Damaged goods

What do you get for 50 bucks a meeting? Thomas Korosec sizes up the man and woman most likely to succeed Al Lipscomb.

At the dining-room table, among a lush display of potted plants, Crenshaw talked with three potential voters about "the good book" and her sense of being divinely inspired to run for office. Eventually, she got around to the issue of Yellow Cab. "Yes," Nelson said politely. "We heard something about that."

Crenshaw spent some time presenting what essentially was Lipscomb's defense at his trial in Amarillo. She said she accepted money from Yellow Cab but had no criminal intent. What has been a bigger problem for Crenshaw in the neighborhoods, however, is the widespread perception that her cooperation with the FBI and federal prosecutors toppled her onetime mentor and helped put him where he is today. For better or worse, Crenshaw's political career has been tied to the likable waiter-turned-civil-rights-crusader.

In 1984, she ran Lipscomb's first winning campaign, helping him break through in South Oak Cliff to voters who considered him a product of South Dallas. Then, in 1993, when term limits set Lipscomb on the sideline after nine years in office, he endorsed Crenshaw over two rivals -- including Fantroy.

Long-shot candidate Ruth Steward
Long-shot candidate Ruth Steward
Long-shot candidate Ruth Steward
Long-shot candidate Ruth Steward

After she completed only one two-year term, though, Lipscomb was ready to exploit a loophole in the term-limits law and return. And Crenshaw was vulnerable.

She was criticized for her scattered style. She was caught snooping through other council members' offices, got criticized for taking frequent junkets, and was tweaked for running up big bills on her taxpayer-funded cell phone. Rumor was, she was living in her council office or in her car, though Crenshaw says she wasn't.

Lipscomb had decided more than six months before the election that he could make his return. "I'd heard rumors that he had been around the money people," she says. "It got back to me, but when I confronted him he said, 'No way, baby, I wouldn't do that...' He denied it until the day he announced."

Crenshaw broke into tears as she described the election, and dissolved in sobs four other times when discussing Lipscomb or her "political enemies," whom she says she needs to keep at a distance for fear of suffering real harm. "That's why I don't think I need to disclose things about myself," she says.

Lipscomb ended up crushing Crenshaw by more than two to one, thanks in part to more than $20,000 in unreported campaign money from Yellow Cab owner Floyd Richards. Richards, who pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiring to bribe Lipscomb, testified that he funneled the unreported money to Lipscomb because he thought he would be a more effective council member than Crenshaw.

Linda Pavlik, a Fort Worth political consultant who advised Richards on how to help put Lipscomb back in office, testified in Lipscomb's trial that Richards would call her up in the middle of the night, drunk and raving, using ugly racial epithets to describe Crenshaw and Lipscomb. "He would say he had bought and paid for them," she testified.

In an interview with the Observer, Crenshaw said she accepted car repairs and use of a truck from Richards and Yellow Cab, whose offices at the time were located a few blocks south of Dallas City Hall. Crenshaw frequented the Yellow Cab offices chiefly, she says, to dispel rumors that she was living in her office.

"Everybody knows the man [Richards] was an alcoholic. He had a bar in there. Whatever. Sometimes I'd go over there and say, 'Do you have a drink?'...I'd stop by there [after] a terrible day or whatever, and I gotta have this meeting with so and so, and so rather than go drink in public or whatever, because I'm not a drinker, sometimes I'd have very stressful days, and I'd go by there and say, 'Gimme some of that you got.'

"It was convenient before I'd go to the meeting."

Crenshaw, for whatever reason, was a vocal proponent of a Yellow Cab-backed city rule to limit the age of cabs licensed in Dallas. "We need to make sure [taxicabs] present an image that we can be proud of," she told reporters in September 1994.

The age-limit proposal Crenshaw backed and voted for fell most heavily on independent and minority-owned cab owners. And today, she continues to defend her stand.

"It wasn't Yellow Cab. It was also the hospitality business getting my ear," she says. "The opposing parties [the independent cab owners] came at me with emotion. A lot of them were West Africans and Iranians, and there was a language barrier. I suggested they hire an English-speaking lobbyist, much like what Yellow Cab had, and I promised them I'd give them equal attention."

Reporters covering the issue seemed to have no problem understanding the accented English spoken by some of the independent cab drivers. They, in turn, had no problem explaining how the new regulations threatened to destroy their livelihoods.

Crenshaw says she considered Yellow Cab a "good corporate citizen" and a "well-run company." At times, she says, Richards or other company officials would give her cash that she would use to "do my community work." Asked to be specific about which projects the company supported, she mentions soliciting donations for the Wilmer-Hutchins school district and the Junior Black Academy, and accepting the one-time use of Yellow Cab vans to drive some senior citizens home from Fort Worth after a recreational outing.

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