Flip-flopping

City Council members, under pressure, change alliances in the airport-concessions contract battle

As the battle over the $200 million airport-concessions contract heads for a showdown at City Hall, the forces behind the bid of CA One Services have turned up the heat and given the other entry, Four Families of Houston, a serious case of indigestion. According to a number of sources who have been closely following the deal, several City Council members who had previously expressed support for Four Families have flopped under the pressure of intense lobbying by hired guns as well as various players in the Brown administration. Council member Joe Roach, who has been outspoken in his support for Four Families, says that the lobbying has crossed the line of ethical propriety. "There have been implied threats, promises, anything to get the required votes to support CA One," Roach says.

Among those who have been making phone calls and paying visits on behalf of CA One: master mayoral dealmaker and former mayor Bob Lanier blind trust administrator Kenny Friedman, an attorney representing the company; Council member and mayor pro tem Jew Don Boney; attorney and erstwhile popcorn vendor Zinetta Burney, who shares office space with Boney and served on Brown's transition team; Mischer operative and lobbyist Jim Box, a friend of swing vote Ray Driscoll; former METRO chairman Billy Burge, who is now offending the masses as vice-chairman of the sports authority; architect Leroy Hermes, who will do some of the design work for CA One; Brown agenda director and perennial hanger-on Dan Jones; prominent black minister Kirbyjon Caldwell, who will get a piece of the concession action if CA One wins; Dan McClung, hired as extra muscle after the Council's aviation subcommittee voted 51 in favor of Four Families. "It's been nonstop since the committee vote," says one lobbying target.

The issue has evolved way beyond which company will best serve the city's interests, according to almost everyone involved, and has turned into a key early measure of Brown's authority. Council members say that the lobbying efforts have stressed this element, in no uncertain terms, ever since the subcommittee acted. "It's considered a test," says a possible swing vote. "You're either on board [with the mayor] or you're not."

This conflicts with Brown's statement that no one connected with his administration was pushing either side until late last week, when after careful consideration he decided to back CA One. "Since he had not made a decision [before then]," says spokesman Don Payne, "he couldn't have had anyone lobbying for that position.

 
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