Tuesday, May 28, 2024 May 28, 2024
77° F Dallas, TX


Jack Evans is new to politics; he decided to start at the top.


ting time, the workers at the Ford plant would congregate just outside the gates to watch them fight. These were the toughest youngsters in the toughest of neighborhoods, the poor white area along Grand Avenue in East Dallas. The boys would climb inside a makeshift boxing ring and pound each other’s faces for the privilege of picking up the nickels and dimes the workers would throw into the ring when the fighting got particularly intense – which was frequently, since nickels and dimes would buy a lot in Dallas in the Thirties.

The bloody noses and split lips always seemed worth it to the grocer’s son. He didn’t care if his opponents were bigger than he because he knew that the nickels and dimes went to the toughest, not necessarily the biggest or the strongest. After the first few times he got a face full of boxing glove he learned the strategy: Start punching your opponent the instant the bell rings, and try to beat him into the canvas before he has a chance to hurt you. The thin, young boy made a lot of nickels that way. Even when his mother and father made enough money in their grocery store to move to a nicer neighborhood, the boy still went back to the Ford plant, took off his shirt, and put on the gloves. He liked a good fight. And the money he earned with his fists was a sweet reward for his toughness.

The child is, of course, the father of the man. But in this case, there is little about the man that would make you think he made his first money duking it out behind the Ford plant. He is polished and impeccably tailored. He speaks in smooth, controlled tones. His Polo eyeglasses and silver-toned hair give him the distinguished look befitting a man of his station in life, the president of the Cullum Companies, lord over a vast financial empire and, incidentally, mayor of the City of Dallas almost by acclamation. His is a domain of polished oak boardrooms and men in Oxford cloth shirts and three-piece suits. No one ever shouts, much less uses his fists, in the conflicts that take place in his world. But scratch the surface, and you’ll find that Jack Evans became mayor of Dallas by reverting to his old instincts: He found a way to systematically flatten his opponents before they ever had a chance to answer the bell.

From the outset, the press labeled him the shoo-in candidate. It was obvious he had won before the polls opened April 4.

Last February, before Evans moved into his campaign headquarters on North Central Expressway, the executive made an overnight trip to California to attend a funeral. A female employee of the Cullum Companies, whom he had met years ago, had been so impressed with her leader she requested in her will that Evans deliver the eulogy when she died. He was returning from that funeral on a cold Sunday afternoon when the plane’s pilot strode down the aisles shaking hands. The captain immediately recognized the Cullum executive. He returned to the cockpit and announced over the loudspeaker, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re honored to have the next mayor of Dallas on our flight today.”

Evans became the mayor of Dallas in a decidedly unique way, unlike any other politician in recent memory. He didn’t lock horns with his opponents on crucial issues. He didn’t dredge up dirt. He didn’t even worry about finding campaign money. Instead, he hid from the headlines. And with Peter Schenkel (president of Schepps Dairy), his campaign manager at his side, he just went visiting.

Behind closed office doors and in the cozy warmth of living rooms, the twosome methodically talked to every key decision maker and official of importance in Dallas; quietly, unassertively, yet persistently and persuasively, they lined up support until their campaign foundation was securely shored up by structural steel. They wrapped up these summit sessions long before January 29, when Evans formally filed for office at city hall.

Evans’ low-profile, highly efficient campaign was as carefully planned as Caesar’s march into Gaul. He met with some of Dallas’ sharpest political advisors and observers, old personal friends like Her-schel Brown, who has been part of the political landscape for the past 20 years, and Herb Walne, who sits on the City Plan Commission. Together, the inside group identified all potential opponents and set out to divide and conquer. They located each opponent’s weak spot, then went for the jugular. But they almost always kept the knife in the sheath. The attack was so quiet, so aboveboard that the other front-running potential candidates could never point an accusing finger. The strategy worked. Every last one raised the white flag and gave up before the campaign officially got underway.

Lady Luck, of course, also played a part. 1981 happened to be the wrong -e for former mayors Adlene Harrison and Wes Wise; city councilmen Joe Haggar and Steve Bartlett; and former mayor Pro Tern Bill Blackburn. But Lady Luck wasn’t enough for Evans, an apostle of planning. That’s how he runs the Cullum Companies, and how he plans to run Dallas -by the book, according to what he calls the city’s “master plan.”

Evans shied away from Robert Folsom’s last-minute, head-knocking campaign tactics of 1976. Like Evans, Folsom was the consummate businessman with friends and supporters in high places, people who wanted to see him ascend to office.

But “Folsom ran his race in a very public, very last-minute, very beat-’em-over-the-head campaign,” says a veteran observer. “Those were just the kinds of things Jack avoided.”

Evans is the first to admit he wanted to be the mayor of Dallas. Badly. It’s a dream he’s cherished for 20 years. That dream was delayed by a nightmare on February 3, 1978, when he was slammed across the double bed of an 8 Days Inn, his mouth taped, his hands tied, his head covered with a pillow; the victim of a corporate kidnapping. As one of the business-suited criminals cocked a gun and pressed it to his temple, Evans was forced to rearrange his priorities. When he was released, thanks to the $84,000 ransom scrounged up by his son Roy Gene (and never recovered), the heretofore prominent man vanished from public life.

But psychotherapy, hypnosis, and time healed the scars. Says Gene, his wife of 39 years, “Jack’s abduction was a tragedy. It was like a death in the family. It preyed on his mind for a certain length of time, and then he forgot. If Jack is in the parking lot [he was jumped in front of the company’s front door] and it’s beginning to get dark, he gets a little nervous. But time heals all.”

As Evans recovered from his trauma, his political aspirations began to resurface. Today, Evans can talk freely about his abduction, though his voice grows eerie and quiet. “The kidnapping has caused me to do some of the things I have always wanted to do – like run for mayor.”

Evans needed a coming-out party. The 1979 municipal bond election provided the perfect debut. A chairman was needed to stir up support for the $54.6 million package, which included funds for renovation of the Majestic Theater, money to buy land for a new symphony performance hall, and expenditures to build a new fine arts museum. It was a tough task to tackle. Dallas voters had roundly rejected many of those propositions the previous June.

Observers point out that Evans was not the obvious choice for the job. Some say he deliberately got himself selected, although Evans insists he was tapped for the slot. Once chairman, he threw himself into the project with a crusader’s zeal. “I have never seen a chairman work so hard on a bond issue. After all, he was only the titular head,” recalls Judy Bonner Amps of Weekley, Amps & Gray, the political consulting firm hired to orchestrate the bond campaign.

Adds another volunteer who worked on the bond drive, “Jack worked 15,18 hours a day.”

Evans, as one source puts it, “clearly used the job to test the waters and lay the base for running for mayor.” That became apparent at the victory party that Saturday night in November. (All seven propositions passed with healthy margins.) The exalting chairman made a long speech describing what a wonderful mayor Folsom had been. “Nobody gasped,” says one par-tygoer. “So conversations must have been going on even then.”

The Evans inner circle adopted the perfect timetable, taking it slow in the beginning, being careful not to peak too soon, saving the full-court press for the most propitious moment. Evans and Schenkel started ringing doorbells sometime last May, one year before election time. “Jack started covering the bases, from the precinct captains to the people in ivory towers,” says Herschel Brown. “He worked continuously, talking to virtually everybody on both sides of the river.”

Evans drew a blueprint and followed it, step by step. First he talked to Bob Fol-som, who assured him he was ready to retire. Next came the other potential political foes whom he put on notice. He chatted with every incumbent council member and every past member of the last five years. He visited each and every City Plan Commissioner. Then he looked up community and business leaders, black, white, and brown. “Jack made sure he didn’t miss any segment of town,” observes Harmon Schepps, the dairy’s CEO.

The visit to Arnold Sweet was typical. Sweet is a vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, an umbrella body for the various Jewish social agencies in town. He’s a mover and shaker in the community and a known supporter of Ad-lene Harrison. Schenkel phoned the real estate developer’s office and asked if he and Evans could drop by for a visit. The twosome arrived one afternoon, stayed an hour, and “shared perceptions.”

When Evans headed the ’79 bond committee, he recruited Oak Cliff grocer Adolph Hauntz, a black entrepreneur Evans had helped previously. Together the two toured South Dallas, attending neighborhood meetings, selling the bond package. A year later, the mayoral hopeful asked for Hauntz’s help again.

“When he decided to run for mayor, Jack called and told me he would like to meet some black people. He asked me to arrange a meeting. He said he was seeking input into areas of concern we had,” Hauntz recalls.

Those visits not only rounded up support from the voters. They were also the rope Evans needed to successfully strangle the political ambitions of would-be opponents. He backed them into a corner and pressured them to make a decision on his terms.

The first person Evans had to get past was Joe Haggar, the obvious establishment choice. “Last summer Jack called,” says Haggar. “The main reason for his call was to see if I were going to run for mayor. I told him no.” Several weeks later, Evans phoned again after newspaper reports that Haggar planned to seek the city’s highest office. “He wanted to know whether there was any substance to the reports,” Haggar says.

A source close to Evans and Haggar, however, says the conversations were not that cut and dried. Last spring, the council chamber was in turmoil because Elsie Faye Heggins accused one member after another of being racist. “Elsie Faye was very confrontationist. The council could never reach a compromise. It was paralyzed. Then Jack came along in the middle of this and said to Joe, ’Do you want to put up with this as mayor?’ Joe thought about it and said no,” reports the observer. Cross one off.

Evans had enough political savvy to realize Adlene Harrison would be the toughest to tackle. If there was ever a year the establishment was ready for a whipping, it was 1981, the year after the tax equalization fiasco. Confidence in city government had reached an all-time low.

Evans first questioned Harrison about her intentions. Then he visited the Jewish community, her base of financial support, and black leaders, a pillar of her political power. One observer says, “Jack spent an inordinate amount of time visiting the Jewish community, more than the votes available there would indicate. Jack could go to any segment of the city for money. But Adlene needed those Jewish dollars.”

Soon Harrison’s phone started ringing. “Arnie Sweet called and said Jack had been to see him. He wanted to know my intentions. Black leaders called. They said Jack Evans had been by. ’Tell us what you’re going to do,’ ” she reports they wanted to know.

Her 85-year-old mother took ill. Harrison’s political plans changed immediately. She dropped out of the race. “My guts are still torn up I didn’t run, but my decision hasn’t changed a bit,” she says.

Sweet and other supporters admit if Harrison had decided to run they would have been put in an awkward position. Many sounded relieved they were spared that thorny choice. As it turned out, by the time Harrison’s decision became final, Evans had already done the groundwork, recruited much of her power base, and banked many of her campaign dollars. But if Harrison had met Evans head-on April 4, there’s no doubt some defections would have occurred. Evans was just too slick, too insistent.

Bill Blackburn’s supporters, the up-and-coming members of the business community, the financial young Turks, also potentially faced a similar dilemma. As contemporaries and friends of Blackburn, the last council’s mayor pro tern, they were high on Evans’ target list. Blackburn, however, rendered the problem moot by opting out of the race. “My decision was purely financial. I didn’t think I could take the time out from practicing law to do the job right,” the former councilman says. He bristles when asked if Evans snatched his power base right out from under his nose. “That would have been a brilliant battle plan on Jack’s part. If I were really interested, I would have preempted that kind of approach. I gave no thoughts to running for mayor. It would have been a very last-minute, catch-up effort.”

Next match: Steve Bartlett. The stakes were higher here. Not only was Bartlett a strong challenger, but he had first crack at the services of Weekley, Amps & Gray, the city’s foremost political consultants. (The two go back a long way; Bartlett was Enid Gray’s first candidate.) “Jack forced me to make my decision earlier than I wanted to,” admits Bartlett. “All summer long he’d press me: Had I decided? He never told me he wouldn’t run. He kept insisting, ’If you don’t run, I will.’ Finally I just sat down and made up my mind. Jack then hired Enid Gray, which locked my decision in.”

Wes Wise was the trickiest to oust since he doesn’t have an identifiable political base. But Evans found Wise’s Achilles’ heel: his pocketbook. Wise has been pe-renially plagued with financial troubles; when he was mayor, he was unable to pay court judgement and repOssessors drove his red Volkswagen away. Today, Wise is earning decent money selling janitorial supplies at Southwest Sanitary Co. And that happens to be a job he wants to keep.

So Evans and Schenkel visited John Cheney, Wise’s boss and Evans’ longtime friend. (Cheney says he first met Jack in 1948.) Cheney obviously couldn’t do anything as blatant as threaten to fire Wise if he ran for mayor. Evans certainly didn’t want to give him another red VW as a rallying point.

What they did was ingenious. Evans and Schenkel met with Cheney and decided to have Cheney give Evans a $500 contribution, the most allowed by law.

The big moment when the money changed hands came in late January at the funeral of Charlie Metzger, a longtime employee of Cullum Companies. Cheney, denying any conspiracy, says Wise did not witness the transaction, although Cheney recalls “everybody was there.”

Whether Cheney’s campaign contribution kept Wise out of the mayor’s race is strictly conjecture. But the timing of the contribution seems significant. After it was made, Wise decided to run for a council seat instead of the mayor’s chair.

Evans declines to discuss that story, but does say, “Wes didn’t run for mayor because he knew 1 would bring out what he did as mayor. He didn’t get things done.”

With the major contenders out of the way, Evans was ready to concentrate on the vote. Every morning at 6:30, he spoke with Schenkel to plan the day’s visits. A church in Oak Cliff. A country club in East Dallas. A temple brotherhood in North Dallas. Even an assembly line plant in Mesquite. They campaigned inde-fatigably.

The one thing Evans didn’t do was waste time fund raising. “Most of the other candidates worried about where the money was going to come from,” says one opponent. “Not Jack. He knew the establishment would support him.”

And the money kept rolling in. When Evans reported a total of $169,484 in his campaign chest, it was more money than all the other mayoral candidates and all the contenders in the 10 council battles collected together. Evans’ campaign, as of that reporting date, spent a total of $124,670 on communications consultants, secretarial services, printing, stamps, and helium for balloons.

This strategy of visiting and listening allowed Evans to keep his opinions to himself. That was planned: Extemporaneous expression is Evans’ weak spot.

Just listening worked with the electorate, but it didn’t wash with the media. At his first press conference in January, Evans ducked almost all the issues.

The press was decidedly unimpressed. Reporters began to portray Evans as elusive or, worse, just dumb. “That first press conference was Jack’s only mistake,” says one political observer. “He employed his listening policy one day too long. The press thought he was stupid. To convince them otherwise is really tough. It’s like a secretary spilling coffee on the boss the first day on the job. She can be there 30 years and the boss will still think she’s a klutz. But Jack’s not stupid. He’s dumb like a fox. Anyone who can mastermind the kind of campaign he did is far from stupid.”


Maybe the thought of being mayor crossed his mind as he swept the sawdust from the floors of his father’s grocery store as a kid. Jack Evans, mayor of Dallas. The honor. The glory. The power. His honor, the mayor. Sounds pretty good for a butcher boy who literally grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.

Horatio Alger would have been jealous. Evans is the quintessential bootstrap success story. A family grocer, now president of a $1 billion company, with a $169,000 annual salary. (That’s not including the $418,000 in stock options he exercised over the last five years.) President of the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, the créme de la créme of charity posts. Important enough to be invited to President Reagan’s Inaugural Ball.

But for Jack Evans, that wasn’t enough. “Jack has done everything else,” says a friend. “He had to prove to himself he had made it to the top by being number one at city hall.”

Evans was certainly not raised with a silver spoon in his mouth. In the early years he only knew what a tin spoon looked like. His father, W.R. “Uncle Bob” Evans, opened a grocery store on Exposition Avenue near Fair Park in 1897. Jack, born on August 13, 1922, was the youngest of five children.

After graduating from Woodrow Wilson High, Evans enrolled at SMU to study business administration. But World War II intervened. He enlisted in the Air Force.

When the war ended, Evans returned home and planned to finish his education at SMU. Driving home during the first semester, he noticed that Safeway was vacating a store on Abrams Road. Gene was pregnant with their second son (they have three). Evans decided to go into business instead of finishing college. Eventually, he opened 10 Evans Food Marts.

Earle Wyatt, owner of Wyatt Food Stores, however, had always had his eye on Jack. And so to get Jack to work for Wyatt, according to Herb Walne, Wyatt Food Stores bought Evans Food Marts. In 1958, the Kroger Company took over Wyatts.

Kroger put Evans through a battery of tests to determine what to do with him because he didn’t have a college degree. He went through sensitivity training and scored high; he had business potential. The future executive became a management trainee. Kroger enrolled him in the executive retread program at the Harvard Business School. Evans rose through the ranks, becoming the youngest divisional vice president ever appointed.

There was only one problem with his career at Kroger. The company was based in Cincinnati. In 1960, Evans realized he would have to relocate to climb the corporate ladder. Instead, he tried to have Kroger move to Dallas. The company seriously considered his proposal. Evans arranged to have the board of directors fly to Dallas, board helicopters for an aerial tour of the town, then land at the top of the Southland Life Building, where they were whisked inside for lunch. They said no.

Evans hated Ohio. He missed Dallas. In 1966, he resigned to come home. He originally planned to buy Skillern’s Drug Stores and put them inside grocery stores. But Robert Cullum talked him into buying a piece of the then family-owned business. In 1969, Evans took the company public. In 1977, the board of directors elected Evans its president and chief executive officer.

After his kidnapping, Evans sold his five-acre, ranch-style home on Audelia and Forest after building a zero-lot line townhouse in Bent Tree.

The 4000-square-foot townhouse would make Texas Homes editors beam. There’s lots of exposed brick and rough redwood paneling, a host of tasteful antiques, and a strong dose of sunlight. One side of the home houses a glassed-in swimming pool with a whirlpool in the spa.

That the butcher boy from Grand Avenue can today afford such luxuries is testimony that Evans is a top-flight businessman. (“You just have to walk into a Tom Thumb store to know that,” says Arnold Sweet.) The numbers back up that assertion. With the two Cullum brothers, Robert and Charles, Evans has built Cullum Companies into one of the two largest food retailers and one of the half-dozen most profitable supermarket chains in the U.S., according to Barron’s. The corporation, which includes Tom Thumb-Page supermarkets and Gooch sausages and special products, has 130 stores in nine states and employs 14,000 workers -more than the City of Dallas, Evans points out.

Under Evans’ helm, Cullum has failed to rack up record profits only one year since it went public in 1969, and Barron’s says that was almost entirely due to a switch to last-in, first-out (LIFO) inventory accounting. This year, return on equity is expected to exceed 24 per cent. Since 1976, sales have risen a healthy 14 per cent a year, allowing the company to almost double its profit margin and equity return in just four years.


Evans will probably run Dallas just like he manages the Cullum Companies. That’s how he views the job. “I see the new council as the board of directors. The citizens are the stockholders,” he says.

He is a great believer in planning. “Dallas has had too much management by crisis. That’s reacting rather than planning,” he insists. Evans hopes day-to-day firefighting will stop once he settles into city hall. He plans to pen a master plan “to insure orderly growth, safeguard residential neighborhoods, and protect Dallas’ quality of life.” Just how he’ll do that, he doesn’t say.

Consensus will characterize his administration. J.J. Guise, Jr., executive vice president of the United Way, says of his peace-making skills, “Jack likes compromise and quiet. He’s not a rabble-rouser. He has always been able to sit down and find an approach acceptable to everyone involved. Lots of times you get mad and think you’re losing the battle, but Jack has a way of finding the loopholes. When everything’s over, nobody feels he’s lost. Instead, everyone’s won.”

On election night, he visited every city council winner in a show of solidarity. He wants unity. “There’s too much fighting in the council chamber that’s petty,” he complains. Folsom dealt with the council as a group; Evans will meet with them individually. “Evans will push individual members out into leadership roles,” predicts one observer.

Evans has been vague on just what he will do for Dallas. He claims Dallas needs a new direction, but whether it’s north, south, east, or west is still anybody’s guess.

He has promised blacks he’ll stop the city’s myopic vision of developing only North Dallas and concentrate on encouraging businesses to locate in Oak Cliff and South Dallas. The program includes special tax incentives that should make those areas more attractive. Blacks also want affordable mass transit, which Evans agrees “is a must for Dallas.” He envisions an elevated rail system built above Central’s service roads. For the 675,000 automobiles in Dallas, he wants to widen Central to eight lanes.

Neighborhood groups in East Dallas and Little Mexico have extracted a promise to oppose the Crosstown Expressway. His method would be to widen the existing roads without displacing any families in Little Mexico on the west side; on the eastern end, he favors elimination of the oneway couplets.

The business community isn’t worried since he is one of their own. They feel confident there’s a mayor in office who has proven he can balance a budget and meet a payroll. On their account, he wants to protect Dallas’ triple-A bond rating, opposes a nighttime curfew at Love Field, and plans to market Dallas to disgruntled corporations from other cities just like he sells Tom Thumb’s French vanilla ice cream. And he envisions using “proven business management search techniques” to find a city manager to replace George Schrader.

Some people, however, are worried. “Evans has no idea of what the problems really are. He says we must widen Central and build mass transit. How are we going to do both? He wants to encourage businesses to move to South Dallas, but are companies from Chicago going to come here because of that? He has the ’everything will be okay’ attitude. In trying to be the man for all citizens, he’s become the man for no one.”

Of the scores of people interviewed, only two ventured a negative word, even off the record. Such is the perceived power of the new mayor.

The other lonely critic was reluctant to share his “clear-cut apprehensions.” But then he relented. “I don’t think there’s any question Jack Evans is a proponent of big business. He keeps saying he’s not an establishment candidate because that’s a negative term.” He pauses, then adds, “He’s completely out of touch with reality.”

That was true on April 4, 1981, the euphoric evening Evans was elected mayor.Fantasy and reality merged. That wasthe night he had waited 20 years for,the moment when his dream came true.The butcher boy from Grand Avenue,now a self-made millionaire, had finallymade it.