Al's atonement

For starters, why not help undo the crooked cab laws he helped pass?

He explains that the airport has enacted new, even more stringent age limits for cabs which will push many more independents out of business. The drivers suspect and fear that the same set of interests that bought Lipscomb's vote in order to put them out of business, forcing them to sell their cabs and go to work as drivers for the big companies, has shifted its focus to the airport board.

The drivers are not politically naive. They have figured out that Dallas operates on a racial plantation system in which they are not included.

"This is Central Queue," another driver interrupts. "This is not America."

The cab ordinances Al Lipscomb helped pass after he started taking bribes from Yellow Cab destroyed John Manning's business.
Peter Calvin
The cab ordinances Al Lipscomb helped pass after he started taking bribes from Yellow Cab destroyed John Manning's business.

That evening by telephone I reach the president of the Association of United Taxicab Operators, Tunde Obazee, a Nigerian immigrant. Obazee argues that the best evidence of ongoing corruption at City Hall has been the city council's failure to react to the testimony at the Lipscomb trial about cab regulations. "The code of silence and the code of cooperation behind the [city council] horseshoe is scary," Obazee tells me.

This isn't about history, Obazee says: It's about what's still happening today.

The new rules promulgated by the airport, he says, as well as harassment of drivers by police, amount to what he calls "a program of economic sabotage." This week's strike action by drivers against the airport has to do with this same set of issues. At bottom, it's all about the absolute certainty of the independent drivers that the new rules are part of a crooked bribe-paying scheme to push them out of business so someone higher in the plantation food chain can make more money.

Is this the part where we laugh at them again? Aren't we supposed to say, "Oh, no, not here. Not in squeaky-clean Dallas?"

Obazee understands exactly how the Dallas plantation mentality works.

Before we hang up, he says, "Al Lipscomb wrestled the white man to the ground and took the whip from him, so that he could pick it up, turn on me, and say, 'Get out of here!'"

But wait: Don't get the idea that this is all about foreign-born cab drivers versus American-born, especially African-American-born. You think that? Get in the car. Now we're going to drive back down to Dallas, to Oak Cliff, where we will have a cappuccino with John Manning at the Starbucks in the new Albertson's on West Jefferson at Hampton.

John Manning is an African-American cab driver, originally from Kansas, who recently filed suit against Floyd Richards based on Richards' testimony in the Lipscomb trial. The theory of the lawsuit is that Richards, by bribing Lipscomb, conspired to ruin the business Manning had launched in 1992.

"I bought four cabs in 1992," Manning tells me. "I bought a 1988, two 1989s and a 1992."

By leasing the cabs to other drivers, maintaining them, paying a "stand fee" to a cab company for a radio hook-up, and paying for insurance, Manning should have been able to make a profit of $200 a week per cab.

But his cabs had been in operation only six months when the council passed the age-limit rule. Manning had to sell all but the 1992, which he then had to drive himself in order to make money. Manning, who had worked as an economist in East Africa for 15 years before coming to Dallas, went from businessman to cab driver in one vote of the city council.

Lipscomb's role was especially insidious, according to the witnesses at his trial, because Lipscomb had used the race card initially to scare the council out of passing the new regulations. By buying Lipscomb, Richards bought the race card.

"I think Al Lipscomb sold the cab drivers out for a fee of about 50 cents a month each," Manning says. "I'm sorry to say this, because I like Al, but he sold us cheap to a plantation owner, because now all of the cab companies in Dallas are operating like a plantation."

Later, Manning's lawyer, Stephen R. Goetzmann of Dallas, explains to me why Manning is suing Richards but not Lipscomb or the city. Richards is "recoverable." He has pockets. "Unfortunately, it's pretty difficult to sue the city," Goetzmann says.

But guess what happens before Manning and I leave the Albertson's Starbucks in Oak Cliff? Who should walk up, hand out to say hello, big smile, kid in the shopping cart, but Oak Cliff city council member Laura Miller?

I introduce Manning. He is polite at first. Then, smiling, he asks Miller, "Miss Miller, did you get some of that money Floyd Richards paid to Al Lipscomb?"

Miller smiles right back in his face, says no, asks him why.

"I wonder," Manning says, "now that all of you on the city council know the cab laws Al got passed were crooked, how come nobody is talking about changing them?"

Miller says she thinks that's an item the council should take up.

If it does, and if federal law enforcement pursues the trail of cab and shuttle money in local and state politics, let's see how much help they all get from Lipscomb.

People say Lipscomb, who is old and sick, may die soon. If he fails to help clean up cab corruption at all levels of government before he dies, he dies dirty.

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