Saying Goodbye to Dwaine Caraway, the Mayor of our Dreams

Soon the Reign of Dwaine will end. My life will change. But the city will not.

Next month, by law, a new mayor of Dallas must be sworn in, and the curtain must fall on this brief, unlikely and delightful chapter in the history of City Hall. Acting Mayor Dwaine Caraway—he of controversial keys to the city and embarrassing domestic incidents—will return to being a regular city council member, and reporters like me will have to get back to work. The going-back-to-work part makes me sad—sadder, perhaps, than you could know.

But the important thing is this: Mayor Dwaine Caraway has not been fundamentally unlike previous Dallas mayors. He has just been a lot more obvious, which is why I will miss him. I will have to get back to grubbing and groveling for tidbits with my pickax and dust mask, trying to excavate something interesting from the mayor's office.

Since his swearing in on February 26, my life has been a lotus-eater's Nirvana. I loll in bed until early afternoon, eating grapes. Then, in a voice dripping with lazy self-indulgence, I call out, "I suppose it's time for someone to come and tell me what Mayor Dwaine has done this day."

It's always something.

Right before he was to become acting mayor, for instance, Caraway gave an honorary key to the city to Michael Vick, the football player and convicted dog-torturer. Do you have any idea what that's worth to me?

In my normal existence I could wait 20 years for a Dallas mayor to give a key to the city to a convicted dog-torturer. Stuff like that never happens in this town.

In other towns, sure. Buddy Cianci, the mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, wouldn't step down until the feds convicted him of being a racketeer. Anybody could write a column in Providence. Think about me. I wind up doing columns about how the mayor of Dallas may be listening to the wrong people on curb-repair policy. Maybe.

You don't know how I suffer. You've never seen me on my knees with clasped hands at my bedside at night, whispering, "...and if just once, in your great wisdom, you could allow the mayor to give the keys to the city to a convicted dog-torturer..."

Early in his tenure, Caraway launched a series of kerfuffles, brouhahas, imbroglios and contretemps involving two characters whom he named "Archie and Arthur." It was about a police incident at his home, which was the result of a dispute between him and his wife, State Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway. Caraway tried to cover it up by saying the disturbance that night was between two gentlemen attending a football-watching party. He named them Arthur and Archie.

If Tom Leppert, the previous mayor, had tried to cover up a domestic set-to at his house, he would have invented two guys who sounded like a shopping center. "Preston and Forest were speaking to each other in decidedly raised tones over a disputed point in their tennis game, so I dialed 911."

But Arthur and Archie! I would never even think to ask for something that good. Kneeling by my bed at night, I would never say, "...and when the police report does leak, and the mayor tries to blame it on some guys at a party, is there any possible way you could have him give them cartoon names?"

During the reign of Dwaine, these things came to me unbidden, like the gentle rain from heaven. Two years ago, at the urging of Leppert, the city council elected Caraway "mayor pro tem." Normally it's an empty title, but it took on meaning in February, when Leppert announced he was resigning to run for the U.S. Senate, leaving Caraway at the helm.

Since then, Caraway has been warming the chair while the city waits for the new elected mayor to be seated on June 27. Tragically for me, in spite of my prayers, Caraway did not enter that race himself.

You may remember: When it became obvious Leppert was going to bolt and Caraway would succeed him, there was a short-lived movement on the council to strip him of the pro-tem title, to keep him from becoming mayor. But it didn't get far. I like to think that some of the resistance came from council members who thought having Caraway for mayor might be a little fun for a change.

There was plenty of reason to think so, based on his previous career on the council. One of my own favorite episodes from his career as a councilman was the poker house saga. Remember that one?

In May 2010, the city was trying to shut down a gambling house in South Dallas. Neighbors had complained about heavy traffic, day and night, at the house. The cops couldn't get inside undercover, so they started writing tickets on the parked cars that covered the lawn while code enforcement officers went after the homeowner.

Caraway, mayor pro tem at the time, complained about the enforcement activities to city manager Mary Suhm and top police officials. He offered two arguments as to why they should lay off.

First, he said, the cops should be spending their time catching more serious crooks. Always a good thought. If a cop has got a poker player pinched by the ear in one hand and an airplane hijacker pinched by the ear in the other, he should always let the poker player go and concentrate on the hijacker.

That's not the good part.

The good part was his second reason why the cops should lay off: He and his father liked to play poker at the house.

Oh my gosh! How embarrassing for the police! Had they only known this was the Caraway family's favorite poker house, all this might have been avoided.

Somehow, it gets better. Guess what? The cops laid off. I haven't been by that place in a while, but last time I checked the cars were still all over the lawn and the place looked like it was goin' and blowin'.

He says this crazy stuff, but he tends to get his way, and that's the part that keeps me in business. He may be bizarre, but he's news.

If it were only the things like giving the key to the city to Michael Vick or talking about Arthur and Archie and so on, I wouldn't be able to get much real mileage out of him. What makes Caraway worth paying attention to is that in the end, no matter how strange his pathway, he often winds up exactly where he intended to go.

Take his recent ethics reform push. It's been talked to death, but the basic concept is so wonderfully—how to put it?—so wonderfully Caraway.

With no public debate, he introduced a measure that he said would repair a grievous wrong perpetrated on citizens by an earlier ethics law. That law prohibited a citizen from giving council members money right after a council vote on something of importance to that citizen.

Caraway said the law was preventing a lot of people who wanted to give the council members money from doing so. The poor things. Wads of money in their hands and nobody to grease with it.

It's not unrelated to the poker house deal. The underlying principle is the same in both.

Hey, that's my poker house.

Hey, that's my money.

But again—and this is the more important part—it worked. The council voted unanimously to adopt the Mayor Dwaine Caraway Ethics Reform Ordinance.

They got caught, and there's been a good deal of blowback over it, so now the council has been forced to create some kind of commission to re-study the city's ethics policy. On the first day that the new commission convenes, they should have a professor come in and explain what ethics are.

But my point is this: The way Caraway has operated in office is only different from how previous mayors have behaved because the things he wants are different, and because he asked for them so loudly. Dwaine has learned a lot since his childhood in the projects, but he never mastered the country club rule of staying quiet and stealing big.

Leppert insisted that the taxpayers pay for a half-billion dollar hotel development that would enhance the value of a bunch of property owned by the people who own The Dallas Morning News.

Caraway just wants the cops to lay off his and his dad's poker house.

Leppert said the Corps of Engineers had "signed off" on the safety of the Trinity River levee system, and said the North Texas Tollway Authority was going to pay the two billion dollars it will cost to build a toll road along the river.

Caraway just said the cops came to his house because of Arthur and Archie.

Plus, Caraway just made life so easy. I am going to miss him in the mayor's office, terribly. In fact, I don't even remember. What time do people normally start work?

Since his swearing in, my life has been a lotus-eater's Nirvana. I loll in bed until early afternoon, eating grapes.

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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