By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The bill for an extended stay in the hospital was crushing, too--but Lipscomb never saw it. Never heard a word about it, in fact. "Someone gave me the best--said, 'Don't let him die,'" Lipscomb says. "Mr. Schenkel--I know some of these people did it. Because I didn't have the money. I had insurance--but not that kind of insurance."
Schenkel emphatically denies paying Lipscomb's hospital bills.
Lipscomb has never had any money. And because of that, Lipscomb says, he has depended on people like Schenkel who have given him money over the years--so much money that he can't begin to tell how much it adds up to.
"He just wanted to make sure I wasn't out selling apples," Lipscomb says of Schenkel, who is by far his biggest benefactor. (The apple comment is amusing considering Lipscomb's claim that he was a full-time fruit vendor for those first nine years on the council. And without so much as a raised eyebrow, the Dallas media dutifully described him that way.)
It is incredible, actually, that Lipscomb took cash handouts throughout his nine-year council reign without a word being said about it in the press--that is, until he was literally walking out the door. That's when Morning News reporter Lori Stahl did a fawning, sentimental piece that casually slipped the handout revelation in the 18th paragraph.
"In several long conversations in recent weeks, the outgoing council member talked candidly about his public and private life..." Stahl wrote. "And for the first time, he revealed the cash infusions from wealthy local patrons such as former Mayor Annette Strauss. The money kept him going for decades. It also, he says, kept him clean. 'It was done with no strings attached,' he said. 'It kept me independent.'"
Some months after the article ran, I ask Lipscomb if he regretted "outing" benefactors like Schenkel and Strauss, who would have been the last people on the planet to admit such a thing.
"I didn't feel any qualms about saying anything about Mr. Schenkel or Mrs. Strauss because that was something I did at all times," he says, referring to his acceptance of money. "I had to. And getting off this council, I knew [Schenkel] was really glad. He said, 'I thought I'd have to teach him how to milk a cow!'"
Herb Kelleher, chairman of Southwest Airlines, said something similar to him. "'I thought I'd have to teach you to fly a plane,'" Lipscomb remembers Kelleher saying. Lipscomb laughs heartily. "They said that tongue in cheek--but I knew what they meant."
Annette Strauss gave Lipscomb small amounts when he needed it: "It went on all the time," says Strauss, almost tiredly. "Before I was on the council and afterwards. And it goes on all the time now. If I can help someone, though, I'm going to do it."
Schenkel estimates that he has "loaned" Lipscomb no more than $1,500 during the past 20 years, though he has always contributed to Lipscomb's political campaigns. "He's asked to borrow money [over the years], and I told him I just didn't have it," Schenkel says. "I bet I haven't lent Al any money in two years."
Lipscomb tortures credulity when he says there "are no strings attached" to any of the money and gifts he accepts. His own colorful anecdotes prove otherwise.
There's the story he tells about the time in 1990 when rumors were spreading that conservative North Dallas Republican Steve Bartlett was thinking of resigning from Congress and running for mayor--setting off tremors in the black community. Lipscomb says he and activist Roy Williams researched Bartlett's record--which, among other things, included voting against adopting a national holiday for Martin Luther King's birthday. Lipscomb and Williams printed up more than 100 copies of his record and began distributing them--which was when Schenkel called.
"He said, 'Al, you're right, it is a bad record--but don't you think you should talk to him?'" Lipscomb remembers. "I said, 'You know the only way I would talk to the man is if he was out there at Schepps Dairy in the conference room.' And I'll be damned. Do you know it might have been a week. A meeting was arranged."
Although the meeting was "pretty rough," Lipscomb recalls, the two politicians came out shaking hands. The fliers stopped going out, Lipscomb got quiet, and he took only one action against Bartlett's mayoral candidacy after that: He voted for Kathryn Cain.
Says Schenkel, "When Steve Bartlett ran for mayor, Bartlett asked me if I would try to get Al to sit down and visit with him. I called Al and set up a meeting."
Why would he do that for Bartlett?
"I wanted to help him get elected mayor, and I felt like probably he needed more help in the minority community than anything," says Schenkel. "I didn't want to see Al or anyone in the minority community creating a problem for Steve."
Then there was the time last year when Lipscomb lashed out at Dallas school board president Sandy Kress at one of the evening meetings when tempers flared over the controversial Townview magnet school. Although Lipscomb had always maintained a good relationship with Kress and Kress' mother and late father, both well-known civil-rights activists in town, Lipscomb had led the 10 o'clock news that night with a vitriolic demand for Kress' immediate resignation--which absolutely stunned Kress, who, Schenkel says, called him.