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Luna landing

Chris Luna, who is not a morning person, answered the phone with the slur of sleep in his voice.

It was 8:30 a.m. Tuesday--the day before the big Cinemark vote last week--and there was, of course, only one question that needed to be posed to Luna on this matter.

"So, are you feeling guilty about the Cinemark settlement?" I asked him, referring to the lawsuit settlement he and his fellow council members would overwhelmingly approve the next day.

"I'm not talking about the settlement at all until after it's done," Luna said.

Yeah, but how do you feel when your fellow council members sit there week after week, privately making snide remarks and nasty jokes at your expense about your incredibly sleazy role in one of the most costly lawsuits in the city's history?

"I have nothing to say about Cinemark until after Wednesday," Luna said.
Not surprising, of course. Because what he had done--what council members have been discussing among themselves for almost a year, and what the city attorney finally made official last week--was to actively help Cinemark, the wealthy Dallas-based movie-theater company, by providing ammunition useful in its suit against the city.

He had done this by slipping information and documents to Cinemark's zoning lawyer Kirk Williams--including, most damaging of all, a highly confidential memo the city attorney had prepared for a closed-door meeting with the council.

This was a disaster for taxpayers. First, Cinemark had promised to sue the city if the council didn't let it build Tinseltown, a 24-screen movie theater at Forest Lane and Inwood. The memo Luna leaked, a legal analysis of the threat, recommended the council approve Cinemark's development plans, because if it didn't, Cinemark had a good chance of winning--and winning big--in court. Armed with this secret analysis, Cinemark indeed sued as soon as the council decided to overrule the city attorney's advice in favor of angry North Dallas homeowners who didn't want Cinemark as a neighbor.

The second legal disaster was that once privileged memos were leaked to the opposition, the door was open for Cinemark to obtain additional damaging confidential documents.

When Luna leaked Cinemark the confidential document, it opened a Pandora's box the city was never able to close--resulting in hundreds of pages of other, highly damaging confidential documents being surrendered to Cinemark. It also resulted in City Attorney Sam Lindsay and one of his staff lawyers being deposed--a highly unusual development that resulted in even more private attorney-client conversations being revealed.

Luna's treachery was not new news.
For two years, the council had suspected Luna of giving comfort and aid to the opposition--since the day of the Big Vote that shot down Cinemark's plans. While the issue was being discussed in private, closed-door session, council members watched incredulously as Luna scurried in and out of chambers to huddle with Cinemark's Kirk Williams, whom Luna had once worked with at the law firm Akin Gump.

As early as last August, this column reported that Luna had, in fact, smuggled the secret legal analysis to Williams, who had dutifully brought it with him to a deposition he was called to in March 1994. Unlike Luna, Williams is no liar, and when I asked him if he'd gotten the document from Luna, Williams went ahead and admitted it.

The day after that column appeared, Luna sent a memo to his fellow council members.

"So there is no misunderstanding, I will clearly state my position," Luna wrote in his memo to his brethren. "I have not released any attorney-client privileged documents to any third party on any matter."

(It's worth pointing out that neither Luna nor Williams complained to the Observer--in writing or otherwise--about the veracity of my reporting.)

Several weeks ago, in the waning days of the lawsuit, Kirk Williams was deposed a second time by the city's lawyers. During the deposition, he was asked if Luna had given him the damaging document. Williams replied affirmatively. City Attorney Sam Lindsay, after reviewing a written transcript of that deposition, called each individual council member last Tuesday night--the night before the settlement vote--to tell them Luna's role in the leak had now been confirmed under oath.

A heartfelt "I'm sorry" to his colleagues should have been Luna's first order of business last Wednesday. But no admissions were forthcoming. To the contrary, besides looking a bit pasty about the face and neck, Luna stoically sat at the horseshoe last week as his fellow council members publicly stoned him. He did his best to pretend this was a typical council day, and the tirades aimed at him--complete with words like "sabotage" and "treachery"--were routine policy debates, and that, like so many other petty scandals that came his way as an elected official, this, too, would pass.

 

Later that afternoon, I asked Luna what I had asked him the day before. "I did not give any confidential or attorney-client privileged documents to anyone," he told me. "The documents I gave to him were public information which were obtained by several of the media, including you." (True, the media obtained the documents, but only because they got them from Cinemark--who got them from Luna.)

What this is about, he said, is his enemies making him a scapegoat. "You have some council members who led the charge to lead this council astray who are now trying to save their hides," he said. "They're looking for someone to place blame on, which is political chickenshit. I hope people see this for what this is."

Not to worry. Despite the best efforts of The Dallas Morning News to keep the facts from getting out--the DMN is apparently holding out for a Luna DNA match--most people see it for what it is.

And what they see is Chris Luna making a political career out of chickenshit.

In a file cabinet in my office is a thin manila envelope that has been gathering dust for four years. Inside are copies of three old newspaper stories from 1982--all of which ran in The Daily Texan, the student newspaper of the University of Texas at Austin.

The articles are about a young Chris Luna.
The lead story of the Feb. 4, 1982 paper:
The College of Business Administration Student Council voted by a four-fifths majority late Wednesday night to impeach and remove President Chris Luna...The council announced its 41-8 decision, with three abstentions, to remove Luna after he again refused to resign."

At the time, Luna was a 21-year-old undergraduate majoring in accounting. As president of the CBA student council, Luna was given the responsibility of, among other things, handling some of the student council's money.

Luna was impeached by his peers after a three-month investigation into his activities by a college dean, who, according to the articles, concluded that Luna had done two unethical things with the council's money: One, Luna had used a UT billing code to make 17 personal long-distance phone calls; and two, Luna had tapped into a college fund--set up specifically to pay for student activities--to take out a $42.93 ad in The Daily Texan to promote his own candidacy for another student committee on which he wanted to serve. Luna refused to comment on the articles: "I have nothing to say."

As The Daily Texan reported it:
Luna denied using his University billing code for any but official council business. He did say, however, he had used a CBA account number to pay for his ad, fully intending to repay the money.

The article continued:
Luna agreed his method of purchasing the ad made him look bad. "In hindsight, I would never do it again," he said. But he said his action was an error in judgment rather than an "illegality."

After this early success in finessing the truth, Luna has been splitting hairs--or, when that didn't work, out-and-out lying--ever since.

In fact, Luna began his city-council career in 1991 by doing quite a bit of both.

During his first council campaign, Luna made the mistake of trying to pull a few political tricks on his opponent--Ricardo Medrano, a man whose family wrote the textbook on that subject. Luna filed to run in a district where he did not live--in a district where his opponent, Medrano, had lived for 48 years and was not about to let some carpetbagging, political lightweight waltz into and usurp his seat.

So when Luna signed a sworn statement that he was living at 2406 Brookfield--Medrano began calling up media. He showed local reporters that the house Luna claimed to live in was actually a stone-cold, empty rent house that obviously was uninhabited.

The problem, though, was that nobody seemed to know where Luna really lived:He had changed all his voter-registration and driver's-license information to reflect the phantom address, and when the TV reporters started filming the empty rent house through the window blinds, Luna hauled in a tiny bed and--a nice touch--a can of shaving cream.

Nineteen days after the Nov. 5 election--and five days after the runoff election that had crowned Luna as the new council member from District 2--I showed up at his actual residence, which was in a gated, high-security apartment building in Oak Lawn, six miles south of the empty rent house, not to mention in another council district.

At 9:35 on a Sunday morning, after I had surveyed the Sunday paper resting undisturbed on the doormat and firmly beat upon the door for several minutes, the new councilman appeared in a stupor of sleep. (Remember--not a morning man.) Dressed in a pair of striped boxer shorts and an old quilt thrown haphazardly around his shoulders, Luna, who had obviously been in a deep sleep and could barely speak or see in the bright morning sun, remained surprisingly composed and conversant.

 

"Let me get your phone number, and I'll call you later, and we can talk," he said. "This isn't a very good time."

To put it mildly.
Luna's been that way ever since--calm and cool through all the scandals he has brought upon himself.

A month after Luna's boxer-shorts debut, Medrano hauled him down to federal court for running in a district where he didn't live. Though Luna appeared a bit sweaty of the upper lip during this period, he relaxed when U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer told Medrano that it was too late to help him--he should have come before the election.

Then it looked like Luna might get in trouble for another bizarre thing that had happened during the campaign. It seemed that despite the fact that nobody was living in the empty rent house--which, this paper later reported, Luna had rented by the month for purposes of the campaign--Luna and three other people had named it as their residence when they voted in the election; three out of the four said it was their address when they voted again in the runoff.

The Dallas County District Attorney's Office promised to look into that. Likewise, it promised to look into charges that the Luna campaign recruited legions of impoverished homeless people to vote for him. According to election workers at City Hall and the county-records building, homeless people had been rounded up at downtown labor pools, put on vans, hauled to polling places where absentee voting was taking place, and handed voter-registration cards to give to election judges. Goodness only knows whose names were on them.

"I want to vote for Chris," homeless people were overheard saying. "I don't want to lose my job."

Yet somehow, Luna managed to distance himself from both the astonishingly civically minded labor-pool workers and the audacious phantom voters casting ballots out of his empty house. When the election was over, he sailed into a new career as a public servant with nary a blemish to show for his troubles.

It could have stayed that way. In fact, seeing as how Luna was now safely in office with all his questionable activities behind him, and naively believing that no man could have weathered several serious brushes with the state and federal court system without taking it to heart, I took the embarrassing Daily Texan articles and stuck them in a drawer.

And they stayed there until two years later when, at the beginning of Luna's second term, a majority of the city council told then-mayor Steve Bartlett they could no longer support Luna for deputy mayor pro tem--a title of honor Luna had been given by vote of his peers at the beginning of his first term.

"Luna had become known to members of the council as one who could not be trusted and was basically a liar," says former councilman Jerry Bartos, echoing other council members' comments. "I remember one time he came into my office, and he said he had to renege on a commitment he'd made to several of us. And I said, 'You lied--how could you lie?' And he cried. He sat there and cried."

Over Bartlett's objection, the council voted to remove Luna from the position of deputy mayor pro tem.

The articles stayed in the file cabinet last spring, too, when Luna was running for his third term on the council, and, faced with a formidable opponent--a young, energetic lawyer named John Loza--Luna began getting pretty panicky. As a result, he worked exceedingly hard on his re-election campaign. In fact, the race got so heated that Loza, a political novice, got wickedly sandbagged in the last few days of the campaign.

First Luna accused Loza of being sued by his alma mater, Harvard University, for not repaying his student loans--which was true. Then some of Loza's high-profile financial backers began receiving some pretty heavy-duty campaign mud in the mail. One such missive, received by Republican Party stalwart and well-known real-estate developer Vance Miller, contained a page from one of Loza's campaign finance statements with the following on an attached sticky note: "John Loza is gay...[and went on to link Loza romantically with a male campaign worker--something Loza says is not true].

Another apparently larger mailing was directed at the voters. Disguised as a letter from Loza--which was ludicrous since Loza's name was misspelled as "Losa"--the letter began, "Dear Voter: Some are attempting to make my sexual orientation an issue in the election for Dallas City Council, District 2. The fact that I am gay is not an issue in this race."

 

What is most striking, and ironic, about this political skulduggery is that if Luna had anything to do with these mailings--and besides some striking handwriting comparisons that Loza insists are proof that Luna was doing some of this himself, there is no proof of Luna's personal involvement--he was displaying the worst brand of hypocrisy. While Loza was a gay council candidate who was completely open about his sexual preference and never tried to hide it from the voters, Luna is a gay council member who has successfully maneuvered to keep that fact out of the mainstream media, while serving proudly and openly as a prominent, active leader of the Dallas gay community.

Asked if he had anything to do with the last-minute mailers about his opponent, Luna said, "I did not. I have a theory, but I can't prove it." And what might that theory be? Luna declined to say. "It's just one of those things that creates more fodder," he said. "It just gins it all up again."

Let's just say that Luna had absolutely nothing to do with the shameless, last-ditch, scud-missile attacks on Loza. The same letter that went to Vance Miller, by the way, was also sent to Loza's dad here in Dallas. Luna, being gay himself and having fought long and hard on behalf of gay-rights issues on the city council, should have, at the very least, decried the gay-baiting that somebody from his camp was doing to Loza.

He didn't.
Within months of beating Loza (1,100 to 900 votes), Luna began an incredibly aggressive campaign to protect the city's topless bars, which the city has been in a pitched battle with for the past 10 years due to the fact that they are magnets for prostitution and drugs and assorted criminal problems.

Luna was doing some pretty brazen things for the clubs; he even passed a council resolution urging the city manager to help resolve some of the legal beefs the city has with the clubs. Ten days after the resolution passed, Luna accepted a whopping, $5,000 contribution--a nearly unheard of amount in a city-council election--from the family that owns Burch Management, a big topless-club company.

Still, the articles about his impeachment stayed in the file cabinet.
Until now.
Because now--four and a half years after he was first elected, 18 months after he toyed with the idea of running for mayor, six months after he thought about quitting the council to run for U.S. Congress in John Bryant's old seat--Luna's political career is over. Because this time what he's done is so egregious that even his diehard supporters are walking away.

"Politically he's dead," says one of his staunchest supporters on the city council. "It's sad. Because he's one of the smartest, most fun people I know. And I can't tell you how much he wants to run for something else. But he's dead. We all know it."

On the day this column comes out, the city council will meet behind closed doors to discuss what to do about Luna. It will hear from the city attorney, who finally confirmed what everybody at City Hall already knew. It will hear from Luna. It will review the code of conduct. It will perhaps move to strip Luna of his title as deputy mayor pro tem (Mayor Ron Kirk insisted the council give Luna back that position after the previous council had stripped him of it) and chairman of the Housing and Neighborhood Development Committee. The council may reprimand him; some council members may even try to have him expelled from the council, though his outrageous behavior apparently doesn't fit the narrow criteria set out in the city charter for doing that.

Luna swears he will prove his innocence. The council knows otherwise.
Kirk Williams, who has now dutifully fessed up twice in eight months--once to this reporter and once under oath--to having accepted Luna's sellout of the public trust, is known around City Hall to be a good guy, and a straight shooter, who has absolutely no reason to commit professional and economic suicide by falsely accusing a council member of doing something so terrible.

Luna, on the other hand, has no such reputation.
"It is the responsibility of this body to purge itself of those who compromise the integrity and credibility of this council," a fellow UT business-school student said when Luna was being impeached as president of the school's student council back in 1982. "We did tonight what unfortunately was necessary."

Let's hope the Dallas City Council has the same fortitude that a bunch of college kids had many years ago. If not, the voters will have to wait a year to summon theirs.

 


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