The Oft-Heated Back-and-Forth at Last Night's Sparsely Attended Watkins-Clancy Showdown

Categories: Politics

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Photos by Sam Merten
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins accused Republican challenger Danny Clancy of lying and attempting to be the next Henry Wade at a debate last night at Friendship-West Baptist Church in South Dallas, where Watkins and his family attend church. While Watkins clearly held the home-field advantage for the final debate between the two candidates, attendance reached only approximately 125 folks, several of whom are Democratic office holders or candidates, involved with Watkins' campaign or employees of the DA's office.

Clancy, who appeared nervous and distraught throughout the forum, advocated for a mental health program to alleviate stress on the county's crowded jail system, claiming that the previous one had "all but disappeared" under Watkins' tenure. He also cited crime stats from a KXAS-Channel 5 report suggesting that juvenile crime has "gone through the roof."

"If you're going to take credit for crime going down, you can't have it both ways," Clancy said. "You have to take credit when crime is up."

A confident Watkins aggressively attacked Clancy on both issues. He said two judges oversee mental health courts, which were implemented during his administration, and claimed that juvenile crime has dropped 25 percent since 1999 (although he didn't take office until 2007).

"Twice he's had the opportunity to tell you the truth, and he's failed to do that," Watkins said.

"Well, one thing I am not is deceitful," Clancy replied.

Amazingly, those tires? Did. Not. Come. Up.

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And not once did Clancy tout his recent endorsement by The Dallas Morning News, but Watkins suggested that he would have received it "if I had said what they wanted me to." Clancy did mention the endorsement he received from the Dallas Police Association, but Watkins said, "He can have it."

"I don't want it, because you know what? Police officers that make a mistake and they do things wrong, I'm watching you," Watkins said. "We're not gonna have a Rodney King in Dallas County as long as I'm DA, but, hey, he got their endorsement."

Much like county judge candidates Wade Emmert and Clay Jenkins, who debated before them, Clancy and Watkins clashed about allegations of voter fraud from the Republican Party. And just like Jenkins derailed Emmert by taking $40 from his wallet and offering it to Emmert in exchange for any evidence he could provide of such fraud, Watkins urged Clancy to provide examples to back up his claim, but Clancy was unable to do so.

"Where have you seen it?" Watkins asked. "Where is it? Is this just a political issue for you or is this a legitimate claim of voter fraud?"

Clancy said Watkins makes decisions based on what's in his political best interests and not what's in the best interests of the citizens, only briefly touching on the pending investigation of two Democratic Dallas County constables for corruption. He also claimed "voters have been misled" by Watkins into believing that his administration has exonerated 23 people, saying that "8 or 9" happened before Watkins became DA in January 2007. As we reported, 10 of the exonerations took place during the tenure of former District Attorney Bill Hill.

Watkins then asked Christopher Scott about his repeated attempts to get other DAs to look at his case and to acknowledge that it was only until Watkins took office that his case was examined, but Watkins mistakenly addressed him as "Mr. Simmons," referring to Claude Simmons, another exoneree charged in the same case as Scott.

"I think it's unfortunate Mr. Watkins didn't know your name," Clancy said.

Clancy said there's "more to the office" than Watkins' success exonerating wrongly accused prisoners, but after a long-winded question about penalizing law enforcement for mishandling evidence that leads to such a conviction, Clancy didn't hesitate to compliment Watkins.

"Let me say this: I give credit where credit is due, and Mr. Watkins should be applauded for his work with the Conviction Integrity Unit," he said. "I have said this publicly whenever I've gotten the opportunity: Congratulations, Mr. Watkins, we're all proud of you."

Watkins said Clancy hasn't offered any ideas aside from what Watkins has already done, and he continued to press Clancy for evidence of how he made the county safer during his eight years as a criminal court judge. Clancy could only generally refer to his rankings "at or near the top" in every category of the bar polls conducted during his time on the bench.

Clancy said Watkins has misled voters by advertising a 99.4 percent conviction rate, claiming that the more than 20,000 plea deals included in that equation "dilutes the acquittals to the extent that they are a fractional number."

The DA's office now has credibility and the crime rate has dropped 6 percent since he took office, Watkins said, and he's also nabbed $9.7 million in grant money along, created the Sexual Assault Unit and gained nationwide recognition for the Conviction Integrity Unit.

In his closing statement, Clancy argued that he's the better choice because Watkins hasn't prosecuted a case, but he fell on his face when explaining to the crowd why he's running when he's asked.

"If nothing else, I believe voters deserve a choice," he said.

Notables in attendance included state Senator Royce West, state Representative Helen Giddings, Dallas County Treasurer Joe Wells, Dallas County Judge Lynn Cherry, Dallas City Council member Dwaine Caraway, Dallas County Republican Party chair Jonathan Neerman and Stephen Broden, who's running for Congress against Eddie Bernice Johnson.

Heath Harris, head of the DA's gang unit, was one of a few employees from the DA's office on hand. During the Emmert-Jenkins debate, Jenkins asked who in the audience had been berated by the county commissioners, and Harris was one of two people to raise their hands.

Tanya Watkins, Craig's wife and a Democratic political consultant, sat next to Dr. Frederick Haynes, senior pastor at Friendship-West, during the DA's debate. Several of those involved with Watkins' campaign wore yellow campaign T-shirts inside out to comply with rules set forth by the League of Women Voters, which hosted the event. Former council member Sandy Greyson moderated.

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