Schutze

The exterminator

Page 2 of 3

But in this case there is evidence--one piece in particular--that smells unequivocally bad for Caraway, no matter what anybody else may or may not have been up to. Filed with the suit is a letter that Caraway sent on his own letterhead in September 1999 to the former operator of Redbird Airport, Tennell Atkins.

The letter, which Caraway unfathomably copied to the entire city council, is meant to denounce Atkins. But what the letter really conveys is that Caraway had been representing Atkins' business, was now mad at him, and wanted the city council to know that Atkins was officially out of favor.

The problem? The problem is that Dwaine Caraway's wife was chairwoman of the city council's transportation and telecommunications committee at the time, with immediate oversight of Redbird Airport. How much more bald can it get? No wonder the Caraways have been such committed opponents of ethics reform.

Caraway has angrily denied all of the allegations in Atkins' suit, including a claim that he accepted $3,000 in cash from Atkins for negotiating Atkins' lease with the city and helping arrange a loan. He told the Morning News that the claims of the suit were "a total, inflammatory slanderous lie."

In a conversation with me, Caraway did not deny the authenticity of the letter. In the letter, Caraway told Atkins, "I have given my time and effort to help you and Red Bird Development Corporation. I introduced you to business associates who were willing to help you, but your unprofessional actions and inability to cooperate have put these relationships in jeopardy."

I told Caraway I couldn't find a way to read the letter--backward, forward, or upside down--and not come away with the impression that Caraway had been fronting for Atkins and now wanted to screw him with the city council, city officials, and members of the black business community.

Given that Caraway's wife was the city council member with immediate control over Atkins' business fate, what on earth was Dwaine Caraway doing yanking him around by the collar? Does this sound like volunteer activity? The letter doesn't read like the note you send in to resign as coach of your kid's YMCA soccer team.

Caraway said on the telephone, "That letter speaks for itself. The son of a bitch was not fulfilling his obligations, and it took someone to tell the son of a bitch to get his act together."

He declined to comment on the letter in further detail.

Caraway denied that his remarks before the Pylon Club were specifically a reference to Jeannette Brantley-Wango. Brantley-Wango, a jazz singer with an international reputation, is the descendant of an old Dallas family, ran for city council two years ago, and now covers City Hall for The Weekly in a column.

Caraway said, "There are a lot of interracial couples. The reference was not specifically to Jeannette Brantley-Wango."

I told him I didn't believe him. There aren't a lot of interracial couples of whom one, the wife, is African-American and writes a column for a black newspaper that recently ended with favorable references to several white leaders.

He blew me off. That's OK. The very next week at the Pylon Club, whose meetings are broadcast on cable access television, Caraway talked about "trash-writing trash" and named both Brantley-Wango and Sharon Boyd.

I asked Caraway why I shouldn't regard his remarks about exterminating his critics as a veiled death threat.

He said, "Don't even do that with me. Come on. Would I be on TV being that stupid?"

I chose not to respond.

He hung up.

As terrible as this kind of talk may be, I don't think Jeannette Brantley-Wango is Dwaine Caraway's real target. Her coverage of the Caraways has been pretty balanced; her column is edited by Calvin Carter, one of the more respected journalists in the local African-American press. And The Weekly itself is a reasonably careful, though not timid, newspaper. Brantley-Wango's coverage never seems to range too far afield from well-known fact.

In all likelihood, what Caraway really wants to do is drive advertisers away from The Weekly and other black newspapers--or at least show that he has that power--to intimidate them from providing any coverage at all of his current legal and political difficulties. In fact, in the more recent meeting of the Pylon Club, he did ask black businessmen to pull their ads from black newspapers, on the ostensible grounds that they had failed to support a favorite charity of his.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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