Nearly nine years after he was tried before a federal jury on 65 counts of alleged bribery and conspiracy, 84-year-old civil rights leader Al Lipscomb remains a prominent political icon in southern Dallas. He's a fixture at Dallas City Council meetings, where he served as District 8's council member from 1984 to 1993 and 1995 to 2000. He stood before the council recently to condemn a policy by Dallas Area Rapid Transit that encourages hiring Hispanic employees instead of more qualified black applicants.
Although Lipscomb has battled heart problems and other health issues, he claims he's in great shape. Lipscomb rides a stationary bike daily—sometimes twice, he says. While his passion for District 8 remains strong, his days of holding political office are behind him.
Now, it could be his grandson's turn to step up.
Down the road from Paul Quinn College in the parking lot of the recently closed E Zee Shop, Lipscomb prepared last week to introduce his grandson, LeVar "LD" Thomas, as incumbent Tennell Atkins' opponent in the May 9 election.
For Thomas, being the grandson of one of Dallas' most recognized faces comes with plenty of advantages—and one big disadvantage. Lipscomb was sentenced to 41 months of home confinement in April 2000 after a jury ruled he received thousands of dollars in return for supporting city ordinances that strengthened the dominance of a taxicab company owned by Floyd Richards, who was also convicted in the case.
When asked about his grandfather's checkered past, Thomas jokes, "Nobody told me!" and stresses that Lipscomb's conviction was overturned. It was, in July 2002. Six weeks later, U.S. Attorney Jane Boyle announced she would not retry Lipscomb. He served more than two-thirds of his sentence (27 months), and her decision should not be viewed as exoneration, Boyle said.
"I honestly cannot think of a better mentor, a better friend and a better grandfather to have. I can't change who my grandfather is, and to be honest with you, if I had the chance, I wouldn't," Thomas says.
The Reverend Ronald Wright, a Thomas supporter, says the black community has no reason to be upset with Lipscomb. "We haven't had proper representation since he left. His legacy outweighs the small other things that happened to him."
When asked what it means to see Thomas in a position to take back the district he once represented, Lipscomb says, "We've got a library, a post office and a college right down the street. LD is the man who can bring these things together."
Wearing a gray suit, white Barack Obama cap and dark sunglasses, Lipscomb leans on his wooden cane and refers to one of the most blighted areas of Dallas as "a goldmine." After a short speech, he says, "LD is going to spell out what we need to do."
Thomas, a 27-year-old with a shaved head and neatly-trimmed beard, has seen rises in crime and drug abuse in the past two years, along with stores closing and streets in need of repair. The district has "limitless potential," he says, with two universities (Paul Quinn College and a branch of the University of North Texas), Dallas Executive Airport and plans for an inland port—a vast rail, trucking and warehousing center that will bring more than 60,000 jobs to southern Dallas.
"We lack visionary and competent leadership to put all of the pieces of that puzzle together and get the job done," Thomas says.
Before announcing his candidacy, Thomas resigned from the Dallas Housing Finance Corp. board. He's also the chair of the Dallas chapter of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats and has been on the board of directors for the Dallas County Young Democrats for two years.
Thomas says he's been around politics since he "came out of the crib," and was first appointed to a city board in high school when he became a Dallas Youth Commission member in 1995. Two years later, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk appointed him chair of the commission. "I think that's what might have really flipped the switch," Thomas says.
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Thomas became the first in his family to graduate from a four-year college when he earned his bachelor's degree in international relations with a concentration in business and economics from the University of North Texas.
After spending three years teaching middle school, Thomas began selling real estate for Mohr Partners. Thomas says he left Mohr after about 18 months to shop for local brokers willing to give him more time and flexibility in his schedule.
Thomas says Atkins is "a great guy" but isn't properly representing his constituency. "He's not visible. He's not touching the people," Thomas says. "He's not getting things done, and we are not progressing the way that we should."
Atkins says he doesn't know much about Thomas. "Whatever comments he's made, I guess he had a reason to make those comments, but I don't want to get into a comment fight. My record speaks for itself."