Saint Al

Will he die in prison for the sins of the plantation?

The wealthy white people who have helped Lipscomb and some of the other black activists over the years always say that they never expected or asked for a return on their generosity. But never is a big word, and control is the ability to call a favor when you really need one.

Pete Schenkel, the Schepps Dairy CEO who sent boxes of groceries to Al Lipscomb's wife's social functions, is painted by his friends, including people in the black community like Peter Johnson, as having acted out of compassion. Of course, Lipscomb himself told the Observer in 1996 that there were many major political issues over the years on which Schenkel had either persuaded or just plain ordered Lipscomb to change his voting position on the council.

One was Lipscomb's resistance to the mayoral candidacy of Republican congressman Steve Bartlett. On that one, Lipscomb professed to have been genuinely won over by Bartlett himself.

The second, however, had to do with Lipscomb's part in a broad-based assault by the city's black leadership on former school board president Sandy Kress. Lipscomb told the Observer Schenkel had essentially ordered him to apologize to Kress in Schenkel's office. So Lipscomb did as he was bid, enraging many other black leaders with whom he broke ranks in order to keep Schenkel happy.

A widely circulated conspiracy theory in the black community today has it that Lipscomb's current problems stem from a later second verbal assault Lipscomb made on Kress, calling for his resignation over remarks Kress was believed to have made on the infamous "Peavy tapes."

The theory revolves around the fact that Kress and U.S. Attorney Coggins both used to work at the old Johnson and Gibbs law firm. But in fact they worked there at different times and in totally different parts of the firm.

The point, according to people familiar with city council politics, is that anyone who could yank Lipscomb around so effectively on really big issues was certainly able to do it on "small" things--zoning questions, contracts, appointments to key boards and commissions, the myriad of low-visibility, high-dollar issues that ordinary voters don't even know about.

"Two or three people sit around a very small table at the Dallas Country Club," says Jim Buerger, former councilman from Oak Cliff and a successful publishing entrepreneur. "One of them says, 'I've got three votes.' Another one says, 'I've got four votes.'

"That's control."
Referring to the late Jack Evans, CEO of the Cullum grocery company, Buerger says, "Jack Evans had three votes. Al Lipscomb, Max Wells, and John Evans. You only need six on an 11-member council. On other issues, Schenkel was the one who ran Al.

"In fact, the only ones they couldn't deliver were Jerry Bartos or [Oak Cliff anesthesiologist] Charles Tandy or Jim Buerger. So we were the ones they wanted off there."

Former Councilman Jerry Bartos, an entrepreneur in the air-conditioning business, confirmed a story about himself, Lipscomb, and Schenkel. He says it was true that Lipscomb, long a supporter of Bartos' position against the Wright amendment at Love Field, came to Bartos and told him sadly that he was going to have to change his vote on orders from Schenkel.

"I called Pete and asked him to let Al keep his vote," Bartos says. "He said OK, for me he would."

Schenkel told the Observer he does not remember the incident.
Former Mayor Annette Strauss, who has admitted giving small cash gifts and loans to activists in the black community on several occasions, insists that she did it because "I'm a soft touch. They would come to me with their problems, and I would write a check. It meant nothing to me financially, and they were in need. It was probably bad judgment on my part, but I did it from compassion, and I never expected anything in return."

But in the course of the 14-1 city council lawsuit, Marvin Crenshaw testified under oath that Strauss had button-holed him in the parking garage of City Hall and insisted that he get out of the 1987 mayoral race in return for money she had given him in the past.

"So she said, 'You know, I thought you were my friend,'" Crenshaw testified. "I said, 'What are you talking about?' She said, 'Didn't I let you have the money to go to school?' I said, 'You sure did.' She said, 'Why are you going to do me like that...Why are you going to run against me?'

"I said, 'Look, Mayor Strauss, I don't know what you do to other people whom you say you're going to help, but just because you let me have two or three hundred dollars to go to school does not mean you control me. I am not your slave, and don't ever say anything like that to me again."

But that was not the end of it, according to Crenshaw's testimony. He said Strauss approached him again days later on the fifth floor of City Hall and handed him a note saying, "Call this number."

Crenshaw said under oath he called the number and ended up meeting with a white Democratic activist, who offered him $5,000 to get out of the mayoral race.

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