An obituary following his death June 20 called Daniel Weiser arguably the most powerful Dallas political figure who never sought elected office. Journalist Bob Ray Sanders explains in this commentary why voters in recent Dallas elections owe him a thank you.
As a product – or should I say a victim - of the Jim Crow era in Texas, where even the sacred right of voting was hindered or outright denied, I have plenty of heroes to thank for my liberation.
Dan Weiser belongs on that hallowed list of freedom fighters – a guy who came armed with perhaps the most powerful weapon of all: the raw numbers he crunched, calculated and analyzed like no one else could.
A mathematician born in St. Louis, Dan Weiser came to Dallas in 1958 by way of Galveston where spent much of his childhood.
Because he had a Ph.D., he was often formally introduced as “DOCTOR Dan Weiser,” but most people simply called him Dan, and some of us referred to him as “Dan, the numbers man.”
Looking at the political diversity of Dallas and its elected representatives today, it’s hard to imagine a time - not so long ago, really - when the minority vote in Texas was suppressed, diluted and generally discouraged.
Even in the so-called time of enlightenment, the late 1960s, when the white establishment had accepted there ought to be at least one black on city council, in the county’s legislative delegation, on the school board and other elective bodies, Dan understood there wouldn’t be true representation for all ethnic and socio-economic groups with an at-large system of voting.
Having already fought to end the poll tax that kept a lot of minorities from voting, Dan joined the battle to bring single member districts to Dallas County, and a more equitable redistricting process for Congress in this state. Since Dallas leaders always resisted change, every effort meant a new court battle.
Plenty of people could articulate the emotional arguments of discrimination, or recite the political injustices of the past. Corporate statistician Dan came with the numbers - the exact demographic breakdowns: district by district; precinct by precinct, showing how minorities were not only being marginalized, but disenfranchised.
Long before there were computer programs designed to spit out gerrymandered redistricting lines and prejudicial demographic information, Dan spent untold hours manually tabulating the figures, outlining maps and putting together a legal case using evidence that would not lie – the all-truthful numbers.
His keen demographic analysis not only helped create and change voting districts, but enabled certain minority and minority-friendly political candidates to target precincts more effectively in getting their constituents to the ballot box.
One congressional redistricting case based on the 1970 census – the case that bears his name, “White v. Weiser” – went all the way to the Supreme Court. The High Court ruled unanimously in favor of his plan.
Whenever we in public broadcasting tried to analyze politics, individual campaigns or a particular election, we called on Dan Weiser to be the astute analyst, the numbers man, the pillar that we could lean and depend on. And he never disappointed.
As his last name implies, he was always the “wiser” one among us.
Bob Ray Sanders is a veteran journalist from Fort Worth. Send any comments and questions to keranews.org.