Saint Al

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

There are a number of side issues in the war that have received scant to no reporting in the major local media, including allegations of substantial corruption at DART in the Handi-Ride program for the disabled--an area the FBI is looking at.

In addition, looming in the background of the taxi war are allegations of major international money laundering that don't involve Lipscomb. The feds appear to have seriously fumbled some of that investigation, having lost track of at least one important suspect.

In an area that appears to be unrelated to the taxi wars, there have been complaints behind the scenes for some years now by nervous bankers who feel they are being extorted for so-called community reinvestment money. The allegations of wrongdoing, which may or may not have any basis in fact, are that people in the minority community are personally profiteering from the federally mandated community reinvestment program. Under federal banking law, banks are required to put a certain amount of loan money out in red-lined areas.

Sources familiar with what the FBI is asking say agents have been looking for general evidence of bank extortion for more than a year. The questions being asked don't seem to involve Lipscomb, but they do involve people who have been closely associated with him. The bankers, according to the sources, are nervous about not wanting to admit they have paid anybody off but are even more nervous about not wanting to keep paying.

A number of people close to the investigation suggest there are serious efforts under way to fashion a deal that will keep Al Lipscomb out of jail in his old age and get Sandra Crenshaw and Don Hicks--both linked tangentially to the taxi wars--out of the FBI's headlights.

A recent rally at City Hall in which almost every major black leader in the city showed support for Lipscomb, including the mayor in absentia, was supposed to have been followed by a march on the federal building. Frantic last-minute calls by people negotiating for Lipscomb persuaded organizers of the march to call it off, for fear a demonstration might make the feds mad and scotch any deals.

Several people who described possible deals mentioned the same basic elements: 1. Al, who is in quite bad health, leaves public office; 2. Al rolls over on somebody big enough to give the feds some credibility; 3. Al takes a credibility hit of his own--a pinioning of his political wings, so to speak, to ensure that, in his remaining years, he won't try to fly again.

One person who has been interviewed by the FBI--an ardent Lipscomb supporter--says he thinks the last element is the most important. "Whatever happens, if he is indicted or not, something will come out showing that he has betrayed the community in a major way. That's to take the edge off his support."

Lipscomb, said to be terrified of dying in prison, may agree to it all.
It's the last element--the need to make the community stop loving him--that probably says the most about Dallas. The source of his power and the one thing a city obsessed with control has never been able to contain is love.

All of the broad spectrum of people from the black community who spoke to the Observer, and some whites, mentioned Lipscomb's belovedness almost before anything else.

Some of it may be guilt from a black community that knows in its heart this old man would never have come to such a pass had the community supported him. Some of it expresses a belief that Al Lipscomb could never in his best dreams be as corrupt as white Dallas, and therefore he should not have to pay alone for the sins of the whole plantation.

Some of it is hypocrisy. A source close to the investigation told the Observer that a few of the black leaders who expressed support for Lipscomb at the recent City Hall rally are already beating a back-corridor path to Coggins to tell him they didn't really mean it.

But obviously the outpouring of feeling for Lipscomb is also in some measure an expression of deep, simple love and admiration.

Asked to explain it, Janice Winkley Gore thought for a while and then said, "He just deserves our love. It's hard to be a stand-up guy in a sit-down community."

I had the privilege once, years ago, of watching Councilman Lipscomb work a huge room of people in which I was the only white face. I think he puts on a certain amount of posture around whites--funny, angry, charming, but always a little stagy. That's why some white people take him for a clown.

In this setting, he was just there. There was no armor. He seemed physically enormous, looming over the crowd like a Colossus. He was elegant, graceful in every movement and gesture. And he was emotionally grand, powerful, commanding in a way that seemed to make people sit, grow quiet, and bask in his warmth.

He had that special stuff. I watched him and thought to myself, "Different time, different place, different deal: This would be an LBJ."

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