Taming Leo

This is among the dozens of photos of South Dallas ACORN presented to council members in its report on South Dallas neglect for the past, oh, century or so.

If it's the last day of school before summer break, the kids must be cleaning out the lockers and throwing their papers in the air. Today at 2:30 p.m. at City Hall, those nutty Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) folks are going to step up to the podium during the final city council meeting before summer recess and present councilman Leo Chaney a sarcastic award for, among other things, refusing to meet with the group to accept its study into chronicling 90 years' worth of segregation and racism in the South Dallas-Fair Park area. Now, to be fair to Chaney, I've read the study, and it's a four-page, single-spaced report and about 229 pages of notes (dozens of old city studies and plans, photocopied charts and faded maps, ancient clips from newspapers and so forth); the kids really did throw their papers in the air after all. While it makes the compelling case that Dallas has used city ordinances and procedures and zoning policies to "deny the Fair Park neighborhood the municipal services necessary for a good neighborhood," all you need to do is drive through the place to see that; the city's betrayed Fair Park and South Dallas for decades, absolutely, a fact documented in such places as my pal Jim Schutze's The Accommodation: The Politics of Race in an American City and Michael Phillips' recently UT Press-published White Metropolis. Chaney ought to know it as well as anyone: He grew up in South Dallas and still lives on South Boulevard. Then again, ACORN organizers say Pauline Medrano and Elba Garcia did meet with them to accept the study, which also comes on a CD-R with some 50 photos documenting the neglect and squalor of the crumbling Fair Park neighborhood--pictures ACORN wants Chaney to answer for as the council member for the area.

Because as mad as ACORN is about Chaney's failure to meet with them to take the document on a disc, they also claim he's been unresponsive to the needs of the neighborhood, which is a familiar cry among those who live and work in District Seven and witness every day the desiccated houses plastered with red and green city violations, the burned-down businesses stripped of copper by junkies on the prowl, the vacant lots covered with old tires and other junkyard detritus, the prostitutes wandering the streets during daylight hours, the by-the-hour hot-sheet motels located next to liquor stores that were supposed to have been shut down long ago. (All of this is within feet, literally, of my father's auto parts store on Second Avenue, where it's been more than 50 years.) Ask only Michael Davis, the damn-it-I'll-do-it blogger who recently helped close with Dwaine Caraway and others the American Inn motel on Scyene Road--infamous for its junkies, prostitutes and violence--without Chaney's assistance, though he would later try to take credit for its shuttering. As Davis wrote on his blog Dallas Progress on June 15:

"That's not surprising because [Chaney]'s has done NOTHING about many things in District 7. Most readers may not know there is one corner along MLK (west of I-45) that has 6 liquor stores. There are more liquor stores than corners at that intersection. (4 corners...6 liquor stores) A guy like Chaney is the reason South Dallas looks the way it does right now. MLK Boulevard? Second Avenue? Malcolm X Boulevard? What could he have possibly done? Chaney better not EVER try to run for ANYTHING else. If he does, I have a slogan for him. Ineffective...Incompetent...and Invisible... The I's have it."

ACORN's giving Chaney something called The Lame Duck Award, which sounds like nothing more than a rubber duck on a wooden block, because they claim that when they recently called him to complain about the neighborhood, and how he'd done little to rescue it during his nearly eight years in office, he told them, "I'm a lame duck, but I can still quack." Brandy Stachowski of ACORN recalls how only last April ACORN had asked Chaney to come to a meeting of community leaders on April 27, and he initially turned them down. Stachowski says the only way Chaney was persuaded to come was when he was informed ACORN was going to collect trash from vacant lots throughout the Fair Park area and dump it in his front yard on South.

"We figured, 'If all this trash remains in the neighbrhod, you must want it there,'" says Stachowski, who brought the ACORN report to the Observer offices yesterday evening. "He called the head supervisors and wanted to know why we were doing this to him, and that's when he made the comment he was a lame duck who could still quack.' He finally came out and met with folks...and agreed to tour neighborhood. Then he said he didn't have time." She says Chaney was "finally coaxed into a car" and taken on a tour, but "as the representative for our district, when you look at the extreme nature of the conditions there, if he's not willing to be an advocate to bringing resources, he's not working for us. He's not acknowleding there's an issue."

Leading this little piece of political theater at City Hall today will be Dallas ACORN vice-chair Herman Hillary and treasurer Steve Harvey. They aren't holding their breaths it'll make a difference; says Stachowski of the presentation, "I don't believe it'll be positive." Then again, maybe it's just what Chaney needs--the swift kick of righteousness from his very own. Says Stachowski: "Chaney's an ACORN member, believe it or not." --Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky