The Oak Cliff DISD Trustee Race Has Turned Ugly

From left: Adam Medrano, Scott Griggs, candidate Audrey Pinkerton, Philip Kingston, and Robert Medrano
From left: Adam Medrano, Scott Griggs, candidate Audrey Pinkerton, Philip Kingston, and Robert Medrano

Early voting has begun for the May 7 joint elections, which feature many ISD races. As I wrote about in my May column in D Magazine, this is an especially crucial vote for Dallas ISD, with four seats up for grabs. I point out that, contrary to popular opinion, the school board has overcome status quo efforts to maintain the status quo, putting in place important reforms that will help poor kids throughout the district. (Which, in turn, will help the city at large.)

Since I wrote that column about six weeks ago, one race has become awash in nastiness. Which happens, right? It’s local politics.

Except this time, that nastiness includes not just political operatives but also City Council members. In fact, the council members have become political operatives in these ISD races in ways that make me very queasy, in part because the folks doing this include people I admire and consider friends. Which means this is not going to be fun. Let’s do a little FAQ to get you caught up:

Again I ask, what in the sweet hell is going on in the District 7 (Oak Cliff) trustee race?

I mean, dammit. It’s all so awful. Where to begin?

Background: About a week ago, I started getting calls from folks who are tangentially associated with the Audrey Pinkerton campaign. By that I mean supporters of hers, people on the record as supporting her, albeit not anyone “in her campaign” (for what that’s worth). These folks saw that I had responded on Facebook to the wife of current District 7 trustee Eric Cowan, pointing out why I question Pinkerton’s decision-making. (Primarily for two reasons. One, because she made the unforgivable mistake of endorsing Joyce Foreman to be DISD board president, someone who puts her interests above the district’s on a weekly basis. And two, because Pinkerton voted against the recent DISD bond package because she was angry with how the principal at Rosemont Elementary was treated, the epitome of putting your interest over that of 160,000 kids.)

I was told, “Hey, you shouldn’t endorse Pinkerton’s opponent, Isaac Faz. He got a DISD principal pregnant.”

Ignore for a minute that I didn’t support Faz in my Facebook comments — just pointed out my problems with Pinkerton. (FWIW, I think Faz has a better board oversight mindset than Pinkerton, but I think he ran a hit-and-miss campaign.) Instead, think about the sleaziness of this whisper campaign. An adult, who has known this person since middle school, dates her. They find out she’s pregnant. They decide together not to get married. And that becomes the subject of a smear campaign. Like I said, it’s awful.

Is that all that happened?

Not even close. In fact, the whisper campaign was almost the least sleazy thing about it. Anonymous internet trolls like “Avi Roy” start sharing fake Knocked Up movie-style advertisements on Facebook with Faz’s name on them. Which seems about as sick as you can get.

No! Not by a long shot.

Because two more things happened: one, the Dallas Morning News prints a truly astonishing bit of “Hey, people are saying this!” journalism. (Just look at that headline: A pregnancy raises questions! Does it now!?) To the paper’s credit, at least it pointed out — after using anonymous flyers, social media snark, and campaign whispers as a reason for publishing this garbage — that there is no conflict of interest in the matter. Which is a problem for the many people who jumped on this as a way to suggest why you should not vote for Faz but should vote for Pinkerton.

People such as? Well, people like Jose Plata, the former DISD board member running contributing to and supporting and once running Pinkerton’s campaign, who shared on his Facebook page a post calling out Faz as morally bankrupt (before later taking it down). This is unbelievable, really. Plata spoke often during the ’90s about the abuse he faced as an openly gay man, when he would ask time and again that voters evaluate him as a policymaker and not based on his private life. In fact, he was outed on that campaign by his opponent — a current Pinkerton supporter!

Also, people like the Pinkerton supporter who penned the anonymous letter decrying Faz’s morality that was left on any doorstep in Oak Cliff that carried a Faz sign. It was truly disgraceful.

This culminated in current trustee Joyce Foreman keeping all-day vigils at polling places in Oak Cliff — how she is able to request that much PTO from her day job is anyone’s guess — to support Pinkerton and slander Faz (in the course of making up outlandish accusations about any candidate she sees as a threat to her self-interests). In fact, when Faz called her on it to her face yesterday, Foreman yelled at him, “Be a better parent!” Because of course she did.

Is there anything else icky about this campaign?

I think so. I think the entire tenor of the vitriol spewed by the Pinkerton campaign supporters speaks to the increasing whitesplaining problem we see in North Oak Cliff. One that, when brought up in a thoughtful post by Oak Cliff resident Rob Shearer on his Facebook page, elicited a torrent of denial and ugliness from Pinkerton supporters.

Look, I know this gets us into a real dicey area. No one here is calling anyone a racist. And there is no reason, you rightly say, that a white person can’t do right by Oak Cliff. Hell, Eric Cowan did. Sure. I agree. But I’m almost 50. And there is an increasing desire within younger activists, especially those in majority minority groups in large American cities, to reject what they see as a paternal attitude from whites, whether it be in explaining to them their neighborhood, their school system, their pop culture, their anything. Especially if a moral component is attached. In this case, you’ve got a cadre of white moms and grandmoms questioning the morality of a Hispanic candidate for having consensual sex in a district whose schoolchildren are over 90 percent Hispanic in a school system that is 70 percent Hispanic. I’m not an expert on racial politics, but doesn’t that statement feel icky on its face?

What do you make of [C0uncilman Philip] Kingston not only supporting Pinkerton in the D7 race, but slinging the pregnancy story as much as any of the other Pinkerton supporters? I just can’t wrap my head around what the upside is for him to wade in that deep.

This was an actual question in my email box from someone who lives in District 7. It was asked because, in that Facebook thread I mentioned, Kingston did indeed wade in and start questioning the morality of Faz, saying he backs Pinkerton because she is “the honest candidate.”

This of course led to people suggesting this was a hypocritical stance for Kingston, not so subtly threatening to make his personal life part of the social media campaign. Which would be fair play if this were the playground and we were all 5th-graders.

That said, why did Kingston chime in to that debate? He’d say that he was just being catty, trying to get a rise out of supporters of a candidate he’s campaigning against.

But I think that’s not good enough. I think we ask more out of him and any council person who lends his or her name for support in other races.

I would offer a counter theory as to why this happened: because I believe there are at least three Philip Kingstons.

There is City Councilman Philip Kingston. He is someone I respect and often cheer.

There is Philip, someone I consider a friend, someone with whom I’ve conferred and imbibed on more than one occasion. He is someone I really like, someone who is funny and warm and sincere.

Then there is Candidate Philip Kingston. He can be a mean son of a bitch.

Look, do whisper campaigns happen in every local political race? Sure, but Facebook means those whispers live forever. And he should be held to a higher standard. That’s why he should apologize for his online behavior in this case and promise to do better.

(I did talk to Kingston, btw, and he made clear that he thinks I misread the intention of his posts and that he was simply effing with Shearer and Eric Cowan’s wife, Amy. He also thinks I’m out of line commenting on this so close to an election in a way that appears to be slamming Pinkerton.)

That’s all well and good, but you haven’t explained the upside for Kingston — and Scott Griggs, for that matter, who supports Pinkerton — to get so heavily involved in these school board races. (Kingston is also heavily involved in supporting Suzanne Smith in District 2, but that overlaps much of his council district.) Why are they doing it?

Oh, the politics of this? Yeesh, that’s a tangled web. I have my theories, most of them centered on the fact that every big-name Democrat in town — Kingston, Griggs, etc. — has at least one eye on the next mayoral race. (Also known as “the race against Jennifer Staubach Gates.”) In other words, I think there might be a political strategy at play here. What is it? I dunno. To strengthen themselves politically against Rafael Anchia, who is a Faz supporter? Maybe, but I don’t think Anchia is going to run for mayor, not in the next several years, anyway. So I really don’t know. How supporting folks who are kowtowing to Joyce Foreman is going to win votes in a mayoral race is next-level strategy and way above my pay grade. But I think that’s what’s happening.

Did Faz respond?

His campaign’s statement is here.

Did Pinkerton respond?

She says she has nothing to do with the slander and calls it garbage. You can read more here.

Did Pinkerton’s campaign supporters have to go so negative to help their candidate?

No! That’s the crazy thing! I may have my own issues with what I think her approach to governance and reform would be. But she’s got that North Oak Cliff contingent good and riled up. And whites vote in much greater numbers than Hispanics. I think Faz was in a tough spot if nothing was ever said about him. And she could have used the support of three city council members to say something substantive about kids, about how these relationships will go a long way toward working with the City Council to help poor kids throughout the district where they need it most (wraparound services provided before school, after school, and in the summer). In other words, she could have said she would tackle the poverty problem at the same time she’s tackling the education problem. It’s a hell of a lot better message than the moral righteousness her supporters have been throwing down.

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