Gilbert Aranza darts down two flights of stairs from the offices of Star Concessions Ltd. into Dallas Love Field Airport's main lobby. "It's my daily exercise," the 57-year-old explains as he shoots by an elevator on the third floor and then skips an escalator ride on the second, "and a way to keep my eyes on employees."

Aranza, the grandson of Mexican immigrants, has reason to hustle. He oversees 200 employees (of which 90 percent are minorities or women) and 10 eateries dishing food to hurried travelers passing through Love Field on their way out of town—folks like the man wearing boots and a cowboy hat who hoists a guitar over the railing of Chili's Too before he sits down and orders a burger and beer. Aranza expanded the Chili's to accommodate travelers' growing desire for sit-down meals, and he seems to have landed a happy customer in the cowboy. The man huffs out a great sigh after his first sip of beer, while nearby, a young woman drops a large duffle bag on the floor to put cream in her coffee at Cinnabon.

Star's the franchisee for both these food stops, and the money his hungry customers shell out feeds both Aranza's and the airport's bottom lines. Because Aranza pays rent based on a percentage of his sales, the better his business, the more money flows to keep Love Field running smoothly.

Gilbert Aranza thought he had a contract extension in place to provide food and beverage concessions at Dallas Love Field Airport until Mayor Tom Leppert decided that he wanted the contract put out for bids.
BrandonThibodeaux
Gilbert Aranza thought he had a contract extension in place to provide food and beverage concessions at Dallas Love Field Airport until Mayor Tom Leppert decided that he wanted the contract put out for bids.
Aranza examines his wall of rejected proposals from other cities, some of which he claims are proof that the bidding process isn’t always fair.
BrandonThibodeaux
Aranza examines his wall of rejected proposals from other cities, some of which he claims are proof that the bidding process isn’t always fair.
At the final Love Field Concessions Committee meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway prompts city staff and consultants to reaffirm their position that extending the contracts is in the city’s best interests. Ron Natinsky reads a letter sent to Mayor Tom Leppert from a company claiming that the best locations have been given to the current concessionaires. Vonciel Hill disagrees with Leppert’s argument that 9/11 was not a hardship for the concessionaires: “Anyone who makes that assumption is clearly not in tune with what happened nationally.”
BrandonThibodeaux
At the final Love Field Concessions Committee meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway prompts city staff and consultants to reaffirm their position that extending the contracts is in the city’s best interests. Ron Natinsky reads a letter sent to Mayor Tom Leppert from a company claiming that the best locations have been given to the current concessionaires. Vonciel Hill disagrees with Leppert’s argument that 9/11 was not a hardship for the concessionaires: “Anyone who makes that assumption is clearly not in tune with what happened nationally.”
At the final Love Field Concessions Committee meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway prompts city staff and consultants to reaffirm their position that extending the contracts is in the city’s best interests. Ron Natinsky reads a letter sent to Mayor Tom Leppert from a company claiming that the best locations have been given to the current concessionaires. Vonciel Hill disagrees with Leppert’s argument that 9/11 was not a hardship for the concessionaires: “Anyone who makes that assumption is clearly not in tune with what happened nationally.”
BrandonThibodeaux
At the final Love Field Concessions Committee meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway prompts city staff and consultants to reaffirm their position that extending the contracts is in the city’s best interests. Ron Natinsky reads a letter sent to Mayor Tom Leppert from a company claiming that the best locations have been given to the current concessionaires. Vonciel Hill disagrees with Leppert’s argument that 9/11 was not a hardship for the concessionaires: “Anyone who makes that assumption is clearly not in tune with what happened nationally.”
At the final Love Field Concessions Committee meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway prompts city staff and consultants to reaffirm their position that extending the contracts is in the city’s best interests. Ron Natinsky reads a letter sent to Mayor Tom Leppert from a company claiming that the best locations have been given to the current concessionaires. Vonciel Hill disagrees with Leppert’s argument that 9/11 was not a hardship for the concessionaires: “Anyone who makes that assumption is clearly not in tune with what happened nationally.”
BrandonThibodeaux
At the final Love Field Concessions Committee meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway prompts city staff and consultants to reaffirm their position that extending the contracts is in the city’s best interests. Ron Natinsky reads a letter sent to Mayor Tom Leppert from a company claiming that the best locations have been given to the current concessionaires. Vonciel Hill disagrees with Leppert’s argument that 9/11 was not a hardship for the concessionaires: “Anyone who makes that assumption is clearly not in tune with what happened nationally.”
Gilbert Aranza interacts with one of his 200 employees at Dallas Love Field Airport. Ninety percent of his staff are minorities or women.
BrandonThibodeaux
Gilbert Aranza interacts with one of his 200 employees at Dallas Love Field Airport. Ninety percent of his staff are minorities or women.

Business at Love these days is booming, but that wasn't always the case.

As Aranza disappears into a sea of potential customers, it's hard to imagine that this busy airport was once so moribund that the city tried to turn it into a kind of amusement park with wings. In 1975, the city leased space to an ice rink, video arcade, bowling alley, roller rink and movie theaters to fill the void left by air carriers that had bolted a year earlier for the recently completed Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Southwest Airlines was alone in fighting to remain at Love Field, and its successful effort allowed the airport to avoid a fate as the Llove Entertainment Complex, which closed in 1978. Now arguably the airline industry's most profitable carrier with 37 consecutive years in the black, Southwest is primed to reap the benefits of the $519 million airport facelift scheduled for completion in October 2014. That's also when the Wright Amendment—federal legislation passed in 1979 that restricted flights from Love Field to states other than those bordering Texas—will be fully phased out.

Bustling today, Love Field is set to explode in the years ahead, with the number of passengers passing through annually expected to double from 4 million to 8 million by 2021. Aranza, whose award-winning Star Concessions has operated the food businesses at Love since 1996, weathered the travel bust after 9/11 and brought in national chain restaurants to improve the quality of food. Now, he thinks he's earned the right to benefit from the coming explosion. And because he's operating during the construction period, which includes tearing down the current terminal and erecting a state-of-the-art replacement in phases, Aranza says an extension on his lease with the city will allow him to recoup any losses.

For a while, after nearly three years of negotiations and debate through its Transportation and Environment Committee, the Dallas City Council seemed to agree. By a 10-0 vote on February 22, the committee recommended extending Aranza's contract, which expires in June 2011, through the construction period in 2014 and then added another 12 years with one three-year option. Hudson Group, which operates the airport's retail concessions, would receive the same deal.

Unfortunately for Aranza, Mayor Tom Leppert had other ideas. On March 3 he asked city staff, who had backed the extensions, to appear before the full council and explain why the contracts weren't put out for competitive bids.

The Dallas Morning News jumped in with a series of stories leading up to the scheduled April 28 vote by the full council. The stories criticized the no-bid process and repeatedly mentioned Aranza's campaign contributions to council members and his tenure as a director of the Dallas Citizens Council, a powerful consortium made up mostly of white businessmen.

The paper also questioned whether the city was getting the best deal it could with Hudson, another company wired politically and supported by some on the council because it's 40 percent minority-owned. Multiplex, a company owned by state Representative Helen Giddings, has a 25 percent stake in the newsstands and sunglasses stores at Love through a local joint venture with Hudson, one of the country's most well-known airport concessionaires. A blind trust that controls U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson's assets owns 15 percent. Giddings and Johnson, who are black, became part of Hudson Retail Dallas six years after Hudson's initial contract was unanimously approved by the council. Giddings refused to comment for this story other than stating that she started her business in 1989—three years before her election to the Texas House. Dena Craig, a spokesperson for Johnson, says Johnson has no information about the concessions at Love Field because she has no control over the trust.

Leppert's efforts and the onslaught of bad press surrounding the contracts caused the council to delay its April 28 vote and form an ad hoc committee to evaluate the issue, but after three committee meetings, the city council appears deadlocked. In fact, the two-hour sessions only strengthened the resolve of both Leppert, who says it's the city's duty to seek bids on contracts this large, and the council's black and Latino members, who maintain that the concessionaires should be compensated for their losses stemming from the post-9/11 travel slowdown and the additional costs associated with operating during construction.

Despite full endorsements from city staff and its consultant, Unison Consulting, Leppert has campaigned to shoot down the contracts at the upcoming June 23 council meeting and initiate the bidding process. Suddenly, what seemed like a sweet and straightforward deal has split the council 7-7 along its usual fault lines over questions of race, of profit and of who's greasing whom in the backroom. Rarely in his tenure as mayor has Leppert had to fight this hard to secure a council majority, and ironically, the swing vote appears to belong to Angela Hunt, the frequent lone wolf on the council opposite Leppert. Just back from maternity leave, during which she missed much of the action, Hunt is suddenly like the unpopular kid whose parents just installed the only swimming pool in the neighborhood.

"Even when I was dating Paul, I was never courted like this," Hunt says, referring to her husband.

The mayor has focused his message on transparency and obtaining the best deal for the city, but lost in the sound bites on this topic is Love Field's status as a city-owned, self-sustaining, federally obligated entity, which means any revenue it generates must be spent for the capital or operating costs at the airport. Despite the city's $130 million budget shortfall, not one dime in revenue from Love Field can be spent on paying a police officer's salary, fixing a pothole or keeping a rec center open.

"I think it's in the back of most people's minds that the airport is profitable," says Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway. "It's making money, and I think that some folks may look at it and say, 'If it ain't broke, why fix it?'"

Star's and Hudson's contracts cover roughly 54 percent of the total square footage allotted for concessions at the new terminal, with the remaining 46 percent scheduled to go out for bids later this year. The details of the bidding process are unknown at this point. The city can customize the request for proposals as it sees fit, giving certain weight to experience, rent terms, proposed capital investments or other points.

Leppert has been criticized by his opponents for his sudden stand as a staunch opponent of no-bid contracts. Aranza and some minority council members point to his November 2007 vote as a member of the D/FW Airport board in favor of three contracts awarded to Pappadeux (seafood) and Pappasito's (Tex-Mex) that weren't put out for bids. The total square footage of those deals amounts to more than 65 percent of the space that Aranza would be awarded at Love Field.

Aranza claims Leppert is targeting the contracts at Love Field to appear as a champion for open government and polish his résumé for a run for U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison's seat in the 2012 GOP primary. He also claims Leppert's seeking payback after Aranza lobbied council members to appoint Forrest Smith to the D/FW board in 2008. Smith, who's white but is known as a minority advocate, replaced former board member Jan Collmer in a contentious 9-6 vote, with Leppert finding himself on the losing side for one of the rare times in his administration. Aranza, who also operates several concessions with a total of 370 employees at D/FW, spoke in favor of Smith at the March 5 council meeting.

While Leppert's interest in the Senate is well documented and he says he'll make a decision about running for a second term as mayor by the end of the year, he stresses that he's been consistent since taking office as mayor. And he laughs off the allegations about Smith's appointment, calling them "ridiculous."

Some minority council members and Aranza also question the role of Willis Johnson, the mayor's top minority consultant. Johnson is registered as a lobbyist for Concessions International, an Atlanta-based food and beverage concessions company. The lobbyist registration form Johnson filed with the city states that he's lobbying for concessions at D/FW, and both he and a representative at Concessions International claimed on the Dallas Observer's blog Unfair Park that the company has no interest in the concessions at Love Field, which will double in square footage as a result of the new terminal. However, Concessions International was an 80 percent partner in a joint venture that was among the three bidders that lost to Aranza for the 1996 contract at Love Field.

Leppert maintains that he was unaware of Willis Johnson's connection to the concession company until it came to light in the media and says his relationship with Johnson is no different than Aranza's close associations with council members. Johnson did not respond to interview requests.

Back at the airport, Aranza strolls past the ticket check-in areas for the facility's lesser-known air carriers—Continental and Delta airlines—and heads outside. Two excavators are demolishing a cargo building while a McDonald's employee passes by with a metal cart containing soft drinks.

"The mayor is wrong when he says there's not going to be any change in what's going on in my operations," Aranza says, referring to Leppert's attempts to minimize the financial impact of construction.

Aranza points several hundred yards down the road where his commissary has been relocated. Supplies are no longer easily transferred from the second floor of the lobby—just one of the many inconveniences that affect Aranza's bottom line.

"And what if someone gets hurt out here? That costs money too," Aranza says. "The mayor, as smart as he is, as many construction projects as he's done, he's wrong about his assumptions about this business."

Two steps at a time, Aranza rushes back upstairs. Settling in his office for an interview, he's hit with the million-dollar question: If he's truly the best choice as the food and beverage operator for about half of the space at Love Field, why not prove it in the bidding process?

His short answer: "I'm not trying to impugn city staff, but the process isn't always fair."

Aranza opens the door to a conference room where several bookcases are filled with dozens of binders containing his company's bid proposals for airports and other venues across the country—each one cost him somewhere around $100,000 to put together.

Here comes the long answer.

Snickering as he grabs his 1997 proposal for Little Rock National Airport, he says, "Somebody at the Little Rock newspaper saw what was happening. They saw that staff picked me, and then they saw politics get involved."

Sure enough, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette printed a June 22, 1997, editorial questioning the airport commission's selection of Host Marriott (now HMSHost), which Aranza replaced at Love Field, as opposed to Aranza, who had been the choice of the airport manager and its consultant.

He also targeted Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in '97, even securing famed former University of Texas running back Earl Campbell as a partner. After their presentation, which included brands such as Chili's, Whataburger and Whole Foods, Aranza says there were no questions from anyone after a "punch to the gut" from a city staffer who, Aranza claims, said, "I don't like Whataburger, and I like Texas Tech."

Aranza apparently couldn't catch a break in '97. He claims favoritism cost him a contract at Southwest Florida International Airport after receiving a perfect score in the bidding process, and he also lost a proposal that year at Tucson International Airport. "It irks me the most because I got called the night before saying they were going to award it to me," he says.

Despite his belief that the bidding process isn't always fair, Aranza agrees that he's lost bids legitimately and doesn't have hard-luck stories for most of the binders on his wall. The 2003 proposal for Tulsa International Airport with former University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer as his pitchman? "I don't know what happened," Aranza says. "I have no insight."

But he contends that the notion he should bid for space he has occupied and has improved is like suggesting NorthPark Center should request bids for the space filled by Neiman Marcus. "What it comes down to is, would you get rid of a good tenant?"

Before Aranza wrestled the food and beverage contract from heavyweight HMSHost and opened chains like Chili's Too and Pizza Hut at Love Field in 1996, the food options were entirely non-branded. The contract had been in the same hands for 37 years, although HMSHost purchased the original concessionaire, Dobbs House, in 1992. Aranza claims there were numerous complaints about horrible service, filthy environment and exorbitant prices.

By bringing in national brands, slashing prices and focusing on customer service, Aranza says he was able to increase revenues by 150 percent with the same passenger base. Love Field was named the top small airport for customer satisfaction in 2006 and 2008 by J.D. Power and Associates and was recognized in 2009 by Airport Revenue News as having the best customer service among small airports.

"He's a smart guy who created a company that's wholly minority owned, and he's able to compete on a level that normally you don't see minorities competing in," says council member Steve Salazar. "And he's been very consistent throughout the years."

Aranza's path from the poor son of a World War II veteran to Harvard-educated lawyer to concessionaire began in an unincorporated part of Houston, just south of George Bush Intercontinental Airport near Aldine, which he refers to as "prairie land."

Aranza's father suffered nerve damage to his knees and wrist in northern France six days after D-Day, limiting his ability to obtain a job when he came home. Aranza and his five siblings bathed outside and used an outhouse, and his mother supported them by cleaning houses and making clothes during his father's 21 years of unemployment until he finally received full disability benefits in 1965.

"We were poor but relatively happy," Aranza says.

He nabbed his first job in the summer of 1969 following his sophomore year in high school, lugging shingles up and down a ladder for a roofing company. He held the job less than a month when he learned about the June 1 opening of Houston Intercontinental Airport, which would be renamed after President George H.W. Bush in 1997.

Aranza became a janitor for Dobbs House—a top concession company at the time—working the night shift and logging a staggering 100 hours per week. "I got really good at what I did—cleaning toilets, cleaning the floors," he says.

One night around 2 a.m., his boss saw him with his hands in his pockets. After Aranza assured him that he had already completed his duties for the night, his boss told him that he wouldn't be paid unless he found something to do.

"I was never not busy after that," Aranza says. "So I learned how to cook, how to bake, how to cashier, how to take orders, how to do everything at some point. I became the utility guy."

He kept the job once school started in the fall, cutting his workload to around 40 hours a week. By the time he graduated from high school, he had been invited into the National Honors Society and saved enough money to begin classes at the University of Texas at Austin, where he would earn his bachelor's degree in business administration in just 27 months.

While attending UT, Aranza again took a job with Dobbs House, this time cleaning floors at Robert Mueller Municipal Airport. A management job was offered to him as he wrapped up his degree, but Aranza had decided to become a lawyer after watching the ABC television show The Young Lawyers, which was canceled after only one season in 1970-'71.

In September 1973, Aranza was accepted to Harvard Law School, where he "fell in love with the tax code." Instead of another airport gig, he worked as an accountant and started a federal tax service with a friend.

Ten years later, Aranza went into the restaurant business with Ted Strauss, a successful businessman and widower of former Mayor Annette Strauss, and Cappy McGarr, Strauss' son-in-law and a Democratic fundraiser. Aranza knew Strauss because he worked as a tax lawyer at the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. The trio opened a chain of J. Pepe's Tex Mex Grill & Cantinas.

"He was about as good a young business man as I had ever met," Strauss says.

Aranza left the law firm in 1986 to become the city's first minority partner in another major law firm, but he took a leave of absence in 1993 after selling his stake in J. Pepe's to open several Pizza Huts in Mexico, including the world's largest. However, "the peso devalued and ruined me," he says, so he returned to Dallas and eventually combined his restaurant expertise with his experience working in the airport industry.

In addition to his interests at Love Field and D/FW, Aranza also has operated the concessions at the Dallas Convention Center since 2002. After he saw airport sales drop following 9/11, he began pursuing concessions contracts at military bases. Six years later after his request, Congress finally approved his first contract at Norfolk Naval Base, and he subsequently became a concessionaire at Fort Hood.

Aranza says he's done "all the right things" at Love Field, including investing $2.45 million into his concessions after 9/11 and submitting proposals to invest $2.8 million in February 2007 to add Starbucks and Quiznos locations and $3.25 million in March 2008 to add On the Border and Corner Bakery restaurants. His proposals also included higher rents, and all he asked for in return were shorter-term contract extensions than what are on the table now.

He claims neither proposal was given much consideration by city staff. Leppert won't address them specifically, only stating his preference to re-bid the contracts.

"The city should celebrate a black-brown business," Aranza says of his joint venture with Daron Pace, who owns a 23 percent stake of Dallas Love Field Joint Venture with two McDonald's locations while Aranza holds the remaining 77 percent. As long as he's providing a great service and the airport's not losing money, he says, he should be allowed to stick around.

Not to mention that his contract already secured 10-0 council support in February, "only to get pissed on and crapped on by the mayor because he's smarter than all of us," Aranza says.

The council's Transportation and Environment Committee in June 2007 first began tackling how best to handle the concession contracts set to expire four years later. The staff recommendation at the time was to extend both contracts for three years and then accept bids for the new terminal.

The committee didn't publicly discuss the concessions in detail again until April 2009, when the staff recommendation had changed significantly. Daniel Weber, the city's aviation director, told committee members that the incumbent concessionaires "have served Love Field well" and earned a place in the new facility. He expressed the staff's commitment to allocating comparable space in the new terminal to Star and Hudson, and said the city's consultant recommended adding a second concessionaire for both the food and retail spaces to encourage competition.

Along with extending Star's and Hudson's contracts until construction of the new terminal was finished, Weber also suggested negotiating to stretch their contracts well beyond that—12 years with a three-year option, as it turned out. When the new terminal was finished, it would roughly double the concession space at the airport, and the added space could go out for bids. But Vonciel Hill, Carolyn Davis, Pauline Medrano and Ron Natinsky questioned whether doubling the number of concessionaires was necessary.

Aranza told committee members that the plan would be "suicide for both operators" because there would be too much space, and Helen Giddings complained about the location of the spaces that she would receive in the new terminal.

"Clearly, we didn't like the RFP [request for proposals, or bidding] process," committee chair Linda Koop summarized.

On February 22, city staff presented the committee with a detailed version of what had been discussed in April 2009, including the allotment of space, lease terms and capital requirements. The consultants estimated an increase in combined gross revenue for food and retail from $22.1 million with a $3.4 million return to the city in 2008 to $57.1 million and $7.6 million in 2015. The projection included square footage phased in from the space that is set for bids later this year.

"I think this is a brilliant plan the way you set it up and put it together," said vice-chair Sheffie Kadane.

"All I can say is: Don't anybody mess this up before it gets to the council," urged Natinsky.

"Congratulations to you all," said Koop after the committee approved the item to move forward for a full council vote by a 10-0 vote. "We appreciate all of your hard work."

The 10-member committee is composed of five whites, including Koop, Natinsky and Kadane, three blacks and two Latinos. Ann Margolin, who's white and not a member of the committee, attended the meeting and did not voice opposition to the contract extension.

Things were looking rosy for Star and Hudson until Leppert, who's not a member of the transportation committee, checked in.

After hearing the same briefing in front of the full council on March 3 from assistant city manager A.C. Gonzalez, Leppert began asking questions about the contracts. Most notably, he asked Gonzalez how the city could feel comfortable that it's getting the best deal without putting the entire space out for bids. Gonzalez replied that the price for space in the contracts was the industry standard and the consultant agreed, but Leppert countered that the price should be whatever an open market would bear.

"We just don't know, because we haven't bid it out," he said, later expressing his concerns about the lack of transparency and openness.

Leppert was the only council member to comment on the briefing.

Two days before the council's April 28 meeting, The Dallas Morning News published a front-page story detailing Leppert's concerns about the no-bid contracts, and an editorial titled "Ripping off taxpayers" followed the next day, in which the paper cited the "lack of transparency and fiduciary responsibility" surrounding the contracts.

Not to be outdone, metro columnist Steve Blow penned "How ethical is our city? We may find out today" on the day of the vote and referenced the "stout political connections" of those receiving the contracts. A story was also published that day about Southwest Airlines' desire to delay the vote.

Several council members expressed their disappointment with The News at the meeting, including Vonciel Hill, who specifically addressed Blow and the editorial board. "No one can challenge my integrity or my character," she said.

Giddings claimed the paper had impugned her integrity. She also listed her contributions to the community and said some council members had contributed to tarnishing her reputation.

Council member Carolyn Davis only fueled speculation that the contracts were rewards for politicos when she praised Giddings for helping council members find state money and also asked: "How much money has Congresswoman Johnson given to this city? Millions of dollars?"

Davis and Hill were the lone dissenters to delaying the vote and forming an ad hoc committee co-chaired by Natinsky and Medrano. Two days later, The News was at it again. This time, Jacquielynn Floyd's column "Council smart to delay deal that looked fishy" described the contracts as a "quiet, no-debate goodbuddy deal."

Leppert spoke for nearly half an hour on May 20 at the first Love Field Concessions Committee meeting, spraying city staff with rapid-fire questions and statistics in an attempt to discredit any arguments for not putting the contracts out for bids. He claimed the hardship of 9/11 was a "myth," considering concessions dropped just 7 percent from 2000-'01 and increased 50 percent from 2006-'09 after portions of the Wright Amendment had been lifted.

He also said any concerns about operating during construction are overblown because "this construction fix is not a major one," although the current terminal will be demolished and replaced.

Some council members changed their positions—"I don't see how we can get the true market value unless we do bid it out," said Kadane—while Leppert acted like a lawyer cross-examining witnesses in the next two meetings as he continued to take apart the contracts, asserting that they were for a longer period of time than the industry standard and that Star and Hudson were given the most desirable locations. Meanwhile, city staff refused to back down, providing researched answers to Leppert's inquiries and maintaining that the deals were best for the city.

Just before wrapping up the final meeting on June 2, Medrano finally fired back. "I wanted to know why you supported the no-bid Pappadeux contract at D/FW," she said.

"Uh, I'd have to go back and figure out what the situation is," Leppert replied sheepishly. "Um, I'd be happy to check that and answer it. Uh, I don't even know that I did, but let me go back and check. And I would point out that at D/FW...roughly about 95 percent of everything is bid out in an open bidding with terms of 10 years or less."

Six days after Medrano challenged him on his vote in favor of the no-bid contracts for Pappadeux and Pappasito's, the mayor is pressed for an explanation inside his fifth-floor City Hall office.

"I just see that as being a straw man, to be truthful with you," he says with a grin.

When asked if that's the only no-bid contract he's approved as a member of the D/FW board, the mayor says he doesn't recall.

"I was told I voted on that one," he says. "I haven't gone back and checked the record or what the circumstances were."

So is he concerned at all about casting a vote on a no-bid contract that he doesn't remember?

"It had to be three years ago," he says, adding that he's sure there were "special circumstances."

A simple e-mail request for the minutes from the November 1, 2007, D/FW board meeting revealed that Leppert did vote to approve the three 10-year contracts. Additional open records requests discovered that the mayor approved two more no-bid contracts (known at D/FW as directly negotiated contracts) that very same day: one for XpresSpa and another for Tech Showcase. One year later, he approved a no-bid contract for Natalie's Candy Bar.

Then there's the question of the mayor's position on the parking contract at Love Field.

Of the airport's 2010 projected revenue of $53.6 million, 34 percent ($18.3 million) comes from the parking concessions, 21 percent is paid by airlines for terminal rentals and landing fees, 13 percent are payments from car rental companies and 13 percent ($7 million) is the combined anticipated revenue from food and beverage, retail and advertising concessions. The remaining 19 percent is a mixed bag of various rent payments and other fees.

"I'll be very consistent," Leppert says when asked about the parking contract at Love Field. "I think that we oughta open things up and have RFPs and open it up to a bidding process. I'd like to see all of that done."

That appears to be a shift from his position at the June 10, 2009, council meeting, when Leppert voted along with a majority to extend APA Parking Associates' contract at Love by five years. (Former council member Mitchell Rasansky objected then, saying, "It's just not my style to approve a $65 million contract without getting other bids.")

"I'd love to understand the circumstances," Leppert replies when told of his June 2009 vote. "I'm sorry. I don't remember."

Aside from the mayor's memory lapses and apparent inconsistencies on the question of to bid or not to bid, the Harvard-educated former construction executive and skilled politician has a message that is resonating with the public and some of his fellow council members.

"I want our city to be viewed as open and transparent," he says. "I think it goes beyond simply an individual contract. It goes to the reputation of the city."

Former council member Ed Oakley, who lost to Leppert in the 2007 mayoral runoff election and supported the mayor's campaign to build a city-owned convention center hotel, says he doesn't understand why Leppert is spending so much political capital on this issue instead of more pressing ones.

"He oughta be passing a bond program to fix the goddamned levees, and he oughta be worried about how to raise the money to fix this budget that he's fucked up," he says, condemning the mayor's recent visit to the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce seeking support for his cause.

Oakley says his experience as a council member taught him that the city staff consistently does well as it sniffs out which deal is in the city's best interests. When a council member adamantly opposes the staff recommendation, he claims, his or her motives in most cases aren't pure.

"Usually the person who's screaming the loudest on the council is the person that has either friends or connections to people who want those contracts and didn't get them," he says.

The one instance he recalls voting against the staff recommendation was when the red-light camera contract was awarded to Affiliated Computer Systems, which lacked the required investigations company license to conduct business. The consultant lobbying council members at the time on behalf of ACS? Willis Johnson.

Still, Leppert's position has its supporters among ex-council members.

Former council member Sandra Crenshaw says Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson's interests at Love Field and D/FW, where she has another venture with Hudson and a 25 percent stake through a blind trust, are minority fronts.

"Eddie Bernice is not getting any hands-on experience," she says. "She has nothing to pass on to her kids. She's just a tag-on."

Crenshaw's a proponent of opening up the bids to someone like Fred Conwright, who co-owns a South Dallas restaurant called Two Podners and is partnered with Atlanta-based Paradies Shop for several food and merchandise concessions at D/FW.

Conwright says Star and Hudson deserve to be compensated for their losses from 9/11, but he argues that an 18-year contract is too much and suggests instead that the compensation be in the form of a direct payment based on an evaluation of their books. And while he's interested in bidding at Love Field, he wants a shot at the prime locations.

"We are not going to compete with them for what's left on the table," he says. "That's just not going to happen."

Angela Hunt, who is white, typically has sided with minority council members and has been a thorn in Leppert's side on issues like the Trinity River toll road and convention center hotel. While she says she's still getting up to speed on the issue following maternity leave and hasn't made a final decision, her comments suggest she's leaning toward Leppert's side, which would be a departure from her February 22 vote as a member of the Transportation and Environment Committee.

"Throughout our council meetings, we're given the opportunity to listen to different arguments and hear different perspectives, and March 3 was one of those times when I thought one of my colleagues, which happened to be the mayor, made an argument that was persuasive to me," she says.

Regardless of whether she's able to help the mayor squeak this one out with an 8-7 vote, several of the minority council members already harbor bitter feelings toward Leppert.

Steve Salazar says the mayor's position is an "affront to all minorities" who want to do business in the city because he's attempting to undo a contract supported by the council and city staff. Leppert counters that he's been a strong advocate of minorities during his time in office.

Pauline Medrano says the tension could be felt among council members when Leppert railed against the contract extensions at his May 25 State of Downtown Address because Love Field isn't downtown and the mayor's tone indicated that those supporting the contracts hadn't done their homework. She also wishes he had come to the council with a different approach, perhaps engaging individuals in sidebars to explain his concerns.

"I think it's gonna take some time to heal," she says. "Absolutely."

The gravity of the situation is not lost on Dwaine Caraway, one of the mayor's most ardent supporters. He says it's hard to overlook Leppert's attempt to disrupt the minority-controlled success at Love Field.

"When minorities get an opportunity to really stand up and get involved, you're going to see minorities fighting extremely hard to try to hold on to the little of whatever it is that they've finally gotten their hands on," he says. "And that's not racial, that is the reality of how it is. It's like having Barack Obama as president or the first Hispanic mayor. People are going to rally."

Show Pages
 
My Voice Nation Help
 
Loading...