Talkin' Love Field Concessions With the Mayor

Ken Carter, a consultant working for Dallas Love Field Airport food and beverage concessionaire Gilbert Aranza, sent us word yesterday afternoon that the city council's seven minority members are expected to appear at noon today inside City Hall's lobby along with other community leaders for a press conference supporting contract extensions for Aranza's Star Concessions and Hudson Retail Dallas, which operates the retail concessions at Love.

The gathering is undoubtedly a reaction to Mayor Tom Leppert's recent onslaught of radio interviews, his Friday op-ed in the Dallas Business Journal, his campaign's Saturday e-mail blast and Sunday's editorial in The Dallas Morning News.

Leppert's e-mail, which dropped in our in-box around 1:30 Saturday afternoon, urged recipients to contact council members and tell them to vote against the contract extensions at tomorrow's council meeting. It even provided a list of all 14 council members and their e-mail addresses.

Colleen McCain Nelson, who penned Sunday's editorial, confirmed to us that Leppert contacted the editorial board "to request a board meeting before the Love Field vote." While "a couple" of board members joined her when she met with Leppert, only Nelson interviewed Aranza.

"The vast majority of the interviews that we do are conducted by one member of the editorial board," Nelson wrote in an e-mail. "We write 2-3 editorials each day, and the research for each of those editorials often involves several interviews. It would be logistically impossible for us to conduct every interview as a group."

Patrick Michels
Mayor Tom Leppert with, behind him, Willis Johnson
If Angela Hunt is right, it looks like the big vote tomorrow will be postponed. However, we'd be remiss if we didn't pull back the curtain for our full interview with the mayor, which was conducted exactly two weeks ago.

The last time we discussed Willis Johnson's involvement in the concessions at Love Field, Johnson had backed himself into a corner. Johnson, Leppert's top adviser when it comes to all things southern sector, told us that despite Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway's denials and cries of "bullcorn," he had lobbied Caraway on behalf of Concessions International about getting into D/FW Airport.

Our confusion? Caraway has no pull at D/FW because he doesn't sit on the board like, say, Leppert does. Not to worry, Johnson assured us by e-mail, he was talking to Caraway because he had "a board appointee."

We guessed Brenda Reyes because surely he wasn't talking about Betty Culbreath, who told us that Johnson would contact her directly because they have their own relationship, but Johnson never responded. He also failed to respond to our requests for an interview for our cover story.

When Caraway was asked again about Johnson, he said he doesn't think Leppert is trying to open the bidding to "get Willis or particular individual involved," but he refused to elaborate on his dealings with Johnson on the matter.

"For many, many reasons, I just don't want to get into this," he told us. "I don't want to be a part of this one."

However, the Johnson issue was enough for at least one council member to call Leppert out in an executive session at the beginning of the June 2 Love Field Concession Committee meeting. According to a City Hall insider, Tennell Atkins asked City Attorney Tom Perkins to rule on whether Leppert's relationship with Johnson amounted to a conflict of interest. The source tells us that Perkins said he would only tell Leppert individually of his decision, not the full council, so it seemed fitting to start there.

(This is nearly the entirety of our interview with the mayor, with a couple questions left out and some of his responses shortened.)

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