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John Wiley Price Vs. Dwaine Caraway: Complicated History Between Dallas Politicians

BJ Austin
John Wiley Price has been a Dallas County commissioner since the mid-1980s.

Dwaine Caraway wants John Wiley Price’s seat on the Dallas County Commissioners Court. It promises to be a lively race – especially against the backdrop of Price’s corruption case.

That case was back in the news Wednesday when a co-defendant, business consultant Christian Campbell, pleaded guilty to a bribery charge. It was the result of a plea deal. 

Caraway is a former Dallas City Council member. Price has been on the court for 30 years.

Gromer Jeffers, a columnist with The Dallas Morning News, offered his perspective on Price, Caraway and the corruption matter.

Interview Highlights: Gromer Jeffers on …

… the significance of Campbell's plea bargain in the Price case:

What you see in the large public corruption cases, as you get closer to trial, a lot of the co-defendants, they start to go in and seek deals and cut deals and plead guilty to various things.  … How many others will go in and seek deals with the federal government? And how will that impact Price? Will he be left standing alone?Will everybody go in and try to cut some sort of arrangement? Or will there still be enough co-defendants to put together a credible case, a united front?

If history is a guide, there will be other co-defendants seeking [deals] – how high will that go? Will the key co-defendants [Price consultant Kathy Nealy and Price assistant Dapheny Fain] seek plea deals? If they do, that could be devastating to Price. If not, then I think we’ll have a situation where you have a semi-united front with the Price circle.

Those people who sought deals today – that’s damaging to Price and his defense.

… Price running for re-election and facing Dwaine Caraway, his longtime foe and former Dallas City Council member:

They’re not best buds. They really dislike each other. It goes back a long way. Caraway is a jovial, friendly guy. He doesn’t like Price. A lot of the bitterness has come from Price through the years, sort of opposing Caraway every step of the way. He opposed Caraway when he wanted to be the president of the local chapter of the NAACP. In 2001 … Price opposed Caraway’s campaign for City Council. Caraway was trying to replace his wife, Barbara Mallory Caraway, and Price backed Ed Oakley, a white candidate in a mostly black district. It was symbolic of a feud going on for many years.

The fact that Caraway is running against Price – Caraway has always wanted to get on the City Council. He’s done that. The other thing he wants to do is beat John Wiley Price in an electoral contest.

… on when Price will have to address the indictment (he’s only said he’s done nothing wrong and has pleaded not guilty to the charges):

He won’t be able to run on his name. Caraway will be able to draw him out. And he’ll have to address that he’s in a fight. And he’ll have to address his political circumstances and the charges. He’ll say what he’s said all along. ‘I’m waiting for my day in court. This is a misunderstanding.’ … As we get closer to the campaign, to March 1 and the trial, he’s going to have to do things to rally community support. ... Price will have to be more engaged as we get closer to the campaign and the trial.

How big is John Wiley Price’s “Our man downtown” as he’s called – how big is that base now in 2015? If this trial was in 1999, 2005, I think there would be a sizeable base -- when he was still the king of politics in Dallas County. Now we just don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see. We’ll have to wait and see how big the rallies are.

He hasn’t been tested electorally in 30 years. This will be a good test to see how relevant John Wiley Price is as a political figure, outside the confines of the Commissioners Court.

Gromer Jeffers is a columnist with The Dallas Morning News. He tweets at @gromerjeffers.

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.