In yesterday's Dallas Morning News, columnist Steve Blow apologized for calling me a "tinfoil hat" (nutcase) in 2008 when I reported that Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price was sabotaging a major shipping development in his own backyard while having compromising links to the powerful Perot family, owners of a competing enterprise in Fort Worth. Price's arrest July 25 and details of his federal bribery indictment have revealed that federal authorities are looking at those same links.
On Sunday Blow wrote: "So why am I apologizing to Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze? Because he was speculating about a Price-Perot connection back in 2008. ...Though he had no proof to offer at the time, Schutze ventured that Price's real goal was protecting Perot from competition to his Alliance transportation hub development in Fort Worth."
It was a gallant gesture on Blow's part. I have written over-personal, unfair and intemperate things about Blow and The Dallas Morning News over the years, of which I am not proud. I apologize to Blow for those remarks and for my language, which I always regret later.
But we still don't have the John Wiley Price/Perot story down quite right. Also in yesterday's News, a hagiographic recap of Price's career by Mathew Watkins and Randy Lee Loftis painted Price as a hard-battling champion of the downtrodden who also happens to be able to get along with businessmen sometimes:
"As a commissioner, his insistence on minority participation, his mastery of details, his tightfisted budgetary approach and his ability to work with some of his most conservative colleagues have been remarked on so often they're a local cliché."
That's not the story. And, by the way, the Dallas Observer has never published stories or columns by me or anybody else making serious allegations without "any proof to offer at the time." In fact over the years we have offered reams of detail on the Price/Perot connection.
The story here and now in the indictment is not about Commissioner Price standing up for minority economic opportunity. The allegations in the indictment, untested as yet in court, are that he worked to deprive poor black people in southern Dallas of important economic opportunities, preferring instead to line his own pockets with bribes.
The language in the indictment is all about an argument in 2006 over an application to the federal government to create a "foreign trade zone" in southern Dallas as an amenity for Dallas' "Inland Port" project -- a vast rail, trucking and warehousing development designed to be one of the largest on the continent. Price fought to delay the application so that the Perot interests, owners of a competing project near Alliance Airport in Forth Worth, could be included in the southern Dallas duty-free zone.
But this was never about waiting a few weeks so somebody else could get in on the deal. As we reported in 2008, the application process for the free trade zone had already been underway for two years when the Perot interests called for a halt. The application process is ornately complicated, requiring approvals at several levels from the hyper-local all the way up to Washington. Had county commissioners agreed to pause the process for the Perots, the applicants would have been forced to launch the entire process again from scratch, delaying the designation by at least a year, maybe more, at just the moment when the southern Dallas Inland Port was ready to start selling and renting property to clients.
The trade zone application itself was the very smallest thing at stake at the time -- a fig leaf to cover the real thrust, and for some of that we need to switch from my own coverage to the excellent reporting on all of this in 2006 by Mitchell Schnurman, then at the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram, now at the Morning News. As I recapped in 2012, Schnurman in 2006 quoted Mike Berry, president of the Perot-owned Hillwood Properties, saying that the real contest between Alliance in Fort Worth and the Inland Port in Dallas was over billions of dollars in state and federal money that Alliance wanted to see spent on its own project -- specifically for improvements to Interstate 35, Loop 820 and Texas 183 -- rather than on the Dallas project.
Back to my own coverage in 2008: I reported that Hillwood was trying hobble the Dallas project by sponsoring a series of bills introduced in the Legislature (all of the witnesses who spoke in favor of them were from Hillwood) that would have created a new level of government over the Dallas project. The entity proposed not only looked like it would be dominated by Hillwood, one version was interpreted by some analysts as giving Hillwood power of eminent domain in southern Dallas.
Incredibly, top Dallas City Hall staff seemed to be helping Hillwood in these efforts to undermine the Dallas project. When Richard Allen, the principal behind the Dallas project, complained about it, the Morning News derisively dismissed him as ... guess what? ... a tinfoil hat. "Harder to grasp," the paper said of Allen in an editorial, "is his significant trust issue with everyone at every level of government."
I called Karl Zavitkovsky, the city's director of economic development, hoping he would tinfoil-hat me for suggesting city staff could be involved in any such effort, and he did, right on cue. Then I asked him if it were true he personally had written one of the Hillwood bills. After a stunned pause, he said, "That's right, and that's something that went absolutely nowhere."
As in, yes, I wrote the bill, but it didn't pass.
Let's stop for a moment and screw down the focus. The Dallas director of economic development authored a bill then sent to Austin that, had it passed, would have mortally wounded the single biggest economic development project -- 40,000 to 60,000 jobs -- ever to come to southern Dallas, North Dallas, East Dallas, all of Dallas.
I reported all of this. Other people at the Observer reported pieces of it. Mitchell Schnurman at the Star-Telegram reported very important pieces of it. All those of us who reported on it provided reams of evidence.
And then there is this: Has anybody from the Morning News gone to D/FW airport or beyond D/FW to the Alliance Airport area in Tarrant County in the last five years? Because if they had, they would have seen all of those billions of dollars that Hillwood wanted from Austin being plowed into he ground in the form of massive infrastructure improvements to that entire portion of the region -- improvements that are not being plowed into the ground in southern Dallas, but might have been.
In other words, wait a minute. Forget about this wonk stuff about trade zones. Drive to the airport. Go to DFW. Look out your goddamned car window, will you? Do you not see cranes and bulldozers and concrete trucks and crews and barriers as far as your eye can see? Can you really tell me you never once wondered why all of it was going to the Hillwood corner of the region and not to us? Bullshit!
Wow. That apology didn't last long, did it?
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