Old School

Page 5 of 8

Until recently, Price and other board members had $3,000 in discretionary money that they could use in their districts. Price used it to hold dinners for parents and teachers, send out mailers about district events and purchase trinkets for deserving students. To the so-called reformers, this amounted to nothing more than a slush fund, and in November they voted to end the practice as a part of an ethics bill. Also included in the measure were more stringent financial disclosure requirements.

Price and his black colleagues called the measure racist, and none of them showed up at the meeting at which it passed. Six months later, he still says that the elimination of the discretionary fund penalizes minority districts like his, where the trustees don't have the personal income to spend on district projects.

Trustee Jerome Garza, who voted for the ethics bill, says that it's a part of a larger agenda for many new members to re-focus DISD priorities. "We didn't want boondoggles out there," he says of the fund. "We wanted trustees to use it wisely, and there is a clear perception in the community that this is not what we were doing."

To Price's detractors, it's a wonder he has managed to remain in office, considering how he had to beat back a litany of bad press about his spending, ethics and character. On the day of the election, the Morning News ran another editorial endorsing his challenger while resurrecting his 2003 conviction on a misdemeanor family violence charge. That's a tough shot to overcome. But even if Price earned the drubbing about his conduct in office--and that's an arguable point--the portrayal of him as a slick showman out only for himself misses a good part of who he is.

Price's friend Omar Jahwar runs a gang intervention program called Vision Regeneration. About a year ago, Jahwar called the school board member at midnight after a gang shooting on Jamaica Street in South Dallas, close to where Price lives. Jahwar says that a gang called the 187 Crips shot at members of the 415 East Dallas Bloods with handguns and assault-type rifles. No one died, but the Bloods lingered, promising revenge.

Price and Jahwar soon arrived at the scene, hoping to cool some heads. "I'm not going to lie to you," Price says. "I was scared."

But he told them a series of stories--most of them corny, Jahwar jokes--and for a while everyone laughed. It seems hard to imagine that Price, a veteran public official who is about as gangsta as Cuba Gooding Jr., could connect with vengeful street thugs, but Jahwar says that he earned respect just by being there.

"Even if he wouldn't seem to have credibility, the fact is he's showing up here at midnight," Jahwar says. "Who else is going to come?"

Later in October 2005, Price held a news conference in front of the Martin Luther King statue at the MLK Center announcing a truce between members of the Crips and Bloods. Members of both gangs attended. Beforehand, Price and Jahwar had met with gang leaders in their living rooms, discussing ways to put a halt to the violence that has made South Dallas one of the most dangerous places to live in the city. In a subsequent lunch, Price deplored the destructive effects of gang warfare while showing a surprising (and arguably batty) level of empathy for their situation.

"You have some people in these organizations who feel that society hasn't been fair to them, so why should they be fair to society?" he says. "Gangs are going to be here forever, so you don't demonize them, you embrace them."

In a year in which Price made headlines for all the wrong reasons, the besieged school board member earned quite a bit of publicity for his news conference. But when the reporters and photographers finished documenting his triumph, the gang violence continued unabated.

"As a result of that press conference nothing changed," says Lieutenant Rick Watson, a spokesman for the Dallas Police Department. "It didn't get worse. It didn't get better. It remained the same."

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Matt Pulle
Contact: Matt Pulle