It's 7:30 p.m., time for the candidates' forum to begin. Nearly 100 parents, students, and community activists have gathered inside the Greater Mount Pleasant Baptist Church to attend an "accountability" forum sponsored by members of the Dallas Area Interfaith. The DAI is a coalition of Dallas-area churches that attempts to influence school-district policy.
Three candidates--Se-Gwen Tyler, Yul Lynch, and Jerry Parks--have been here for 30 minutes, arriving early so DAI leaders can brief them on the ground rules of the forum. But Richard Evans--who claims he resides at his childhood home just six blocks away--is still missing.
The two fans swirling overhead do little to move the muggy church air; people grab newspapers, brochures, anything to wave in front of their faces in futile attempts to cool themselves. The Rev. Earnest Rudd can wait no longer, and he begins the opening prayer. The evening's event is billed as a candidates' forum, but it soon becomes clear that it was designed to force the candidates to publicly declare their allegiance to DAI's agenda, which includes a million-dollar DISDbudget increase in after-school programs.
The declaration carries with it an implied threat: If you pledge to support the DAI agenda, then get elected and don't, you will be held accountable. Candidates can easily conjure up visions of angry DAI members, toting placards and shouting words of betrayal at future DISD school board meetings.
With the election just three weeks away, none of these candidates can afford to lose a single vote. The three wannabe board members, dressed in nearly identical dark business suits, take turns pledging allegiance to DAI. One by one they rise, answer, sit--none standing out above the others.
Just as the questioning period ends and the candidates begin to file into the crowd, a tall man dressed in a sharp blue suit slips into the back of the room. The man is Henry Shelton, one of Richard Evans' campaign workers. With a smirk planted squarely on his clean-shaven face, Shelton sizes up the action and quickly departs.
The room begins to buzz. Was that Richard Evans? Where the hell is Richard Evans? Why isn't he here like he's supposed to be?
DAI organizer Ruby Scott steps up to the podium. "We did meet with Mr. Evans yesterday. He told us he would be at this meeting tonight, but he is not here." And if Evans does arrive, Scott adds, he will be given an opportunity to speak.
At 7:55, just as the forum is about to end, Richard Evans makes his grand entrance. His pinstriped suit is crisp, his forehead still dry. Coolly, he takes a position next to Scott.
"Mr. Evans," Scott says, addressing him as if he's a student who is tardy for class, "you were committed to be at this meeting. We at DAI conduct our meetings in a timely matter."
Evans dismisses her with a smile, his bespectacled face not revealing the slightest hint of embarrassment or humility. With his hands clasped casually behind his back, he, like the others, pledges to support the DAI.
Yes, he would be most honored to work with DAI. Of course he would carry out their agenda. Certainly he would meet with them. As often as possible, he adds.
Later in the evening, Evans puts on a very troubled face and explains why he was so late.
"I am very discouraged," he says with a scowl, as his worker Shelton stands beside him distributing four-color, glossy fliers depicting a smiling Evans standing beside a who's who of Dallas leaders. "They told me the meeting was to begin at 7:30!"
Evans' excuse for being late rang about as hollow as his attempts to pass himself off as a "doctor" and his claims of being an "experienced leader in Dallas public schools."
Ordinarily, Evans is a vocal man who doesn't hesitate to express his opinions. He attracted lots of attention--much of it negative--when, in 1995, he helped disrupt school board meetings over an issue regarding the Talented and Gifted program at Townview--a problem he claimed was caused by Jews who refused to take orders from African-Americans.
But nowadays Evans doesn't like to talk as much, especially when the discussion involves his professional and educational background. Asked to explain his mysterious past during a recent telephone interview, Evans says that information is private and irrelevant to his campaign.