For the past several months, a mayoral race has been quietly unfolding on the Northern edge of Dallas County, in Carrollton, Texas. For incumbent Becky Miller, the main issues were transportation and air quality; opponent Ron Branson's was illegal immigration.
Miller was always a politician with an eccentric edge-- she rode a mustang in the 2007 Dallas Gay Pride parade. She liked young people, and she liked to party (at least, she used to). After she was elected in 2005, The Dallas Morning News wrote that Carrollton's incoming mayor spoke convincingly to teens about drugs, because she'd lived it: "'I used to be a backup singer. I sang with several different famous people,'" including Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne" she told them, and coke had been part of her rock 'n roll past.
This year, Miller seemed to be sailing to reelection. Then, Wednesday morning, the Morning News changed all that. The fight turned ugly-- and very weird.
The article revealed, in short, that Miller's tales about her past could not be corroborated. The big four knocked down by the Morning News: that Becky Miller had sung backup for Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Browne, that she'd attended Western Kentucky University, that she was once engaged to Eagles singer-songwriter Don Henley, and that she had a brother who fought and died in the Vietnam War.
Things first began to unravel for Miller when Branson made inquiries into the story he had heard about Miller's dead brother. When things didn't quite add up, Branson questioned Miller about it, and the Morning News picked it up. Miller declared, bizarrely, that the tale had all been part of a plot to ensnare her rival:
Mrs. Miller admitted falsely telling Mr. Branson that an 18-year-old killed in Vietnam in 1968 was her brother. She said she deliberately conveyed the name of that soldier, Randolph Sampson, through a friend because she hoped Mr. Branson would use it and she could "catch him in a lie, get him to push this forward" and sue him for slander.
Mr. Branson said that after learning that the Web site the wall-usa.com listed the Army private first class as a "Negro," he informed a supporter of Mrs. Miller, who is white.
Mr. Branson provided the mayor's e-mailed reply: "The information on his being Negro is obvious [sic] a mistake, and those things happen from time to time."
"I took that as verification that she was saying this was her brother," Mr. Branson said.
Mrs. Miller said she misinformed Mr. Branson "out of anger" and "bad judgment."
Of course, it doesn't help Miller's convoluted explanation that her father, Edward Sampson, told reporters that he did have a son, who was alive and living in Maryland-- and had never been in the service. First Miller put this down to Alzheimer's, but later she changed her mind again, adding that the soldier was "not my blood brother. ... My mother did not have him." Then, in a letter to the Morning News, in which she attempted to address the paper's accusations, she said enough was enough:
My personal losses during the Vietnam war are exactly that. No one should be expected to put their personal grief on public display during an election. I certainly never brought this up as an issue.
And what of Don Henley, Jackson, Linda, Bonnie, and Western Kentucky U? Don's longtime rep told the Morning News, "Don said he's never heard of her, doesn't know her, certainly was never engaged to her." The story almost comes full circle when you look back through the archive of the local paper, the Carrollton Leader, where Miller explained in a May, 2007 story on her remarkable past that she'd become a backup singer by way of her brother, who was a songwriter for the Eagles.
Western Kentucky University echoed Don's claim of total ignorance:
Mrs. Miller states on her campaign Web site that she attended Western Kentucky University. Laura Dilliha, student records specialist there, said the school has no record of her having been a student. Mrs. Miller's former husband said that he attended Western Kentucky but that Mrs. Miller did not.
Mrs. Miller said Monday that she attended the school for about two months in 1968.
Ms. Dilliha said Tuesday, "Any time after two weeks, we do have a record ... unless they were dropped by the university for failure to pay."
As for the singers, it seems fitting that Jackson's great hit of the late 70s-- the very time Miller placed herself to be touring with him-- was The Pretender.
Of the various explanations Miller employed, the best was kept for Jackson and Linda. When informed that the singers didn't remember employing anyone of Miller's description, nor did they remember Miller's name (or the last names of her first two husbands), Miller responded:"Maybe I was going by a different name. Did you think about that?" At first she declined to offer what the name or names might be ("I'm not going to tell you what they are. You have to find that out."), but finally she acquiesced: Pinky. None of the singers remembered that one either. Ronstadt added that she hadn't employed any female backup singers during the period Miller said she'd toured with her.
Unfortunately for Miller, the voters of Carrolltown seem to prefer that their mayor's colorful past be verifiable. Miller, who'd been ahead by nine points in early voting, lost reelection yesterday.