Clueless

For city Councilman Al Lipscomb, taking handouts from power brokers has become a way of life. Is there a problem?

"When Sandy and I got in it at the school board, Mr. Schenkel called and had me in his office with Sandy," Lipscomb says. "We had to make up. That's why I had to drop it, immediately."

Word of Lipscomb's apology to Kress--delivered in Schenkel's office that day--angered the black leaders who had sparked the Kress attack, including South Dallas activist Thomas Muhammad and his mentor, board member Kathlyn Gilliam. But Lipscomb didn't care. "I don't care about him and Ms. Gilliam," Lipscomb says. "I don't care what they say. Compared to Mr. Schenkel? They can't touch the sweater on him."

It has never been a secret among the people who have served with Lipscomb--several generations of council members--that Lipscomb often needed to consult with "the dairy" before he could vote on a major issue. It became a running gag.

Ask Lipscomb about it, and he laughs and laughs. "We'd be pondering something," Lipscomb says. "And someone would say, 'Well, we don't have to worry about Al. He has to call Pete.' And I'd say, 'You're right.' If Mr. Schenkel's going to say 'vip.' I'm going to say 'vop.' It's a saying: 'You vip? I vop. We're on the same page.'"

One former council member recalls that in 1989, when the council was debating the eternally controversial Wright Amendment, council members who favored removing the amendment's flight restrictions from Love Field were cautiously optimistic about having enough votes. One soft vote, though, was Lipscomb's. Though he had promised to vote with the side favoring removal, everyone knew Schenkel was, at the time, chairman of the D/FW Airport board and would want the restrictions at Love Field left in place.

Finally, someone on the council took it upon himself to go visit Schenkel and plead with him to leave Al alone on this one issue--no matter what. And, to everyone's surprise, he did.

"Al said it too many times--it was common knowledge, it was supercommon knowledge--that Pete funneled a lot of money to Al," a council member says. "Thousands."

Two weeks ago, a man named Edward Gibson ushered me into his modest office in a nondescript Arlington office building and handed me a slab of paper on Lipscomb Industries.

Gibson is the director of the North Central Texas Regional Certification Agency. His staff is paid $400,000 in tax money a year to make sure that all the disadvantaged, minority-owned firms that want a foot in the door to do government contract work are legitimate, fully functional operations capable of fulfilling government and corporate contracts.

Gibson pointed to the second document in the pile--a signed, sworn, notarized affidavit dated February 16, 1996, from Al Lipscomb, president of Lipscomb Industries. On the basis of that document, he told me, "I recently certified them in March '96."

The affidavit stated that Lipscomb Industries had a new DeSoto address and phone number--both of which, I knew, were actually the address and phone number of his son-in-law's new chemical business, RLD Manufacturing, which Gibson had also just certified, he told me. The answer to the affidavit's question No.5 was also interesting: "Please indicate any changes in the operation of the firm in the last 12 months." Lipscomb had marked "N/A." Gross revenue in the last year? "$25,000." Employees? "Three."

Did Gibson know that Lipscomb Industries was defunct by March 1 when the certification was issued? That Lipscomb's partner, Roger Hoffman, who was vice president and the only other full-time employee had quit back in January? That Lipscomb Industries had since been sued for bankruptcy? That it had no money and no assets--and owed the bank that created it $65,000? And based on all of that, could it still be considered a certified minority-owned business?

Gibson paused. "If the president is a minority," he answered.
With that certification in hand--yet another minor miracle for the councilman from Oak Cliff--Albert Louis Lipscomb is feeling pretty confident these days that everything is going to work out just fine.

Sometime during the next 10 days, Lipscomb is fully expecting his bankruptcy case to go away, thanks to the handiwork of his daughter and son-in-law, who are holding out the lucrative DISD, DART, and Dallas County contracts as work to be shared and profits to be split with at least one of the creditors.

Those stainless-steel milk tanks of Mr. Schenkel's are holding up fine, and just to be sure they're operating correctly--milk and floor wax are, after all, two very different liquids--Mr. Schenkel has dispatched a dairy engineer to DeSoto to lend a hand to Lipscomb's son-in-law, who is currently on probation for beating up a Foley's employee out at Red Bird Mall.

Last week, Southwest Airlines chairman Herb Kelleher--who two months ago was privileged to receive Lipscomb's vote giving him two more tracts of land out at Love Field on which to build his new headquarters' expansion--took a tour of the Lipscomb family's new chemical business.

"That Mr. Kelleher, he wore blue jeans out there--yes, he did," Lipscomb tells me proudly last Sunday night. "He was impressed with the setup. He really was."

The sales pitch to Kelleher is just a part of the resurrection of the Lipscomb chemical empire--no matter where it is, or what it's called, or how much it owes, or who's running it.

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