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Two 'Incumbents' Vie for Dallas Council Seat

By Suzanne Sprague

DALLAS – Suzanne Sprague, KERA 90.1 Reporter: Larry Duncan served on the Dallas City Council for eight years. And by most accounts, he was widely respected. Larry Duncan, Candidate, Dallas City Council, District 4: We took the Georgetown Apartments - which were, in 1993, written up by the Washington Post as the worst apartments in the country - and we took them over and converted them; and, through community ownership, we have converted them into what the Dallas Morning News called in 1999 a model neighborhood.

Sprague: But since term limits forced Duncan off the Council in 1999, he says all the progress he made has come to a standstill.

Duncan: We were starting to really move this district forward, and there's been no additional funding or projects added for the whole two year period.

Sprague: During those two years, District 4 has been represented by Maxine Thorton-Reese, a former school teacher and principal.

Maxine Thorton-Reese, Dallas City Councilwoman, District 4: I'm very proud of my record for the first year. Very proud of it. We've improved several parks. We took 32 houses out of the flood plain. We done 16-something streets. We've selected the site for a new library. It's just a lot.

Sprague: Larry Duncan points to other issues, such as saving city pools in poor neighborhoods. Maxine Thorton-Reese voted against that measure. But she touts her votes on other city-wide projects.

Thorton-Reese: I'm pleased with the expansion of DFW. I'm pleased with the thing at Love Field. I'm pleased with the other stuff we've done around the Arena, Victory Place and all of that.

Sprague: There is no love lost between the two candidates. Thorton-Reese ran successfully against Duncan's hand-picked successor. And since that election, the two haven't spoken to each other.

Thorton-Reese: He has tried to prevent me from doing a lot of things 'cause I've gone to homeowners' meetings, tried to meet with and have been asked out and asked not to come. Most of them don't invite me and they invite him.

Sprague: Those neighborhood groups are Larry Duncan's source of political strength, according to Dallas Morning News columnist Todd Gillman, who recently appeared on 90.1's The Evening Talk Show.

Todd Gillman, Dallas Morning News: Grassroots support. Neighborhood support. He is just extremely well plugged-in to neighborhood groups. He watches out for all the nuts and bolts that folks are looking for at City Hall.

Sprague: Although Duncan is white, his advocacy for District 4 neighborhoods, which are 60% African-American, won him wide support from black leaders. But now the seat is held by an African-American. And political consultant and columnist Rufus Shaw says allegiances have changed.

Rufus Shaw, Commentator: The big issue in this election, as I see it, and as most of the African-American pundits see it, is: will this traditionally black district - a district that was created for African-Americans - will a black incumbent lose that seat to a white candidate? That's what this district is about. That's what this race is all about.

Sprague: Shaw says this election is crucial to the African-American community because, if Maxine Thorton-Reese loses, Dallas will no longer have a majority-minority council. But Larry Duncan says that's not a concern he's hearing from residents of District 4.

Duncan: I don't get those concerns from them. I get them from the Dallas Morning News, that doesn't know any better, and now you.

Sprague: Duncan and Thorton-Reese have raised nearly the same amount of money and have been active campaigners. Voter turnout in this part of town is often light, but with such a hotly contested election here, it may actually surpass the anticipated single-digit turnout it other districts. For KERA 90.1, I'm Suzanne Sprague.