Looking over the few end-of-the-year prediction pieces I have composed, I am embarrassed to see that I have written about the year ahead for Dallas as if it were the white year. What about the black year?
But, wait. We all know there’s no such thing as white and black years. There’s no such thing as major change on one side of the racial river without change on the other.
The time-honored paradigm in Dallas has always been a partnership between the traditional black leadership made up mainly of church ministers and the traditional white leadership associated with the private Dallas Citizens Council and a few other elite business groups interested in how the City Council votes.
A few foggy windows on the old arrangement have been provided over the years by corruption convictions – City Council member Al Lipscomb in 2000, council member Don Hill in 2009, state Rep. Terri Hodge in 2010, council member Dwaine Caraway this year. (Lipscomb's conviction was later overturned on appeal.) The moral drumbeat in every case has been the insistence by defendants that they were only doing what the white people do, but the white people get away with it. True and true.
The better window, however, is from the case of the man who was not convicted, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price. In April 2017, Price was acquitted of seven of the 11 corruption charges brought by federal prosecutors, who then surrendered on the remaining charges. It was a hard-fought battle. Price won.
But the window was wide open. During the Price trial, employees of the wealthy white Perot clan of Dallas testified that they had channeled payments to a Price associate in hopes Price would help them slow down development of a highly promising industrial development in southern Dallas.
The Dallas Inland Port or Dallas Logistics Center as it was variously called, a high-tech shipping and warehousing center, may have been highly promising for southern Dallas, offering tens of thousands of well-paid, clean jobs in an employment desert. But it was highly challenging for the Perots, who had deemed it a direct threat to their similar center in Fort Worth near Alliance Airport.
They won, too. Price and a powerful but little-known regional planning agency called the Council of Governments, or COG, stymied the Inland Port in Dallas. It didn’t die, but it slowed way down. In that breathing space of a few years, gifted to them by Price and the COG, the Perots were able to steer billions of dollars in public infrastructure away from southern Dallas and into the Alliance area instead.
The old-guard white leadership typified by the Citizens Council never gave a damn anyway about real economic development in southern Dallas. Their biggest demonstration of true intent came in the 1970s and '80s when they stripped all of the city’s major cultural institutions out of South Dallas and put them in a new arts district downtown nearer the all-white Park Cities.
In the early 2000s when the Perots, Commissioner Price and the COG were trying to pull the plug on the Inland Port, the Perots were able to win favor and even lavish praise from the Citizens Council and its official organ, The Dallas Morning News. All they had to do was kill off one more doddering museum in southern Dallas by opening a fancy new one in the arts district, in their own name, of course.
Who needs an economy and jobs for southern Dallas when you can get a nice new museum for the arts district?
But you know what? Here’s the nice thing about real estate. You can tell all the tales you want about it, pull all the tricks and think you’re covering your tracks, but the real estate itself is still there. You can’t make that go away. It’s part of the planet.
The arts district downtown is wall-to-wall shiny halls and glittery new museums. Fair Park, where all of those things used to be, is post-apocalyptic most of the year when it isn’t covered up with carnies and corny dogs.
And guess what? That’s chump change next to the difference between southern Dallas and the Alliance Airport area. Southern Dallas continues to be one of the most racially segregated, poverty-blighted urban regions in the country. The Alliance area is one of nation’s richest and fastest-growing regions.
Here’s the thing to know about the growth near Alliance versus the stagnation and blight in southern Dallas. The real difference is in public investment.
Both sides had lots of business acumen and private investment going for them. When the Inland Port project took off in 2005, it was led by Richard Allen, one of the biggest, savviest players in logistics and shipping in America. Allen made an enormous personal investment in land in southern Dallas and was about to bring in major international investors behind him.
In terms of capital, brains, industrial know-how and entrepreneurial zeal, southern Dallas probably was ahead of Alliance at that point. And then there was the reason Allen was there in the first place.
It was Allen’s analysis, based on road, railroad and trade patterns dating to the mid-18th century, that southern Dallas was the perfect fulcrum for continental distribution of Pacific Rim goods. If his analysis was right, and no one has ever argued against it, then southern Dallas then and now owns that famous triple crown of real estate: location, location, location.
But in the space of two or three years after Price and the COG helped stymie the Inland Port, the state and federal governments steered billions and billions of dollars in highway and other infrastructure to Alliance. And if you don’t believe me, just go look. It’s on the ground. It’s not to be denied.
Huge, brand-new, ultra-wide highways are not acts of God. They do not spring up randomly. People put them there. Politicians draw them on maps. That’s who steered all that infrastructure to Alliance and away from Dallas.
So does that make the Perots villains? Does it make them racists? That’s a little hard to feature. Their investment was in Alliance. Why would they not have fought to protect and sustain their own investment?
No, the villains are the people who drove stakes in the neck of their own community. The COG. The Citizens Council/Morning News editorial page nexus. And Price.
The COG we can forget about. It’s a politically amoral, voraciously opportunistic, free-floating, self-serving bureaucracy that answers to no voter and lives only to feed itself. The only way for the city to protect itself from the COG is to find some way to kill it.
The Citizens Council types and the Morning News, I don’t even know what to say. They’re not trying to fool anybody when they pop for a new museum over tens of thousands of new jobs in the southern sector. That’s an honest expression of their values. The Morning News ran a series of editorials for years arguing that the real problem in southern Dallas was litter.
The only Judas in this picture is Price. He alone had the personal power and public prestige to take a stand and turn the political tide. He went the other way.
The drive through southern Dallas, which I make a lot, is a startling, shocking contrast with the drive to Alliance, which I also make sometimes. I highly recommend the full tour. It leaves no doubt what has happened in a short period of time. Alliance is the full promise of tomorrow. Southern Dallas is the land of broken promises.
So what about the white year and the black year? The turning point for the city north of the racial line of demarcation — the question to be settled in 2019 — is whether the new so-called progressive alliance of younger leaders will finally overwhelm the Citizens Council by seizing both the mayor’s seat and a majority on the City Council.
That’s the white year — wrongly named, I must admit, because it doesn’t happen without a very important Latino assist. So let’s just call it the New Year.
If the New Year does happen, if the Citizens Council loses its grip at long last, then the old black ministerial base in southern Dallas will be suddenly adrift, bereft and politically bankrupt. Its only sponsor, the Citizens Council types, will be gone from power.
Also cut loose from the mother ship, by the way, will be the COG. In decades of battle over the Trinity toll road, the new progressive leadership was able to fully take the measure of the COG. A reborn City Hall will do everything it can as quickly as it can to recapture money and initiative from that infernal sink.
So what would all of that mean for southern Dallas, if it were to take place? It would mean freedom. Freedom from the past. Freedom from the sadness and defeat of history. A new generation of brave new leaders would be free at last to emerge from the ashes of a bitter past.
And then remember that thing that is deeper in the dirt and more important for the future than any of the rest of this. It’s still there. Location, location, location. Rather than the city’s battered orphan child, what if southern Dallas were to become the economic prince of the city? Believe.
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