Lipscomb's presence felt in Dallas City Council District 8 race


by By RUDOLPH BUSH / The Dallas Morning News

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:46 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 2:49 PM

The long swath of far southern Dallas that composes City Council District 8 has long been Al Lipscomb's political domain.

And though the former council member's name won't appear on the ballot this year, he looms large in a race pitting his grandson, LeVar "L.D." Thomas, against the man he helped vault into office two years ago, first-term incumbent Tennell Atkins.

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For Atkins, the race isn't about Lipscomb, though he knows that the loss of his support will come at the price of votes.

It's about experience and what Atkins has accomplished in two years, he said.

"You look around this district, there are so many things I have started. Compare that to what past elected officials have done," Atkins said.

In District 8, any look into the past has to include Lipscomb's legacy. For years, he or someone he supported has been elected to the City Council, including Atkins, James Fantroy and Sandra Crenshaw.

Despite a corruption scandal leading to a conviction that was overturned on appeal, Lipscomb holds considerable sway. And even now Atkins is hesitant to criticize him.

"I supported Al at a time when no one supported him, and I still respect him as a former council member," Atkins said.

But this race isn't against Al Lipscomb; it's against Thomas, Atkins said.

And Thomas' experience simply doesn't compare, he said.

Thomas, 27, declined to be interviewed through his campaign manager Joyce Foreman, who said she was displeased with coverage of a sign-stealing controversy that embroiled both campaigns last month. Lipscomb could not be reached for comment.

Atkins, a 52-year-old former football star at Southern Methodist University, said voters should look at what he has accomplished, and then make a choice.

He pointed to Southwest Center Mall, where a recent council-approved grant will pay for the Urban Land Institute to study ways to reinvigorate the dying development.

He pointed to work on the master plan for the University of North Texas at Dallas and its expected impact on surrounding neighborhoods.

And he pointed to his work chairing Mayor Tom Leppert's Southern Sector Task Force, a massive group of leaders south of the Trinity River who are concentrating on reinvigorating the most underserved parts of the city.

Atkins also noted that he has run companies, including a land management firm at Executive Airport, a position that led him into a legal conflict with the city. He prevailed in that lawsuit, winning a judgment that has helped give him the financial independence to serve on the council without needing to hold another job.

"I do this full time. I'll put my life on hold for eight years to serve this community," he said.

Though he frequently sides with Leppert, Atkins has an independent streak and hasn't been a guaranteed vote for the mayor's agenda.

But in this race, his support of Leppert's most important issue, construction of a downtown convention center hotel, has added fuel to his opponent's challenge.

Thomas has consistently opposed the hotel project, and has seen his campaign boosted with thousands of dollars from Hilton Anatole owner Harlan Crow as a result.

Crow has funded a $4.7 million campaign to stop the city from building the hotel and has spread money generously to council candidates who feel the same way.

Though young, Thomas is not a new hand at Dallas politics. He left the Dallas Housing Finance Corp. board to run for the council. He remains active among young Democrats in the city and with the NAACP. He also served as a state and national delegate for President Barack Obama.

Despite that, he is still best known at City Hall for whom he is related to, rather than who he is.

And while his grandfather's name is certain to bring him votes in this election, it's unclear if the old political muscle will be enough to defeat Atkins.

For his part, Atkins thinks it won't.

"People in this district see me. They know I'm out there. You can be in politics all your life, but you still have to earn the respect of the community," he said.

District 8 candidates

Tennell Atkins

Occupation: Retired businessman; Dallas City Council member

Age: 52

Education: Bachelor's degree, Southern Methodist University

Contact: 214-946-1917;

LeVar "L.D." Thomas

Occupation: Real estate agent

Age: 27

Education: Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center

Contact: 214-263-5702;