By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
That's the point. The gifts weren't gifts. They were bribes. These were 30 pieces of silver.
Because the government concentrated on the cash Lipscomb took from Yellow Cab, the case against him never really got to the litany of additional instances Laura Miller had cataloged in her May 30, 1996, cover story for the Observer, "Clueless: For city Councilman Al Lipscomb, taking handouts from power brokers has become a way of life." That one story was the road map for the government's case against Lipscomb.
In it, Miller, who is now mayor of Dallas, presented a laundry list of instances in which powerful white interests--from The Dallas Morning News to Lone Star Gas--loaned Lipscomb money, did favors for his business ventures and then eventually called the notes due by asking for his vote on key issues. Lipscomb always pushed the green button and paid off. He was clearly wounded later when he went off the council and some of the same interests stopped taking his calls.
If anything, there was a note of empathy in Miller's story--even in the headline. It was obvious Lipscomb didn't understand what was wrong with taking money from rich white people and then voting against the interests of black people. And I think it was obvious, in re-reading the piece this many years later, that Miller felt sorry for him on that account. Southern Dallas leaders still castigate Miller for writing that piece. I don't quite get why she isn't their hero for that one.
The immediate parallel here is with the process at the center of the FBI probe. The FBI has been scooping up documents and stuffing microphones in people's pockets in what looks like a massive bribery and corruption probe centered on Dallas' black leadership. The key element is the procedure by which real estate developers seek state funding in the tens of millions of dollars for subsidized apartment developments.
African-American council members Don Hill and James Fantroy had opposed additional projects of this kind for southern Dallas. They were hearing pleas from stable and striving neighborhoods that southern Dallas was already burdened with all the subsidized housing it could handle.
But they changed their minds. They began giving a thumbs-up to certain projects. The question the FBI is trying to sort out is whether the security guard and cement contracts the developers gave to the councilmen and their friends amounted to a tit-for-tat.
I had lunch last week with Roy Williams and Marvin Crenshaw, plaintiffs in Williams vs. City of Dallas, the 1988 federal civil rights case that produced the current system of city government in Dallas. They say black representatives on the council now have little connection to or even knowledge of the struggles of the past.
Crenshaw and Williams also reminded me of another factor: The FBI also appears to be looking into $50,000 that disappeared from a fund associated with Paul Quinn College shortly before Councilman Fantroy was forced out as treasurer of the fund.
"If there's anything to that," Williams said, "it's going to be very bad, because it's taking money from a struggling black institution."
The Crenshaw and Williams lawsuit brought us the 14-1 single-member council system, in which the city is subdivided into 14 theoretically equal or at least similar council districts and one at-large district for the mayor. That should give us an approximate population of about 78,000 souls per district.
Without getting into too much detail about how many people are registered to vote and why, I'd like to point out that in the May 7, 2005, election and June 4 run-off, council member Hill was elected by 2.8 percent of the people over whom he now rules. Fantroy was elected by 1.7 percent. And that's about how these elections tend to go citywide.
The old culture, black and white, has produced numbing voter apathy, one of the worst crime rates in the nation, a badly neglected infrastructure and, even worse, a growing despair of the future deep in the heart of the city.
And yet the answer is so simple. Burn down the plantation. Pay the city council members $120,000 a year. Get real people on the council. Put a real mayor in charge with a strong-mayor reform. Throw open the windows and start fresh.