Vickers “Vic” Cunningham, a former criminal district judge now in a runoff to be the sole Republican Dallas County commissioner, acknowledged Friday that in 2010 he set up a living trust with a clause rewarding his children if they marry a white person.
Cunningham spoke to The Dallas Morning News about the trust after his estranged brother, Bill Cunningham, came to the paper earlier this week claiming his brother has been a lifelong racist.
Vic Cunningham denied harboring racial bigotry, but he did confirm one of his brother’s primary allegations — that his trust includes a stipulation intended to discourage a child from marrying a person of another race or of the same sex.
“I strongly support traditional family values,” Cunningham said. “If you marry a person of the opposite sex that’s Caucasian, that’s Christian, they will get a distribution.”
Cunningham said his views on interracial marriage have evolved since he created the trust. He said he has accepted his son’s relationship with a woman who is of Vietnamese origin, though he said he can’t change the terms of his trust.
However, a former political aide of Cunningham’s described him making repeated racist statements. A text message from Cunningham’s son showed concern that his father would not accept his relationship with an Asian woman. And in a recorded conversation, Cunningham’s mother, Mina Cunningham, acknowledged her son has been a longtime bigot.
Bill Cunningham brought the allegations to The News Monday, shortly after he said Vic Cunningham arrived at his home and threatened him and his husband, who is black, and referred to his husband repeatedly as “your boy.”
“His views and his actions are disqualifying for anyone to hold public office in 2018,” said Bill Cunningham, 50. “It frightens me to death to think of people in power who could hurt people.”
Bill Cunningham and his husband Demonse Williams say that Cunningham’s brother, former State District Judge Vic Cunningham, is racist and homophobic. (Andy Jacobsohn/The Dallas Morning News)
Vic Cunningham denied threatening his brother or describing his brother’s husband as “boy.” Vic Cunningham, 56, and his brothers Ross Cunningham, 44, and Greg Cunningham, 62, described their brother Bill on Friday as a deeply troubled man who has been ousted from the family and written out of their parents’ wills. They said Bill is trying to sabotage Vic’s campaign over anger that Vic denied Bill a $45,000 loan.
“I’m embarrassed that my brother fabricated stories that drag my family’s name through the mud,” said Ross Cunningham.
Cunningham is running for commissioner in a county that is majority minority, with blacks and Hispanics making up a large portion of the population. As a Dallas County judge for 10 years, he sent scores of black and Hispanic people to prison after they were convicted of crimes. He said that his views on his children marrying outside their race never translated to unfairness on the bench or discrimination in any way.
Vickers "Vic" Cunningham speaks during an interview at The Dallas Morning News in Dallas on Friday, accompanied by two of his three brothers Ross Cunningham (center) and Greg Cunningham (left). (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News)
Amanda Tackett, a former D Magazine writer and friend of Bill Cunningham’s who worked on Vic Cunningham’s 2006 campaign for district attorney, said she heard the former judge repeatedly use the n-word to insult black people behind their backs. She said he described criminal cases involving black people as “T.N.D.s,” short for “Typical [N-word] Deals.”
“I’ve never met another Caucasian person like this,’” Tackett said. “Vic Cunningham is like a character out of a movie.”
Vic Cunningham dismissed Tackett as having little involvement in his campaign and as someone who is close to his brother Bill. He also said Bill has been working with J.J. Koch, Vic’s opponent for county commissioner. Bill denies that.
Asked by The News if he’s ever used the n-word, Vic Cunningham paused for nine seconds. He asked if the question referred to using the word in court. Told the question referred to use in everyday life, he then said no.
The relationship among the Cunningham brothers has been fraught for years, but appears to have collapsed upon the death of their father in 2016.
Bill Cunningham traces the broken brotherhood to his life as a gay man in an interracial marriage. His brothers answer that it is rooted in Bill’s shoddy business dealings and his treatment of their parents. They say he has borrowed and failed to repay hundreds of thousands of dollars from his parents — loans Bill says his mother has forgiven.
Bill Cunningham said when he and his husband, Demonse Williams, 38, moved back to Dallas from California in 2015, Vic Cunningham invited Bill over but made clear Demonse was not welcome.
“He said, ‘Hey welcome back, Billy, come on over, let’s have a good bottle of wine,’” Bill Cunningham said. “I said, ‘Well, we’d love to.’ And he said, ‘Uh-uh — you can’t bring him, he’s not coming in my house.’”
Bill Cunningham said Vic, when speaking to Bill, always refers to his husband as “your boy.” Demonse said Vic has never called him “boy” to his face, but it still stings.
“It’s terrible — I’m a man, and I carry myself with dignity,” said Demonse said, whose family is from East Texas. “I’ve heard stories and I went my whole life striving to be above that, and it brings back those memories, thinking of that pain that my parents went through and other generations.”
Bill Cunningham, right, and his husband, Demonse Williams, say Bill’s brother Vic is unfit for office because they allege he harbors racist views. (Andy Jacobsohn/The Dallas Morning News)
Vic Cunningham denied that he has called Demonse “boy,” and said he has welcomed him into the family. He credited Demonse with helping him grow more accepting of interracial relationships.
Demonse showed The News text messages between himself and Vic Cunningham’s son, Vickers Cunningham Jr., who goes by Tex, in which the son acknowledged his father’s views.
“I am making my father except [sic] interracial relationships starting with me and my relationship with my Vietnamese girlfriend,” the son said. “It’s a slow process but he i [sic] have faith in him turning around. And if he doesn’t, he will have one less person at his dinner table.”
A screenshot of a text message conversation between Demonse Williams (in blue) and Vic Cunningham’s son, Tex (gray).
Reached by telephone, Tex said his father was not racist.
“That’s incredibly not true,” he said. “I don’t know what else to say but that’s a farce.”
Bill Cunningham said Vic called him “[N-word] Bill” his entire life. Vic Cunningham denied it, saying his brother’s nickname was “Bildo” and his was “Vickhead.”
Bill Cunningham provided a recorded conversation with his mother that he said backed up his claims.
“I’ve endured ‘[N-word] Bill’ my whole life,” Bill Cunningham told his mother.
“Quite a bit, bless your darling heart,” Mina Cunningham responded.
“All I can do is apologize for Vic and this way that he thinks,” she said in the call. “He’s so bigoted and so forth as we all know. That does make me sick.”
In another part of the conversation, Bill Cunningham said: “I’ll allow for Vic’s racism and bigotry.”
“Yes, yes,” the mother replied. “That’s his problem.”
Ross and Vic Cunningham said it was clear that their brother had baited their mother, who they said has dementia, into saying what he wanted her to say.
“She will agree to anything and parrot it back in a matter of minutes,” Ross Cunningham said. “I’m really, really upset that my brother is taping conversations with her.”
The mother didn’t return a call seeking comment, but she supplied a written statement in support of Vic.
“My son Vic is not a racist, bigot or against homosexuals,” Mina Cunningham, 81, said in her statement. “I can’t imagine why he would do this to Vic, but I can only assume it is because Vic would not loan Bill $45,000 of my money to help him pay his mortgage.”
Vic Cunningham said his feelings of equality for people of other races could be seen in his actions. He pointed to the case of Michael Phillips, a black man who Cunningham represented at trial for free.
Cunningham worked as a pro bono defense attorney to get Phillips acquitted of murder in 2011, records show. Afterwards, Cunningham said, he hired Phillips to work at his company, Recovery Healthcare, for about six months.
“If I had a problem with anyone of color why would I donate my time and talent to defend someone and give them a job?” Cunningham said.
Tackett, the former campaign aide and friend of Bill Cunningham, said she recalled Vic Cunningham boasting to her about having Phillips working for him.
“I asked him how he was doing and he said, ‘Well I’m doing great, I got me a [n-word] and I think everybody needs a [n-word] and this [n-word] owes me his life,’” Tackett said. “He treated him like a slave and called him his [n-word] and he ran him around town.”
Tackett also recalled a conversation with Vic Cunningham around 2010 or 2011, when former District Attorney Craig Watkins, who is black, had helped secure exonerations of wrongly convicted men.
“Did you see what [N-word] Watkins is doing, setting all those [n-words] free?” Tackett recalled him saying. “He’ll never lose an election because all the [n-words] want their baby daddy out of jail.”
“Vic believes on some level all black people have done something that warrants putting them in jail,” Tackett said.
Vic and Ross Cunningham answered that Tackett appeared to be spreading lies propagated by Bill.
Vic, Ross and Greg Cunningham questioned why their brother was now coming forward with the allegations. They said the timing — days before the runoff election — made clear that he was trying to torpedo his brother’s campaign, rather than purely wanting to take a stand.
“If [Vic] is a racist and a homophobe now, then he was a racist and homophobe in 2006, when Billy was his campaign manager,” Ross Cunningham said.
Bill Cunningham and Demonse said they decided to get involved Monday after months of trying to stay out of the race. They said they were spurred by the visit from Vic Monday morning, when he arrived at their house and warned them not to help his opponent, Koch. Vic said he happened to drive by his brother’s house on Monday and saw him outside, so he decided to ask that he stop trying to ruin his campaign.
Bill Cunningham and Demonse said they felt they couldn’t stay silent any longer, and they wanted voters to know the real Vic Cunningham.
“If he treats me — someone that’s connected to his brother — that way, how is he going to treat the average citizen of Dallas that doesn’t look like him?” Demonse said. “We just want to live our lives and mind our business and people are entitled to feel how they want — but he’s going to be in an elected position where he’d be making decisions that could impact people’s lives forever.”
The runoff election for District 2, which covers northern Dallas County, is Tuesday. The winner of the Republican nomination will face a Democrat in the general election in November.