Laff in the Dark

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The city council had agreed months ago to pay out $1.25 million in subsidies to the University of Texas and Oklahoma University in order to keep the annual Texas-OU game at the Cotton Bowl during the fair. Chaney argued that if the city was going to pay a subsidy for a white football game, it needed to pay one for a black game played at the fair also. He said he wanted the city to pay a $250,000 subsidy to support the Prairie View-Grambling State Fair Classic.

A whole lot of complete nonsense has been uttered recently, both on the council and in The Dallas Morning News letters column and elsewhere, about the relative economic values of these two games, Texas-OU and Prairie View-Grambling.

Look: Nobody has any idea how much either game contributes to the local economy. This is not a business deal; it's not an economic issue; it's all about prestige and culture; this is still basically a separate but equal city; and if the white people get a big football game at the fair, the black people get a big football game at the fair, too.

Remember, now. It's that, or we'll have to integrate! We always have a deal in Dallas. Remember "Dodge 'em Scooter."

Anyway, because of various contract issues and so on, the two subsidies only recently came up for a vote. At that point, Chaney and council member Dr. Maxine Thornton-Reese, who is black, began brow-beating the rest of the council and race-carding the hell out of them, especially Mayor Laura Miller.

What Chaney did not mention to his colleagues was that he had already negotiated a $225,000 subsidy for the black game from a group of State Fair concessionaires. The only reason anybody even found out about the extra $225,000 in payola was that the mayor, former investigateuse that she is, sniffed around and found out about it from Errol McKoy, president of the fair.

Even then, Chaney tried to pretend for a while that he was shocked! shocked! to hear about this extra money for the black game. But then Miller was able to establish that it was Chaney who had negotiated it. Oops! About that time, Chaney stopped taking calls from me and even managed to dodge me the one time I almost caught up with him in a City Hall corridor.

For a large man, he's got moves.

Now, where does all this background leave us, you may ask? Here. Finally last week, the Dallas City Council had to hammer all of this out. And hammer, they did. Hammer and tongs.

The chambers were brimming with black supporters, including Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price and state Senator Royce West, both of whom made stirring speeches.

White council member Gary Griffith offered an amendment to pay the black subsidy out of a fund other than the city's general fund, which actually made sense, but his amendment aroused strong opposition from the black council members.

The black members were civil and self-controlled. Chaney begged Griffith to withdraw his amendment. Griffith, swallowing hard, did so.

Councilman Bill Blaydes, who is white, and Councilman James Fantroy, who is black, traded frank words about their innermost feelings on race. I got the feeling I was listening to two guys who really are friends, struggling with a tough issue and having to do it in front of seven television camera crews.

The mayor never got to talk, which obviously ticked her off. She begged Councilman Steve Salazar, who is Latino, not to "call the question," a parliamentary move that cuts off debate, before she had a chance to speak. Salazar did it anyway. He probably thought he was doing her a favor.

Then the mayor, who obviously thought all of this stank to high heaven, swallowed hard, too. She joined the rest of the members present in voting unanimously for both subsidies, for the white game and the black game, too.

Here's my point. Given the history here, you and I could find a million reasons to pull all of this apart. We could defeat any and every effort at consensus. We could produce total gridlock without ever getting out of bed.

That's easy in Dallas.

But the council, weird and blemished and screwed up as it may be, deserves huge credit for finding its way to some kind of an agreement. I mean it.

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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