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"She had like 18 references of community leaders, past chairs and elected officials," Callejo says. "How can they argue with the kind of support this woman has? How can anybody argue with that?"
Reyes does indeed have an impressive list of references, including business powerhouses like TXU Chairman Erle Nye, attorney Marcos Ronquillo, state Representative Domingo Garcia and five sitting Dallas City Council members. But Moreno was not impressed by all the names. Because the full details of the background check were not disclosed to the board, Moreno says she took it upon herself to conduct her own search into Reyes' past.
What she discovered only made matters worse.
A transplant from New Orleans, Reyes suddenly appeared on the Dallas political scene in 1997 as a candidate for the city council seat then occupied by Chris Luna. The owner of a tiny computer business, Reyes was a surprise because she was a political unknown who, seemingly overnight, had secured the backing of the city's all-powerful white business establishment, led by the likes of TXU's Nye, as well as some traditional Hispanic powers, including Callejo.
Looking back on the race, Callejo recalls how stunned she was when John Loza, who had lost an earlier election against Luna, tossed his hat in the ring at the last minute.
"When John ran the first time against Chris Luna, I went to him and told him I could not support him because I was committed to Chris Luna. I said to him, 'Look, we have such a small pool of candidates.' I said, 'When Chris steps down, if you decide to run, you call me and I will support you,'" Callejo says. "Then the next election came about. Nobody was saying they were going to run. Some of us had to practically twist Brenda's arm to get her to run."
When Loza announced his campaign he did not call Callejo. Shocked, Callejo says she called Loza.
"I told John, I said, 'Why didn't you call me? You remember my conversation with you?'" Callejo says, adding, "If we had known John was going to run, Brenda would not have run."
Reyes' campaign, which outspent Loza's grassroots effort by a 3-to-1 margin, began to implode when Reyes failed to answer questions about whether she was, as city rules require, a legal resident of District 2. As the Observer reported, the Deep Ellum apartment Reyes claimed she was living in hadn't been built in time for her to meet the residency requirements. (Indeed, the out-of-district house Reyes appeared to be living in then is the same place she calls home today.)
The controversy grew when the company Reyes owned, Innovative Computer Group, abruptly appeared on the city council's agenda for approval as the recipient of a $1.2 million contract to install and maintain a computer system for the city's building inspection department. The contract, which was awarded to Reyes after the election, was a problem at the time because city council members are prohibited from doing business with the city. Meanwhile, the council race began to resemble an episode of COPS, complete with police officers sorting out fights between opposing campaign workers who had resorted to attacking each other with yard signs and pepper spray.
By the time it was over, both Loza and Reyes would be the subject of criminal inquiries involving complaints that they misrepresented their residencies. Nothing came of the investigations, but the election went down as one of the most contentious and, to some, potentially promising local council races in recent memory: For the first time, an outsider had beaten the candidate handpicked by the city's power elite. In other words, Loza's win was viewed as a signal that the city's traditional powers, both Anglo and Hispanic, might be giving way to a new independent generation.
Perhaps that's why a round of snickers went up late last year when Loza nominated Reyes for the DART board during a meeting of the city's transportation committee. "We were all just smiling at the fact that he gave her a ringing endorsement after that brutal campaign," recalls former councilwoman Donna Blumer.
Loza, however, says there's no political significance to his newfound alliance with Reyes or, for that matter, Callejo, whom he says he made "amends" with long ago. Although he confirms that Callejo did "approach" him to discuss Reyes for the job, he says he decided to nominate her because she was the right person for the job.
"I was looking for someone who was gonna be aggressive in representing the community, and I was looking for a woman, quite frankly," Loza says. "I know she's had experience dealing with government entities before from the perspective of the small-business owner, so I thought that experience would be good when she's advocating for Hispanic businesses on the DART board."
Reyes does indeed have business experience with government entities, most notably the city of Dallas. However, when Loza brought Reyes' name for the DART position to the full city council for approval in December, he didn't mention that Reyes had sued the city in 1998 after city staff terminated her from the contract she had been awarded shortly after her failed 1997 council race. In fact, a year earlier, the same city council approved a settlement agreement in which the city paid Reyes $35,000.