The Dallas City Council's seven minority council members launched a counterattack this afternoon against Mayor Tom Leppert's campaign opposing the Love Field concession contract extensions, with Vonciel Hill and others reminding Leppert that City Manager Mary Suhm is in charge.
"Twice the citizens of this great city have defeated a strong mayor form of government," Hill said, as applause could be heard throughout City Hall's lobby. "I seriously resent anyone taking by fiat what he could not get by votes of the citizens."
Hill said she hopes to move forward without any further "negative rhetoric," "undermining of character" and "assassination of reputation" that she claimed the black and Latino council members have been subjected to in the last several weeks, and she stressed that the issue has been properly vetted through the council's committees, which are appointed by the mayor.
"It boggles the mind that one person should believe that he knows more than the collective wisdom of our paid expert staff and consultants," she said.
Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway said he's been on the mayor's side on several key issues, but not on this one, "and rightfully so." He aimed to clear up some of the misinformation floating around about the contracts.
"The people must understand: It has never been a no-bid deal," he said. "It has always been an open bid competitive process, extending the current concessionaires their opportunity to continue to operate at Love Field."
It was, for a City Hall press conference featuring several elected officials, a bizarre spectacle pitting council members against the mayor, newspaper against newspaper, race against race. Carolyn Davis, in a rather surprising shout-out, thanked the Observer "for being honest, writing the truth, because that's what we need in this city" and noted that "the other paper" writes what Leppert tells them to write.
"The mayor has been right on some issues -- on most issues -- but he's dead wrong on this issue," she said. "Dead wrong on this issue."
She said the city's consultant described the contracts as "the best deal since ice cream," but then "the string was pulled" shortly before the April 28 vote because Leppert suddenly had concerns.
"So everybody started chickening out, backing away and left the minority council members out there by themselves, and we have stood tall on this issue," she said.
Steve Salazar said the seven white council members should be supporting them as they protect the integrity of the process.
"Which one will have the integrity to say they did the right thing and studied the matter in transportation and economic development all these years and the fortitude to say that this is the right thing?" he said.
Delia Jasso said the mayor has portrayed the issue as something evil, but extending contracts is something that happens every day at City Hall. She was also one of many to take a jab at The Dallas Morning News, where she once worked.
"My editor would always ask me: What? Where? Why? When? How come?" she said. "I had to answer those five questions as a reporter. That obviously is not the case at The Dallas Morning News today because they are not getting another point of view."
The Reverend Peter Johnson, founder of the Peter Johnson Center for Non-Violence, said he's concerned about Leppert's "insensitivity to the realities of the racial history of this city" and urged three council members -- Dave Neumann, Linda Koop and Angela Hunt -- to vote in favor of the contracts at tomorrow's council meeting. He named Neumann because Johnson lives in his district, Koop because she's a family friend and Hunt because of the "tremendous amount of admiration" he has for her.
Of course, Hunt's also the decisive vote with the rest of the council deadlocked at 7-7 along racial lines, but she's leaning toward a deferral, and Tennell Atkins told us he's likely to support it since Love Field is in her district.
Johnson said he's disappointed to see Hunt let Leppert use the issue for political purposes.
"He's closer to Sarah Palin than he is to us," Johnson said of Leppert. "He has never been our friend."
Leppert's votes for three no-bid contracts at D/FW Airport for Pappadeaux and Pappasito's were mentioned by Johnson, who said the mayor's excuse that no one else was interested in the spaces doesn't make sense because there's no record that the contracts were ever put out for bids.
"So either the mayor is incompetent or he's dishonest," he said.
Johnson also brought up radio personality Willis Johnson, the mayor's top South Dallas consultant and a lobbyist for Concessions International. He said he picketed radio stations to create jobs for black radio hosts, including Willis Johnson.
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"And just like we made them hire black people, we can make them fire black people," he said. "So let him know that he's not beyond our reach. We created that job. And if he's gonna be on the mayor's side, let the mayor find him a job."
Other speakers included Bea Martinez, district director for LULAC, and David Wilson, vice president of the Interdenominational Ministers Alliance, who said Leppert's "going to send us back 50 years."
"Rather than bringing us together, he's building a wall of separation," he said.
Approximately 50 people were in attendance, including Gilbert Aranza, several of his employees and both of his consultants, Ken Carter and Anna Casey. Former Mayor Pro Tem John Loza was also spotted and said he's "100 percent with Gilbert." Former council member Ed Oakley and businessman Ted Strauss couldn't make the presser, but their statements are below. Strauss Oakley Statements