40 Greatest Stories

The Hustler: John Wiley Price

Everyone’s heard the rumors about the money, the shady deals, the violence, the women. Sadly, the facts are even harder to comprehend.

Dave Fox cradles a cup of hot coffee on a cold morning and grieves over the loss of a son. “I don’t like what he’s doing now at all,” the former county judge and founder of Fox & Jacobs says with a slow shake of his head. “It’s totally uncalled for, dangerous, bad, insulting. And I’ve told him so, several times. He’s one of the kids that we’ve got that we don’t like what he’s doing at all.”

The “kid” who so worries Dave Fox is Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price. What Price has done, as everybody knows, is turn Dallas inside out. And Fox doesn’t know what to do about it. He’s tried everything he can think of—kept in touch by phone; had him over to the house; offered his advice, support, and understanding. Even suggested professional counseling.

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But, like a true rebellious son, Price will have none of it. In fact, he has made it clear, Fox says, that he is willing to sacrifice Fox’s friendship—all friendships, for that matter, and all the strides he has made in business or politics—to do whatever it takes to wake people up to racial injustice in Dallas.

Fox puts his coffee mug down on the polished conference table, links his arms behind his head, and gazes out a wall of glass at an awesome view of downtown—a fitting backdrop for someone who literally helped build this city. He had big plans for Price, he says. Big, big plans.

Fox wanted Price to become the first minority mayor of Dallas. He wanted him to be successful in business. He wanted him to be a leader. A coalition builder. A man who could pull this city together. And he could have. Fox would have seen to that, if only Price had let him.

“I didn’t want him to go up to Washington,” Fox says about Price’s much-publicized plans to run for Congress in 1992. “I told him he should stay in Dallas. He could do a lot more in Dallas. I would have helped him in any way I could, and he knew that.”

But that was before the billboards and the Bernal incident and the broken windshield wipers. That was before the pickets and the boycotts and the call to take up M-16s against the cops. Now, after all those burned bridges, would Fox still help Price? “Maybe not now,” Fox says.

There are times when Dave Fox, like so many Dallasites both black and white, wonders if he even knows the real John Wiley Price. Perhaps no public official in Dallas history has carried the burden of so many people’s hopes. It’s not just Fox who believed in Price and his potential for leadership. And yet, few public figures in Dallas history have been surrounded by more unsavory rumors than Price. In the black community the stories are legion: the violence. The shady deals. The expensive toys. The women.

While Price does have enemies—white and black—who would not hesitate to smear his name, a careful examination of his record reveals evidence of behavior that runs the gamut from mere bad judgment to outright unethical and even illegal acts, including blatant conflicts of interest, influence peddling, kickback demands, sexual harassment of subordinates, even sexual assault. When the facts are sifted from the rumors, the picture that emerges is that of a gifted, charismatic leader whose desire for wealth and personal power led him to squander his potential and betray those who trusted him.

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