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Unpacking the Racial Politics at Play in the John Wiley Price Case

Brace yourself for the deluge of John Wiley Price articles in the coming weeks and months. The weekend has already seen a load of them.

Part of the unpacking of the Price case will entail putting Southern Dallas politics on the therapist’s couch, so to speak. We’ve already seen some of that. Gromer Jeffers tackles the question of race head on in his column over the weekend, and the most important point he raises is the curious omission of the companies that allegedly paid Price and his compatriots for political favors from the indictment. Where are the charges against (white) big wigs like Ross Perot Jr.’s Hillwood? After all, when the last political corruption trial went down, Don Hill was convicted along with Brian Potashnik, the white developer who paid for favors (and eventually testified against Hill). Maybe charges will be brought against Hillwood eventually, but regardless, the timing sets up the narrative — already being fielded by the codefendant’s lawyers — that there are racial motivations at play.

That’s the card we all knew the defendants would play, but more interesting to me is the particular social dynamic that has kept someone like John Wiley Price in power for so long. After all, as Rudy Bush pointed out in his column, reading Friday’s indictment evoked little sense of surprise. Didn’t we already know this is how Price operated? Haven’t we been reading about it since, oh, at least 1991?

James Ragland’s piece over the weekend begins to dig into the particular mentality that has helped entrench Price. Reporting on constituent reactions to Price’s indictment, one source in particular stuck out to me, K.D. Price (unrelated to John Wiley), who expressed a peculiar and particular blend of disgust and acceptance over the allegations of corruption.

“It’s about time,” said K.D. Price, 61 … “You can only go so long. All that money came from somewhere.”

But even though he and others were suspicious of the commissioner’s lifestyle, K.D. Price said, he still voted for him.

“What’s the difference between him and the next guy?” he said. “That’s the way I see it. That’s why I vote for him.

“He was our man downtown for a long time.”

As it all unfolds, John Wiley Price’s saga will continue describe this particular disposition, a resignation rooted in a complex and multi-faceted experience of historical ostracization.

  • JSSS

    One difference is that the Potashniks admitted their guilt (and testified against Hill and Hodge). Hillwood et al did not do so, and apparently there aren’t any damning emails where executives or employees of those companies admitted knowledge of what was going on. Another difference is that Hill and D’Angelo Lee specifically told Brian Potashnik whom to hire so that funds would flow back to them, whereas Hillwood simply hired a lobbyist/consultant in Nealy who was “close” to JWP. Now did someone at Hillwood know that part of its consulting payments to Nealy might end up somewhere else? There’s a big difference between what the prosecutors may think and what they can prove — if they don’t think they can prove it, they won’t prosecute it. Now could Nealy roll on JWP and any other alleged conspirators? That would be interesting!

  • WmBTravis

    Ostracization? I think you accord the power brokers too much an active role. Take a look at the foreclosure work being done down there . . . some landowners haven’t paid taxes since Starke Taylor was mayor. Why not . . . it’s not profitable, and weighed down with guilt of the sensitive.

    Unfortunately for that tract, there’s only activity when there’s a profit-motive open and money ready to compete over. And in the absence, these fights between the prospectors over the sluice take over.

  • Eric Foster

    Ross Perot Jr. is an Ethan Couch of the JWP episode. There are many others.