A Dallas Democrat Rises To New Prominence, Power In two election cycles, the balance of power in the politically conservative city shifted to Democrats, and politicians once on the margins are now shaping the future. That includes County Commissioner John Wiley Price.
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A Dallas Democrat Rises To New Prominence, Power

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A Dallas Democrat Rises To New Prominence, Power

A Dallas Democrat Rises To New Prominence, Power

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DON GONYEA, Host:

That includes this former activist profiled by NPR's Wade Goodman.

WADE GOODWYN: Suddenly a black Nissan Maxima executes a quick U-turn in the street and pulls right up next to John Wiley Price. A young man and woman hop out.

ROMAN JEFFERSON: Come on. Mr. Price, Roman Jefferson.

JOHN WILEY PRICE: Yes, sir.

JEFFERSON: My brother is Omar Jo. They have this big deal today.

OMAR JEFFERSON: How you doing John?

WILEY PRICE: OK, you all right?

JEFFERSON: All right, yeah.

WILEY PRICE: Good.

JEFFERSON: This is Sheri Calhoun.

GOODWYN: Omar Jefferson and Sherri Calhoun are with a youth group that is taking on south Dallas's gang problem. They have a big event and want Price to come by.

WILEY PRICE: Keep up the good work, right.

JEFFERSON: Keep up the good work baby.

GOODWYN: Unidentified Man #1: I'm not asking you.

WILEY PRICE: Unidentified Man #1: You don't know anything.

WILEY PRICE: Unidentified Man #1: Will you please tell...

WILEY PRICE: Unidentified Man #2: The board will come to order.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAVEL)

WILEY PRICE: Unidentified Woman: This court has voted...

WILEY PRICE: Yeah, (Censored)...

GOODWYN: Price says he's too old to apologize now for who he is and who he's been, even if he was inclined to, which he's not. When confronted with disrespectful behavior...

WILEY PRICE: I will still revert to my usual self. I spend a lot of time trying to manage me, you know, I mean, you know, it's the most difficult thing I have every day is to manage me.

GOODWYN: But not everyone buys Price's angry black man act.

JIM SCHUTZE: He always acted like a guy, when the cameras were rolling, who was out of control, dangerous, crazy. When those cameras shut off, he was the world's most reasonable, let's make a deal, guy.

GOODWYN: Jim Schutze is a political columnist for the Dallas Observer, the city's alternative newspaper. He's been covering John Wiley Price since Schutze moved to Dallas as a young reporter in 1978.

SCHUTZE: Dallas was so backwards that black people would not meet a white person's eye. White people sometimes used the N word in gatherings where there were black people present.

GOODWYN: Schutze says that over the years he began to understand that Price's angry public persona had subtleties he didn't originally see.

SCHUTZE: He was doing, I always felt, this kind of Kabuki theater for the community, saying, this is what it looks like to stand up, and look how I can do this stuff and I'm still alive and they haven't lynched me, and you can do it too.

GOODWYN: Price is known to drive Dallas progressives crazy too. In the 80's, Price learned how to be a county commissioner from the conservative white Republicans who were there. Now Price has a reputation as a fiscal conservative, and while transformation is coming to southern Dallas the drip drip of new capital means change is slow in coming. He says he measures himself by his connection to his constituents, regular people.

WILEY PRICE: That whole power thing, you have to be real careful about that. Can you get things done? When somebody calls you, do you answer the phone? Do you answer the phone? Do you get up out of your bed? Do you still do that?

GOODWYN: Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GONYEA: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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