced overwhelming jury verdicts in favor of the government. The first one, against the late Albert Lipscomb, got tossed out later because the judge, an ex-cop too zealous for a conviction, screwed it up, not because of anything the FBI or the Justice Department did. They won their case before the jury. The judge is the one who fornicated with the canine.

Why do we keep not seeing this pattern for what it is? Simple. It goes too hard against our preconceptions. JWP can be the scary bad black man who frightens white people for no good reason. Or he can be the scary good black man who frightens white people for good reason.

What about the not-scary-at-all black chiseler who screws black people in order to get money out of white people? That one's not on the menu.

Take a peek, if you have not already, at excerpts from two commenters who spoke here in response to yesterday's installment in my JWP obsession.

On said, in part, "... for you, it can't be about JWP himself. He was entrapped. He is misunderstood. He is lumped in with bad company. He was enabled. He was taken in by big money. He was had; he was hoodwinked; bamboozled; led astray; run amok. It's a conspiracy."

The second said, "Is in unlawful to accept a cash payment for an endorsement? I don't see the ethical nor the legal problem with doing so. ... If my endorsement carried the weight of JWP's I would ask for much more than $5K and I would ask for my guy to be appointed to the Zoning Commission, Airport or Park Board and perhaps a reserved parking space at the Omni Hotel."

The proper response to the first is no. No. It was never about his being entrapped. I have never said that. He has always been a hoodwinker, not a hoodwinkee. He and the rich powerful white men downtown have used each other at least equally. This is a partnership, not a victimization.

To the second commenter, I have this to say: I don't give a rat's ass if taking money in exchange for a political endorsement is a crime or not. It's a sin.

I'm not a prosecutor or a fed. I'm just a guy on the curb, watching. What I see is that David Kunkle, the other candidate for mayor in our last election, had a solid network of connections with earnest, honest, hard-working community leaders in black Dallas, people like Tabiti Olatunji, a real firebrand, not a fake, who has been a force for years in the North Park Love Field neighborhood. Olatunji, in seriously deteriorated health, dragged his oxygen bottle on wheels to all of Kunkle's appearances and stood there in the shadows, wheezing, just to be near.

The winner of that election, Mike Rawlings, paid Kathy Neely 300 grand for "political consulting" -- way more money than anybody in the business could understand, if it was for legitimate grassroots activity, as Rawlings has insisted. Now we learn it was not. According to an affidavit released by the U.S. attorney earlier this week, there was a direct cash pipeline for that money from Nealy to Price before his endorsement of Rawlings.

Here is the point. If you are Price, you don't take money in order to do the right thing for your community. You take it to do the wrong thing.

You take it in exchange for your agreement to poison the air against the guy your community ought to vote for and get them to vote instead for a man who has done nothing to merit their vote.

That's the sin. It's not the money itself. It's what the money is for. I mean, c'mon. This is our community. It's not Walmart.

In today's Dallas Morning News columnist Jack Floyd has a nice piece on all of this, well reasoned, well written as always, in which she talks about Price's anger issues.

For Price ... it wasn't a role. He really was angry, and he still is. Anger is in the man's DNA, and he doesn't take much trouble to disguise it. The anger he expresses reflects what a lot of Dallas residents still believe, even in these quieter times.

I get what she's saying. But I disagree, respectfully. I don't think Price's anger reflects a damn thing about race or oppression or the strange fruit of poverty. I think it's all about arrogance and the bluster of a con-man on the run.

There is a story also in today's Morning News that shows what this is, really. Ed Timms and Kevin Krause have a piece laying out all the money that rich powerful white guys downtown have continued to funnel to Price in campaign contributions in spite of the cloud over his head.

It reminded me of something I learned was going on during the corruption trial of late Dallas City Council member Al Lipscomb in 2000. The Dallas business establishment attempted unsuccessfully to bring pressure, first on the government to back off from its prosecution of Lipscomb, then after his conviction on the judge to go leniently in sentencing. I was approached by some of the people bringing the pressure, and I actually got some good stories out of them, including one they fed me about hanky-panky involving political contributions to the judge's wife, who was a suburban city council candidate.

Their agenda was clear. Muss up the judge, weaken him enough to make him back down from sending Al up for the rest of his life. So was my agenda. Get a good story. That was all unspoken, of course. Sometimes you don't have to say everything out loud.

Hey, sorry, I'm a reporter. I take all good stories. I'm just glad my sainted mother passed on her to her everlasting reward before somebody offered me a really good story about her.

But that's the real picture -- Price and the white boys on the Dallas Citizens Council in the same bed, sheets pulled up demurely to their necks, insisting, "We were just trying to guess each other's weight."

That's the challenge for us all. Sometimes the reality is harder to believe than the lie.

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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