By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
It had been clear for a month that Al Lipscomb--"Big Daddy," as his grandchildren like to call him--was in deep financial trouble.
But on this Friday afternoon in mid-May, Lipscomb seemed full of good cheer, doing what he does best--pressing flesh, meeting and greeting, holding court in the back of this darkly paneled courtroom located deep inside the Earl Cabell Federal Building in downtown Dallas. Decked out in a handsome navy suit, flashy eyewear, and a spray of gold jewelry, Lipscomb could just as easily have been the featured attraction in a GQ photo spread of the snazzy and successful instead of the main defendant in this tawdry bankruptcy proceeding.
"Good afternoon," Lipscomb said regally, grabbing people's outstretched hands with both of his, a brilliant smile emblazoned across his face. "Thank you for being here."
As usual, Lipscomb's sparkling disposition and massive physical stature was captivating, injecting some much-needed warmth into the cavernous, somber courtroom. But the Lipscomb magic wouldn't last, couldn't last--not in this building, anyway.
True, the federal building is only a stone's throw away from Dallas City Hall, where Lipscomb, one of the senior members of the Dallas City Council, reigns supreme on a daily basis--playing political poker with the city's power brokers, lording over 16,000 jobs and $1 billion in tax money. But here, in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Lipscomb was just another poor slob in need of a good lawyer.
When Judge Robert C. McGuire drily intoned Lipscomb's name from the bench--without a hint of reverence, deference, or even recognition--Lipscomb's good cheer fizzled like a wet Fourth of July sparkler. Slowly, he slumped onto a wooden bench near the back of the room. The trademark Big Daddy smile disappeared.
"The nerve of them coming in here and draining Lipscomb, draining the company," Lipscomb said, his big shoulders hunched, his forehead resting on the back of the bench in front of him. An unhappy man. An oppressed man. "What else do they want?"
Probably just what's owed them.
Lipscomb was here because he and his chemical company, Lipscomb Industries, were deeply in debt to a bunch of people--three of whom had filed a petition with this court in late March, hoping to shutter Lipscomb Industries and force a liquidation of its assets in order to pay off the $127,000 the company owed them.
Those facts, laid out in public court records, had been in the media for a month, as had the news that Lipscomb Industries was failing to service one of its major clients, the Dallas Independent School District. DISD officials had told Lipscomb to take back 48,720 gallons of disinfectant because it did not meet district specifications.
Lipscomb's financial woes had created quite a stir around town, but in truth they were only symptoms of a much more profound issue. Lipscomb and the city's biggest Anglo business leaders--who had helped him create and sustain Lipscomb Industries--were partners in a longstanding marriage of mutual convenience while he was a council member that had spun out of control. It was clear that no matter how badly Lipscomb was feeling about this bankruptcy proceeding, it was nothing compared to how his constituents should feel, if they only knew the shameful story surrounding it.
Lipscomb lifted his head for a moment to glare at his nemeses--two of the bankruptcy petitioners and their attorney, who were perched on a bench some distance ahead with their backs to the councilman. As Lipscomb stared at them bitterly, his daughter, 38-year-old Lavette Lipscomb, whispered in his ear. It appeared, she said, that one of the petitioners might be open to settling the case by entering into a joint venture with Lipscomb Industries.
"So they want to destroy me--my name--and then joint-venture with me," Lipscomb responded loudly, recoiling in mock dismay. With a dramatic grunt, he lowered his head back onto the bench.
The display attracted the attention of a young City Hall beat reporter for The Dallas Morning News. Christopher Lee had been sitting across the room, eyeing the theatrics from afar. Now he nervously approached the councilman, notebook and pen clutched at the ready.
"There's a smell," Lee said, easing himself onto the bench in front of Lipscomb and leaning toward him, clearly hoping this oh-so-casual approach would elicit some inside information from the councilman (who, as Lee may someday learn, needs no such prodding.) "There's a smell in the air. It smells like a deal's about to be cut."
Lipscomb, watching Lee's fat pen go airborne, launched into the tired monologue he'd been delivering--with good results--to any reporter who would listen.
"Someone I truly did love as a business partner and a friend has really brought about this thing," Lipscomb moaned, referring to his Lipscomb Industries partner, Roger Hoffman. "I still have so much feeling for this man and his family. Good God, he's cut me a duster." Lee scribbled furiously. Had Lipscomb talked to Hoffman recently? Lee asked.
"The crowning point was when I called the other day, and I talked to Mrs. Hoffman, Tamie, and then he apparently called my voice mail, and it said, 'Al, Tamie said you called. I can't talk to you. Talk to my attorney.' Period." Lipscomb chuckled deeply. "Didn't say 'I appreciate the free ride.'"
But, then, Lipscomb wasn't thanking anybody, either--and, truth be told, he needed to. Because if anybody's been taking a free ride in this town, it's Albert Louis Lipscomb.
Ever since the bankruptcy petition was filed on March 27, Lipscomb has been out preaching the victim thing. And people believe it: poor Al. Al was duped by his partner. Al was taken advantage of. Al was robbed blind.
Al may be clueless when it comes to some things--integrity and ethics are good examples--but what happened with Lipscomb Industries cannot be explained in a throwaway line in the back of a courtroom. The truth is far more complex and far more insidious.
The Observer has been examining Lipscomb Industries since shortly after it was created in June 1993, about the time when Lipscomb was leaving Dallas City Hall after serving on the council for nine years--the maximum he was allowed under the city charter's term-limitation provision.
Through numerous interviews in late 1993 with Lipscomb and his partner, Roger Hoffman--at their office, at Lipscomb's home, at the job sites of their customers--it became clear that Lipscomb Industries was not what it seemed.
It was purported to be a disadvantaged, minority-owned business--a designation bestowed upon it by the North Central Texas Regional Certification Agency, which is the Good Housekeeping seal of approval for 3,000 businesses that want an opportunity to participate in various corporate and government minority-goals programs.
In truth, Lipscomb Industries was far from disadvantaged--after all, not only had a group of Dallas corporate captains agreed to put up the money to start Lipscomb Industries, they had also promised to keep it afloat by supplying it with more business than any two men without a nickel of sense between them could possibly have dreamed. It may come as a shock to Lipscomb's backers that his business partner, Roger Hoffman, was indicted last week on federal charges in connection with a kickback scheme--unrelated to his involvement in Lipscomb Industries.
What should be far more disturbing to the public, though, is that this generosity from the city's power brokers was nothing new: Lipscomb had been privately taking money from these people throughout his public service career, though no one would ever suspect that, considering that he built his early political career on insulting and antagonizing the Anglo power structure. The empty rhetoric has been a grand fireworks display, capturing headlines for years--a show that served to camouflage the staunchly pro-business, pro-status-quo voting record Lipscomb had established at the same time he was mollifying the minority community he was supposed to be fighting for downtown.
For years now, one of Lipscomb's well-publicized beefs has been with the reluctance of local government and corporate Dallas to give contract work to "real" minority firms--firms that have bona fide black or Hispanic owners who have invested their money, sweat, and tears to set up shop and hire real, live employees who manufacture a product or provide a service. These are the basic components a company must have in order to gain a berth in a minority-goals program.
Too bad Al's own Lipscomb Industries was not one of those companies.
Lipscomb Industries was nothing more than a black guy, a white guy, and an address book filled with the names of every big-shot businessman Lipscomb had ever serviced during nearly a decade on the city council. It was Lipscomb's job to call in his chits with these people and get them to buy chemicals, mainly cleaning supplies, from Lipscomb Industries. It was Hoffman's job--once the orders were placed--to go out and find a chemical supplier, then to hire someone to deliver the products. None of these other businesses, of course, had to meet any minority-goals standards, and while Lipscomb Industries did use some black-owned delivery companies, the chemical suppliers--the biggest players in the deal--were all owned by Anglos.
The plan, though, had two flaws--both of which made Lipscomb Industries more pathetic than newsworthy.
First of all, the chemical manufacturer was supposed to be NCH--a giant, Dallas-based Fortune 500 company. NCH had agreed to make Lipscomb Industries an official manufacturers' rep--an unprecedented arrangement for a company with its own international sales force of 17,000 and a customer list filled with companies just like the ones Lipscomb and Hoffman were targeting. In fact, there was only one reason the company had agreed to do this--a sense of loyalty to Hoffman's father Hal, who was an NCH executive vice president with 35 years' experience at the company.
NCH's affiliation gave little Lipscomb Industries enormous credibility. But shortly after Lipscomb and Hoffman placed their first order, NCH abruptly pulled out of the deal. Not only was its local sales staff up in arms about having to compete with Lipscomb Industries for business--a problem that NCH alluded to in its November 18, 1993, termination letter--but the low-profile company, according to Hoffman, cringed at the publicity that business with Lipscomb brought.
The "straw that broke the camel's back" with NCH, as Hoffman put it, was a vicious, very public campaign the partners mounted to strip one of its competitors, a Native American-owned cleaning supply company, of its minority-owned certification--a move that had prompted the Morning News to run an editorial critical of Lipscomb's efforts.
The second, eventually fatal flaw involved Lipscomb's initial inability to provide customers. He was out of public life, away from the city council horseshoe that gave him his power. With his political clout now largely gone--no council vote, no big club--Lipscomb was finding that his longtime benefactors were not nearly as excited about his cleaning-supply business as they had promised they would be when he was shopping the idea around during his waning days on the council.
No doubt some of those benefactors were also less than thrilled when, the week he left City Hall, Lipscomb gave a series of meandering, memory-lane interviews that divulged--in a quaint-footnote-to-Dallas-history way--how generous his high-roller friends around town had been in handing him cash over the years. He specifically gave kudos to Schepps Dairy CEO Pete Schenkel, former Mayor Annette Strauss, and former City Manager Richard Knight.
Lipscomb's pathetic endeavor to make himself rich was mostly ludicrous--up until a year ago when he was re-elected to his old seat. Now, Big Daddy's back at City Hall, combining business and politics with a vengeance.
Documents obtained since bankruptcy proceedings began against Lipscomb Industries two months ago--documents that include federal, state, and county court records; North Central Texas Regional Certification Agency records; city council voting records; and the internal files of Lipscomb Industries, made available by Lipscomb--show that Lipscomb is still clueless about the appropriate way to conduct himself as a public official.
Over the past 12 months, Lipscomb Industries has received tens of thousands of dollars from some of the biggest businesses in Dallas, six in particular: Minyard, Texas Utilities, Lone Star Gas, DART, Dallas County, and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
And while Lipscomb's left hand was accepting the checks, his right hand was pushing the green voting button on the council horseshoe. Lipscomb has voted in favor of his customers' zoning requests, right-of-way acquisitions, and license renewals. He has awarded lucrative contracts to Dallas County; voted to give DART $147,472 in city bond money to shore up its rail projects; and voted to grant Lone Star Gas a rate hike.
Voting records show he has not once abstained from voting on an issue involving one of his customers, as required by the city's code of conduct. Never once, in those 33 votes for which he had a conflict of interest, did Lipscomb vote against one of them--although twice he was absent for a vote.
To the contrary, Lipscomb was one of only two council members last September who voted against hiring a consultant to determine if Lone Star Gas' rate hike was warranted. (When the gas-rate vote finally occurred on January 10, 1996, Councilman Craig McDaniel declared himself ineligible to vote because of a conflict of interest and left the room. Lipscomb stayed and voted.)
This extraordinary pattern might well have continued unnoticed had Lipscomb and his partner not been so greedy and so sloppy. While checks were coming in from these customers, the two men were fleecing the company, running its checking account into the red on a regular basis--writing most of the company's checks to themselves, their family members, and Hoffman's athletic club, landscaper, and barber--and ignoring the company's considerable financial obligations.
The two were also managing to attract headlines--a pattern that had begun in the fall of 1993 when they tried to have their minority-owned competitor run out of business for being only one-sixteenth Choctaw Indian. It happened again in March 1994 when Lipscomb used some embarrassing, bully-boy tactics to try and snatch a city chlorine contract away from a deserving low bidder.
Six months later, the city council voted to prohibit former council members from bidding on city contracts for 12 months after they leave office.
Lipscomb Industries is no more. In reality it stopped operating months before its creditors dragged it into bankruptcy court. Amazingly, though, the business community's charity work for Lipscomb continues unabated. Last month, while Bob Lane, the CEO of NationsBank of Texas, quietly agreed to write off half the $65,000 Lipscomb owes the bank after having defaulted on the notes that originally financed Lipscomb Industries, Schepps Dairy CEO Pete Schenkel was helping Lipscomb start a new chemical business--an arrangement that would provide Lipscomb with an income while enabling him to walk away from the debt he incurred mismanaging his last endeavor.
The new company, RLD Manufacturing, is being run by Lipscomb's daughter Lavette and her husband Rod Dudley, a 44-year-old ex-convict with no chemical-business experience who recently filed for bankruptcy and is being sued by three former business partners for allegedly plundering a business he was running on their behalf. The Dudleys are currently mixing industrial chemicals for Lipscomb Industries' clients using huge milk storage tanks donated by Pete Schenkel.
It's amazing that very little of this farce--Al Lipscomb undergoing the curious, patently ridiculous transition from grass-roots politician to chemical king--has been reported.
And some parts of it would seem nearly impossible to ignore. For instance, no one in the media ever reported that during the year before Lipscomb was sworn in as a council member in June 1995, he was constantly being chased around by city employees--including City Attorney Sam Lindsay--who could not make him pay his rent and utilities for the office space his company was leasing in a city-owned building. Because the city charter bars anyone owing the city money from serving on the council, Lipscomb Industries finally paid its overdue bills three days before Lipscomb was sworn in as a council member. On the same day, Lindsay informed Lipscomb that he would have to be out of the building in 30 days to avoid a conflict of interest.
But in retrospect, it's easy to understand why there's so little press scrutiny of Lipscomb.
It's not just that Dallas is a city cowed by the incessant play of the race card--a city whose leaders learned long ago that it's far easier to placate individual activists than to tackle the city's substantive problems. These so-called leaders on both sides of the color line have gotten away with this deceitful behavior in large part because the Dallas media have long been reluctant to publicize the misdeeds of high-profile minorities for fear of getting picketed or criticized or both. And matters are made worse when--in the case of the Belo Corp. twins, the Morning News and WFAA-Channel 8--the media are the city leaders.
In fact, The Dallas Morning News has been one of Lipscomb Industries' blue-ribbon clients, buying mineral spirits in 1,350-gallon shipments to clean its printing presses. Lipscomb obtained the contract after appealing directly to newspaper owner Robert Decherd, president and CEO of A.H. Belo Corp.
In the first five months of 1995, Decherd's newspaper paid $23,664 to Lipscomb's company. Five weeks after the last check was deposited, Lipscomb attended his first city council meeting since being re-elected--and promptly voted to renew the newspaper's license to operate hundreds of news racks on the city's right-of-way at a pittance of $5 per box. He was absent for a February 14 vote that awarded the newspaper a $673,000 annual contract to publish the city's official notes. But on April 10, he voted to give the newspaper a whopping $4.5 million tax abatement, over 10 years, on its property.
True, the Morning News never placed another order with Lipscomb Industries after he was sworn in as a councilman. But it's not for lack of trying on Lipscomb's part. When the newspaper put the mineral spirits out to bid last summer--around the time that Lipscomb was voting to renew the newspaper's news-rack license--Lipscomb Industries had its bid in. Though it didn't get it, Lipscomb's son-in-law has been wooing the company for months since then.
Last June 14, the day of the news-rack license vote, several minority members of the council wondered aloud whether the newspaper's $5-per-box fee was too low--especially since the newspaper was making a ton of money in a city that was short on funds. After the comments were made, the council agreed to instruct the city staff to review the fee--a move that prompted Lipscomb, who had not participated in the discussion thus far, to speak out.
"I want to go on record to let the [Dallas Morning News] editorial board know I don't want to get in the crossfires with them," Lipscomb announced. "These aren't any actions of mine...I might want to run for re-election again, and I want to be on the good side of the editorial board...Let the record reflect that please."
For too long now, Al Lipscomb, Dallas' icon of racial progress--he has an annual football game, the Al Lipscomb State Fair Classic named in his honor--has been allowed, if not downright encouraged, to blur the line between personal gain and public service. For too long now, Lipscomb, the people who cynically control him, and the media who overlook it all, have made a complete mockery of our local political system.
What is perhaps most remarkable--and most tragic--about the real story of Al Lipscomb is that he truly appears not to see the problem with his behavior. He seems oblivious to how he has been used--at times in a manner that is completely contrary, if not downright hurtful, to the best interests of his own community, which he fought for decades to be able to represent.
Three months ago, for example, Lipscomb threatened to delay a vote to give a $34 million tax abatement to Texas Instruments because it had selected North Dallas over South Dallas to build a new $2 billion computer-chip factory. Lipscomb's criticisms were on point, seeing as how TI had been given a $21 million tax break just two years earlier based on a promise to create hundreds of jobs in southern Dallas. TI never did it. Instead, it agreed to give a partly tax-deductible contribution to a South Dallas nonprofit organization that agreed to create the jobs.
Lipscomb's anger was short-lived. Three days later, he voted in favor of the tax abatement. "My point has been made," he was quoted as saying. "...I don't want to get into a fight with an 800-pound gorilla."
It's a gorilla that Lipscomb had wooed three years ago in the hopes it would buy chemicals from him. It didn't.
Seemingly befuddled and without a clue most of the time--unable to intelligently discuss his chemical business, his personal financial affairs, his bankruptcy case--he nonetheless freely discusses the most explosive aspect of his political life, his benefactors. He describes in detail how he's taken care of them, and how they've taken care of him--a relationship of mutual convenience with which he is utterly comfortable. He speaks lovingly, in fact, about his favorite people--Pete Schenkel and the late grocery store magnate Buddy Minyard and his daughters Liz and Gretchen--and all they have done for him and his family. Tears come to his eyes.
Three weeks ago, Lipscomb gave me all the records he had in his possession from Lipscomb Industries--several boxes that contained business contracts, lease agreements, bank-loan documents, checking-account records, and revealing personal correspondence between himself and some of his benefactors in the business community.
"I want everything out in the open," he said magnanimously. "I have nothing to hide. I don't even know what's in here, but I want you to see it all."
Which is awfully endearing, downright disarming--and absolutely depressing once you've seen what's in there.
Al Lipscomb was sitting at his desk, screaming at his telephone. It was was September 14, 1993. "Hello!" Lipscomb yelled at the phone, moments after jabbing the button that activated the speaker. "Hello! Who's there?"
"Yes, Mr. Solomon's office," a polite, female voice responded.
"Mrs. Woods? I was trying to reach Mr. Solomon," Lipscomb said with a certain gravity in his booming, gravelly voice. "I hear he's out of the city."
"I'd be happy to have him call you," Mrs. Woods responded.
"Yes, please," Lipscomb said. "We're having a little problem filling some orders. We went out and made a pitch and nothing happened. We've had meetings and meetings, but we haven't been able to get any orders."
Lipscomb Industries was three months old. And to the enormous surprise of its president, business was not so hot. The phone was not ringing. The orders for chemicals weren't coming in. But everybody had promised him--many of the big CEOs in town had promised to buy chemicals from him.
Bill Solomon, for example. Solomon was the chairman of the board of Austin Industries, a giant, Dallas-based construction company. Solomon was one of the biggest power brokers in Dallas. He was an influential member of both the Dallas Citizens Council and the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce and, most importantly to Lipscomb, the co-chair of Dallas Together, a consortium of large Dallas companies that had made a very public commitment to hire and promote more minorities--a commitment that also included doing more subcontracting business with black- and Hispanic-owned businesses.
Lipscomb Industries was a new, black-owned business, Lipscomb pointed out to me that afternoon, after he had tried in vain to get Solomon on the phone. Solomon had made a personal commitment, Lipscomb said, to give Lipscomb some business. But the guys who worked for Solomon were giving Lipscomb Industries the runaround. And that was happening with other companies, too.
"It's always something," Lipscomb said, shaking his head. "Something comes up. They did it with Texas Utilities. The Morning News. And Southwest Airlines."
In fact, a few days earlier he had called Mike McKinney, manager of community relations for Texas Utilities--a man who had lobbied Lipscomb many times on TU issues when Lipscomb was a council member serving on the council's business and commerce committee. Lipscomb said he had always been good to McKinney--good to TU, too. "If something was coming up pertaining to their company, and it would come through to the business and commerce committee, and we would get briefed on it. I wouldn't take any negative side on it. Business is business. I'm talking about jobs."
And now, Lipscomb was relying on McKinney to give him a job--in the form of a lucrative chemical contract.
"I said, 'Something has happened here. It didn't come off like it was supposed to,'" Lipscomb said, bitterly describing his conversation with McKinney. "He said, 'I'll get on top of it.' Well, that was last week. And this is Thursday." And Lipscomb hadn't heard back.
The nerve of these people, Lipscomb said, after all he'd done for them during nine years on the city council. "I was there for them--for the chamber of commerce at all times," Lipscomb said ruefully, sitting in his easy chair in his nicely appointed living room on a weekday afternoon, the sounds of a ball game emanating from another room. "I was there for the chamber of commerce. I was there for the business and commerce aspect of this city. I don't think I ever had a negative vote."
That may seem hard for people to believe, Lipscomb said, considering his reputation in the city as a political bomb-thrower in the '60s and '70s. "I'm sure people thought I would be anti-business because I was always using the word 'racism' until it lost its meaning," he said. "But I was pro-business. My record will reflect that. And today--I'm not whining or crying--but I know it is unfair for the business sector to allow this business, Lipscomb Industries, to flounder. I'm not asking for anything special--no special dispensation. But hell, I'm out there also. I was at their beck and call for the chamber of commerce: the black chamber, the Greater Dallas chamber, the Asian chamber, the Hispanic chamber--I was there."
Ask Lipscomb to recall the last time he did something that really angered the Anglo business community, and he'll have to think a minute. Then he'll cite the vicious charter-amendment battle back in 1988 when he and other minority leaders wanted to eliminate all of the at-large seats on the Dallas City Council. The business community supported a less radical change--a 10-4-1 setup, which would have kept four of the council seats at-large. In the end, with the two sides deeply entrenched, a federal judge ruled in the minority community's favor.
Lipscomb was so adamant about that issue, he says, that no one could change his mind on it--not even his biggest personal benefactor, Schepps Dairy president Pete Schenkel, who was pushing 10-4-1. "Mr. Schenkel had said...that he would never ask me to take a position because it would be embarrassing to me and to him...it would be embarrassing to both of us because I always said, 'No strings attached.'"
That doesn't mean Schenkel condoned what Lipscomb did, though. "All my stuff was definitely not kosher the way I conducted myself out there," Lipscomb said apologetically. "He would say, 'Good God, man, as hard as we try to make you legitimate, you always'--my picketing, my protesting."
Aside from the redistricting, though, Lipscomb says he's been a trooper, an advocate, a soldier. When councilman Max Wells, a banker and a conservative North Dallas Republican, served as the chair of the city's business and commerce committee from 1989 to 1992, Lipscomb continually gave Wells support. "He could rely on me," Lipscomb proudly told me that day in his living room.
So now--now that he needed these people the most--where were they?
It's not like they didn't expect him to be calling. To the contrary, Lipscomb and Hoffman hit up virtually every big-name businessman in town before Lipscomb's June 1993 departure from the city council--sometimes quite a bit before.
The two told me they paid a visit to Norman Brinker, for instance, founder and chairman of Brinker International, before the January 1993 polo-riding accident that temporary put him in a coma. A letter Lipscomb wrote to Brinker 10 months after the accident confirms this.
The letter, dated November 23, 1993, states: "Dear Mr. Brinker: It was a real joy to see and embrace you Friday nite [sic] during the gala reception honoring the opening of the African-American Museum. Mr. Brinker, before that untimely traumatic polo accident, Lipscomb Industries Inc. was about to get in the door at Brinker International, thanks to you for introducing us. As of this date, no one from Brinkers [sic] International, divisions, or affiliates has done any business with us. Mr. Norman [sic], if there is a problem with me or some of the operations managers, I need to know. I really do not want to penalize my business associate for something I have done or perceived to have done.
"Respectfully, Al Lipscomb, president, Lipscomb Industries Inc."
At the bottom of the letter, Lipscomb added a handwritten postscript: "P.S. 'a zestful Thanksgiving!'"
(Lipscomb Industries had no "operations managers." What it had was Lipscomb, Roger Hoffman, and a receptionist, who for a long time was Lipscomb's niece.)
There were lots of other impressive, one-on-one meetings that Lipscomb arranged. He and Hoffman lunched with Herb Kelleher, chairman of Southwest Airlines, at The Palm restaurant in the West End. They had an audience with William Dreyer, president of Southwestern Bell of Texas, in his office on the 37th floor of One Bell Square in downtown Dallas. They had intimate chats with Belo's Robert Decherd; Liz Minyard, co-chairman of Minyard; Kern Wildenthal, president of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. And on and on.
"We went all around town to a lot of business leaders--all the people Al knew," Hoffman once told me. "And my eyes were just lit up like a Christmas tree. I mean, who could have access to that?"
Which was, of course, the point. Access to people--and their pockets--was Lipscomb's sole contribution to the partnership. He didn't bring money of his own; he didn't have any. He didn't bring any particular expertise; he knew nothing about running a business, and even less about chemicals. "Roger knows chemicals from A to Z. He lives it; he breathes it," Lipscomb told me in October 1993. "I think it's a perfect marriage between the two of us."
Hoffman may have known chemicals, but he certainly didn't know much about running a business, either, or about making a decent living. He had started as a salesman for his dad's company, NCH, but that had lasted only a short time. Since then, he'd been hawking chemicals, mainly cleaning products, solo--buying them from manufacturers and selling them to janitorial services and anybody else who would let him in the door. In 1989, he started his own company called Merit Laboratories--an operation that consisted of Hoffman and a receptionist.
According to copies of Hoffman's 1991 and 1992 income-tax returns, which he left in a file cabinet at Lipscomb Industries when he quit the company, Hoffman reported an income of $9,600 in 1991. In 1992, the year before he teamed up with Lipscomb--he claimed he made $12,700.
Last Friday, Hoffman was charged by federal authorities with concealing his knowledge of a January 1993 kickback scheme designed to help a number of small Dallas firms--before Lipscomb Industries was created--obtain national-defense contract work. According to the U.S. Attorney's office, Hoffman participated in a meeting in which several firms agreed to offer a defense contractor a $2,500 kickback; Hoffman later withheld that information from authorities, who have since obtained a number of kickback convictions as a result of a massive, two-state investigation called Operation Cobra Nest.
Hoffman is expected to plead guilty to the felony charge on June 5, says Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Ewell.
Lipscomb says he didn't know much about Hoffman when he met him back in the early 1990s after an introduction from fellow councilman Paul Fielding.
Hoffman had engaged Fielding's factoring firm, Mason Rich, in 1990 to bail out his floundering chemical company, Merit Labs. That is, he sold his receivables to Mason Rich--meaning that Mason Rich controlled Merit's books, collecting the money from sales and then paying Hoffman after Mason Rich deducted a fee for its trouble.
Fielding introduced his client to Lipscomb because Hoffman was not having any success getting a chemical contract with the city of Dallas and thought Lipscomb could help.
"Paul brought him to me," Lipscomb recalls, "and I remember being very impressed with him. He seemed to be such an honest person. He had such an easy smile. I just latched onto him."
Hoffman got a piece of a city contract, then latched right back. When Lipscomb eventually announced plans to leave public office, Hoffman proposed a partnership: Hoffman's business expertise and Lipscomb's connections.
"Look at this," Hoffman told me giddily on September 20, 1993, as we sat together in his office at Lipscomb Industries. He held a red notebook aloft for me to see. "This is Al's red book. It's the book he had when he was on the council with all the phone numbers of every big shot in town. And it's funny--we called [Bill] Solomon today, and with the numbers in this book, he answered the phone. Look at this," he added, flipping through the 20-page book. "Don Carter. Lucy Billingsley. Methodist. Parkland. Liz Minyard. Strauss. Schenkel--very supportive of Al. Kelleher. Ross Perot--Al talks to him; Al does talk to him. Roger Staubach."
Hoffman stressed to me that day that he and Lipscomb had no interest in pursuing government contracts. "We're not going after City Hall, county commissioners, DART," he told me. In truth, they went after all of that business.
Ten days before, Hoffman told me that, in fact, he and Lipscomb were shamelessly hustling city Park and Recreation Department Director Paul Dyer to buy rat poison from them for Fair Park.
Although Lipscomb Industries had already been told by park department employees that the city already had an extermination contract through August 1995, Hoffman and Lipscomb pressed Dyer anyway--and, in their typically pushy style, sent copies of the letter to City Manager Jan Hart, City Attorney Sam Lindsay, and three State Fair of Texas board members, including Lipscomb's buddy Pete Schenkel and Fox & Jacobs founder Dave Fox.
It was an assault that was going on all over City Hall. "They were contacting everyone at the city, not just us," says Dyer. "They came over here once; then another day we went over there to their office. They showed us their product list. I just wanted to make sure we had letters to document everything that was said."
Meanwhile, Lipscomb and Hoffman were also discussing the rats with the president of the State Fair, Errol McKoy, whom Lipscomb knew well from the annual Al Lipscomb State Fair Classic football game.
In the end, Hoffman hired an exterminator to install more than 100 permanent, 17-by-13-inch concrete bait stations around the city-owned park. Although he claimed at the time to have both the city's and the state fair's consent to pour 1,000 pounds of cement, it turned out he had no written contract to do the work. State Fair vice president Nancy Wiley says fair officials believed the work was being done as a joint city-fair project. But letters obtained by the city show that the city had made it clear it wasn't going to hire Lipscomb Industries.
On September 21, Hoffman sent the city an $11,174.94 bill for its nine-month share of the work--which Dyer refused to pay. When Lipscomb Industries insisted that the city owed the money, city officials responded with an enormous meeting at City Hall on November 5. In attendance were Hoffman, Lipscomb, Dyer, three State Fair officials, two Fair Park employees, an assistant city manager, and an assistant city attorney.
During the meeting, when Hoffman again insisted that the city owed the money, "Levi Davis explained that any payment by the city of Dallas would constitute violation of a number of state and city purchasing laws and ordinances," wrote Fair Park executive general manager Eddie Hueston in a November 8 memo to Dyer, which was distributed to more than 17 other people. "At this point, Errol McKoy said that the State Fair of Texas would pay for the remaining nine (9) months of service. This offer was accepted by all parties."
Lipscomb's push to get City Hall employees to order his chemicals knew no bounds--which, of course, is why the city council finally had to legislate such embarrassing behavior right out of existence.
At 8:35 on a weekday morning in September 1993, NationsBank's Jim Chambers stood inside a shabby office building in downtown Dallas, sipping from a cup of coffee and patiently waiting on Al Lipscomb, who had not yet arrived at his office.
It's not every day that a two-bit partnership like Lipscomb Industries gets a personal service call from its banker--never mind from an executive vice president.
But then, Al Lipscomb had made it clear, when he called Chambers to complain about the disrespectful way the bank was treating him, that this was not just any partnership.
Lipscomb Industries had been having problems with NationsBank ever since the paperwork was signed on June 22, 1993, for the $40,000 loan that had enabled Al Lipscomb and Roger Hoffman to go into business in the first place. Lipscomb and Hoffman believed that their loan officer, bank vice president Chris Newtown, lacked the confidence that they would ever pay the money back.
"The attitude of Chris was just terrible dealing with minorities," Hoffman told me the morning Chambers turned up at his office. "And why he was over in the Oak Cliff office I have no idea. I think they've been taught all their lives that these are unsuccessful people, and they're lazy, and they're stupid and don't know how to run a business. Right after we signed the papers, he kept looking at me and saying, 'You make sure you keep good records.' And he told Al that they don't do this. And depending on how well this goes, it will decide if they ever do this again. Can you imagine them ever doing this to Jews? 'You fail this loan, and we won't give any more Jewish people loans?'"
It's possible, though, that Newtown simply looked at Lipscomb and his sidekick and saw reality: two grown men with no steady jobs, no incomes to speak of, no assets to put up as collateral for a loan, and less-than-sparkling credit histories.
It's possible that Newtown had done a little research on his clients. Perhaps he had seen what a miserably run company Merit Laboratories was, or that Hoffman had been sued in 1991 for damaging and then vacating an apartment.
Or perhaps Newtown had run across another case in the courthouse--this one against Al Lipscomb and his wife Lovie for stopping the payments on a brand-new car they had purchased in 1984, shortly after Lipscomb first joined the council.
Yes, Chris Newtown at NationsBank had good reason for his reluctance to approve a $40,000 loan for Hoffman and Lipscomb. But, unfortunately, he didn't have a choice. The loan had been authorized at the top--by NationsBank chairman Bob Lane, who, according to Lipscomb and Hoffman, had received a call on their behalf from former Mayor Annette Strauss' husband Ted, who is senior managing director of corporate finance for Bear Stearns, a prestigious Dallas brokerage firm.
Lipscomb had been close to the Strauss family for years. He had served with Annette Strauss when she was a council member and later when she was a two-term mayor. Over the years, Strauss--when asked--had given Lipscomb money to tide him over when he was short of cash.
"When we went to talk to Ted at Bear Stearns, he basically said to us, 'This is a gold mine, and the collateral is the business community,'" Hoffman told me, recalling their initial meeting with Strauss during which he and Lipscomb laid out their ideas. "He said we'd both be driving a green Mercedes in a year. Strauss called...the head of commercial lending and Bob Lane."
Lane declined to be interviewed for this story. Ted Strauss confirmed that he had met with Lipscomb and Hoffman--and that based on their assertions that they had a number of business leaders committed to buying products, he recommended that they go to a bank. "I may have called [Lane]," says Strauss. "I just don't remember."
Whatever Strauss did, it was a one-time involvement. The bank took over from there. According to Hoffman, NationsBank officials--in an attempt to confirm that the business community was indeed going to buy products--called Herb Kelleher, Pete Schenkel, and Liz Minyard, among others, before they would make the loan.
Now it was September. It had been a mere three months since Hoffman and Lipscomb had been handed their $40,000, and already it was gone--which was a problem since they hadn't landed any business yet.
So Lipscomb and Hoffman went back to Chris Newtown and asked for more money--a $25,000 float just to get them over the hump until they landed these really big accounts that were in the pipeline from the Norman Brinkers and Robert Decherds.
"We went to him, and he just said no," Hoffman told me back then. "He just said no. That they don't do that--that type of financing. And that's the answer that 99.9 percent of small businesses are getting. Not just minority. The problem if you're minority is that you couldn't even get the appointment. So Al has enough reach there that the senior vice president of NationsBank gets involved, and the deal gets done. But who could do that? I couldn't."
When Chambers made his visit to Lipscomb Industries that day, he approved a $15,000 float--a new note that Lipscomb Industries soon defaulted on--along with the original $40,000 note the bank had executed three months earlier.
Two months ago, on March 18, 1996, NationsBank quietly sent a letter to Lipscomb and Hoffman asking for its money back.
"The purpose of this letter is to inform you that your above-referenced account with NationsBank is in default under the terms of the original promissory note," wrote Larry Furr, a NationsBank officerwho specializes in troubled accounts and who is based at the bank's North Carolina headquarters where, you can be sure, nobody gives a damn how valuable Al Lipscomb has been to the Dallas power structure. "Please remit $65,494.56, which is the balance in full and the amount needed to cure the delinquency, within 10 days from the date of this letter."
Shortly after that, the bank's Dallas office arranged a meeting with Lipscomb, Hoffman, Lipscomb's daughter Lavette, and two NationsBank officers. Since it was clear to the bank--and Bob Lane--that Lipscomb and Hoffman didn't have any money, Lane agreed that if Lipscomb and Hoffman would comply with a generous, bank-structured payment plan starting in September 1996, the bank would halve the amount of the debt.
"It was half, wasn't it, Lavette?" Lipscomb asked one recent evening, sitting at his daughter's home, boxes of Lipscomb Industries papers stacked up around the living room. "Yes, they're excusing half the money. You know, Lavette, we ought to get something in writing, baby."
Al Lipscomb was once a hellraiser.
When World War II ended and a barely 21-year-old Lipscomb was discharged from the Army in California, he decided to stay out west and wander up and down the coast, where he wandered in and out of trouble. "I just got to run around," he says. "Got involved in drugs, fooling all around--you know, just slick."
Not slick enough, apparently, because in 1952, he was arrested twice for selling heroin. He spent 10 months in the Alameda County Jail--a low point in his travels that he took as a sign to head for home.
Back in Dallas, he worked for years as a waiter at various country clubs and executive dining rooms. Then, in the mid-'60s, he landed a job with the War on Poverty and got political. By the mid-'70s, he had opened a grass-roots, barely funded operation called the South Dallas Information Center, which became a citywide clearinghouse for black people's complaints about everything from police brutality to potholes.
He developed a reputation as a lean, angry black man in bell bottoms and a big Afro who would storm up into your face and tell you, in no uncertain terms, what you were doing wrong and what you'd better do to fix it. He protested, he picketed, he marched. He fought segregation, police brutality, at-large political districts. He got thrown out of public meetings--"I was the very first in the city of Dallas to get thrown out and arrested at Dallas City Hall," he says proudly.
He ran for mayor in 1971--the first time a black had ever run. He was a yeller and a drinker, and the whole thing got so out of hand that by 1974 his wife Lovie had thrown her hands up and filed for divorce.
"I was, well, you know--you know him. He was drinking back then and me not always knowing his whereabouts, and I had the sole responsibility for the children and their schools," says his wife Lovie. She had met her husband in the mid-'50s at the Adolphus Hotel where he waited tables and she cleared them. Married four years later, they'd had four children--adding to the four Lovie already had.
"There were riots back then and busing, and I had to leave my job all the time to go deal with all these things at the schools. I had to try and get to the meetings, and a lot of times you'd--you know--he'd not be a part of that. And no money but mine coming in at the time."
If Lipscomb's own wife, who loved him, was tired of his antics--"and I was, oh yes I was," she says--you can imagine what the people who didn't know him felt about him. Especially when he had a gripe against them.
Which is how he met Schepps Dairy CEO Pete Schenkel one day in the early '70s. "I'd seen him, but I didn't know him," Lipscomb told me. "Mr. [Harmon] Schepps was still running the dairy himself, and Mr. Schenkel was his right-hand man. Well, there was a problem with some of their black employees. I was going to picket. I had a big Afro and blue jeans, and I went up there, and I talked to Mr. Schenkel."
To Lipscomb's surprise, it was a very productive meeting. Schenkel wasn't defensive or dismissive. He addressed Lipscomb's questions directly.
"Mr. Schepps would have said, 'Oh hell, Al,' but Mr. Schenkel is more diplomatic," Lipscomb recalled. "Harmon Schepps was a challenger--you got to it. But not Mr. Schenkel. He completely disarmed me. I couldn't get a rise from him. I cried racism--"Look here!" Lipscomb added, playfully slapping his big hand on the desktop like he did then.
"He said, 'Let me talk. You have a point here.' But this company is in the community, and he'd call them in one by one--to show me. And I'd know these people. They lived in the community--walked to work. And they were mad at me: 'What you doin' Lip?' And you know what? Those two employees who had come to me? They had stolen some stuff."
On that day, Schenkel and Lipscomb bonded--destined to become one of the most dysfunctional political teams this city has ever seen.
Schenkel is an unassuming, 61-year-old Dallas native who, like a lot of other self-appointed power brokers in this town, wants to have a strong hand in shaping the issues of the day, but works hard to make sure his fingerprints don't appear on them.
"He's very low-profile," says his old boss Harmon Schepps, who sold the dairy in 1985. "He'll probably get angry at me for even talking about this. He doesn't care for any publicity. He just wants to do what's the best thing for the community."
Although Schenkel has worn a variety of civic hats--formerly chairman of the D/FW Airport board, he now serves on the executive committee of the State Fair of Texas--he is perhaps best-known, among the precious few who get to see his handiwork, as a friend of law enforcement and a community bridge builder.
Schenkel learned a long time ago that the best way to try and resolve problems in this city--racial, political--was to sit some key people down at a table and quietly forge a solution.
Over the years, far away from public scrutiny, Schenkel has had a lot of people at his table. They come because he's nice: "He doesn't ever say anything bad about anybody," says Schepps. They come because he's a guy from affluent Bent Tree, but has spent his working life a mile from Fair Park. They come, most of all, because in the city's biggest battles, he has had the ears of people on both sides--from Dallas mayors like Annette Strauss and Jack Evans, a close friend, to black rabble-rousers like John Wiley Price, Yvonne Ewell, and Al Lipscomb.
But the beauty of Pete Schenkel--the power of Pete Schenkel--is that he doesn't just have people's ears. He has their hearts. And in the case of Al Lipscomb, he can call on more than two decades of serious gratitude.
Pete Schenkel's generosity toward Al Lipscomb started shortly after their first meeting, as Lipscomb recalls it. "We just started touching base," Lipscomb says. Specifically, Lipscomb and some of his fellow activists would call Schenkel to see if he could provide refreshments for community events. "We would call, and we didn't know if we would get it--some type of juice and drinks," Lipscomb says. "And my church--I don't think there's a black church [he won't help]...He will provide. For a cause."
Some 20 years later, Lovie still calls Schenkel for her church. "During vacation Bible school, he funds our drinks," Mrs. Lipscomb told me last week. "He's been a very, very, very true friend. Anything he could help you with, he would give you a hand. He's really just a loving-type person. He does things for you to make you feel good."
Like buying you a pickup truck.
"Mr. Schenkel helped me buy a truck for my produce," Lipscomb reminisces. "I was selling [fruit] in my front yard. I had too much traffic. I was. I was violating [city ordinances]." Lipscomb had to find some way to haul his fruit.
"Mr. Schenkel helped me," says Lipscomb. "It was a Chevrolet. Used. $800. I kept that truck for close to two years. But it was a lifesaver."
While Schenkel agrees that he is quick to supply the Lipscombs with refreshments for their church--or even pick up a lunch tab for Lovie and her friends--as far as the truck is concerned, "Boy, I sure don't recall that."
Schenkel was helpful in another Lipscomb predicament involving a motor vehicle--specifically a Mercury Marquis Lipscomb bought from W.O. Bankston and then stopped paying on, causing it to be repossessed three years later. Truth be told, Lipscomb says, it would have been repossessed a lot earlier if he hadn't been so determined to fend off the repo men. Night after night, he says, knowing they were going to come for the car, he'd sit up, curtains parted a crack, watching for them.
"I remember one night they walked down the street," Lipscomb says. "And then they walked back--and I knew they weren't from the neighborhood--and then up the street a ways was the wrecker. And they went back and got the wrecker. And I had my pistol in my pocket. I walked off the porch, and I had it, and I made sure they saw it. And they cut out."
The dealership was clearly not amused by this gun-toting, car-welshing, two-term city councilman. "Mr. Schenkel called me about that," Lipscomb says. "I'm sure [the repo men] called Mr. Bankston, and he called Mr. Schenkel. He said, 'Be careful with the pistol.'"
Finally, though, the repo men made another attempt and, as luck would have it--especially for the repo men--Lipscomb had dozed off at the window and missed the action.
But Schenkel's help didn't end with advising his gun-toting friend to stay out of the penitentiary. He helped Lipscomb avoid a hefty civil judgment. After the Mercury was repossessed, Bankston paid off the bank note and resold the car but lost $3,828 on the deal. They sued Lipscomb.
But instead of going to trial in November 1988, Bankston filed a motion to dismiss the case. Asked why the suit went away, Lipscomb answers: "I think because Mr. Schenkel interfered." Schenkel confirms that he did talk to Bankston, who was a friend.
Mr. Schenkel "interfered" again in a life-and-death way when Lipscomb came down in the late '80s with a bronchial infection that was aggravated by lung-scarring left from an old bout with tuberculosis. "I remember I saw them all over the room looking at me--my wife, my daughters, some of them were all crying," says Lipscomb. "I guess they thought I was dying. I couldn't say a goddamn word. I couldn't breathe, and I had all these tubes up my nose and down my throat. And then this Jewish specialist--this man--this man came in...and he gave me a shot, some kind of inhalant, and it was like a great weight lifted off my chest. Thank you, Jesus."
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.
"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."
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.
"Oooh, Lord, come to think of it, I've got an appointment with Mr. Erle Nye on Tuesday," Lipscomb says, referring to the president of Texas Utilities, which had been doing a nice little business with Lipscomb Industries until last July when Lipscomb and Hoffman stopped paying the supplier who was making the antifreeze that TU was buying.
Lipscomb was planning to explain to Nye how he'd been duped by his partner--taken advantage of, robbed blind. And then, Lipscomb hoped, Nye would be more than happy to come back as a customer.
"But that's just the beginning," Lipscomb tells me, his mobile phone crackling with static as the councilman pulls up to some downtown party he'd been invited to. "We're going to call everybody. You'll see.