Situational Ethics

As Jew Don Boney has moved upward in public life, have his values changed to meet his needs rather than those of his constituents?

As a woman observes when he's finished, Boney's enthusiasm is contagious. And for a moment, you forget the accusations that he's sold out, and begin to think maybe Jew Don Boney's commitment hasn't really disappeared, but has simply moved from the grassroots to the global.

"We'll have 150 CEOs of American corporations meeting with officials of African governments," he says excitedly. "There'll be six to ten African heads of state, 40 or 50 nations represented."

Sounds like fun -- until you start calculating the odds that those Africans who are not government officials or heads of state (those squalid souls hunkered down miserably in the slums of, say, Kinshasa) will ever see the spoils from such a grand and important occasion as the biannual conference of the Corporate Councils of Africa. And what of those American executives: Will they share Africa's riches with the black and brown people in their own communities? Are they enlightened believers in affirmative action, like Bob Lanier and Jew Don Boney?

When that thought lands, you're no longer in Africa. You're at 5445 Almeda -- the law offices of Zinetta Burney and Peggy Foreman and the center of Houston's black political universe. It's also the address from which Jew Don Boney ran his political campaign; where, right now, Boney operates BSR Consulting, which specializes in "voter contact services"; and where Innovative Strategies, yet another voter-contact enterprise, is headquartered. It's also the address for Dogone Enterprises, a -- go figure -- popcorn concessionaire.

All this business activity out of the same office is interesting only in that a not-insignificant amount of money made at 5445 Almeda comes at the taxpayer's expense. Burney and Foreman have several contracts with the city of Houston, including lucrative deals to collect delinquent taxes and help sell bonds. Dogone Enterprises was set to make a killing on the recently awarded $200 million concession contract at Bush International Airport. That was scuttled at the last minute when the company that was going to hire the firm, Host Marriott, was dumped from consideration by the city.

The two women then began lobbying City Council members in earnest on behalf of CA One, a New York company. That seemed strange until it was learned Zinetta Burney is in business with Anna Vienn, who runs Classy Cakes & Catering, CA One's choice to make the popcorn at Bush International. Burney insists she has no connection to Classy Cakes, and lobbied Council simply because CA One's proposal was the best deal for the city.

So did Jew Don Boney, which is why he spent several weeks lobbying his Council colleagues like a madman for CA One, too. He insists it didn't have anything to do with his long friendship and deep affection for Zinetta Burney and Peggy Foreman, who at this year's inaugural festivities, were introduced by Boney as "my sisters in the struggle."

As for BSR Consulting, Boney's get-out-the-vote operation, it has capitalized on its proprietor's position on the City Council in several ways. First, BSR was paid $12,000 to round up the black vote in favor of two issues that Boney votes on as a member of Council: the city's affirmative action program and a $500 million bond issue.

BSR was also hired by at least two Council candidates in the last election, both of whom won. How much Boney was paid for that work will not be known until this summer, when he files his next campaign-finance report. Also unknown is Boney's compensation for efforts in behalf of Lee Brown, who was the biggest benefactor of the large black turnout at the polls. In a form of rationalization that's become second nature to him, Boney sees no conflict in his being paid to support issues on which he will vote as a member of Council.

"In no way does any work that I do here or there, publicly or privately, conflict with what my personal values are," he says, perhaps forgetting that his personal values are not what he's being paid to advance as a city councilman. "I was definitely involved in the get-out-the-vote effort in November, and in no way has it any impact on anything that I have or will do on Council. I just thought it was awfully important for the African-American community to get out and protect their interests in the November election."

Apparently, Boney thought it was just as important that he be paid for that thoughtfulness.

Nonetheless, people like Amilcar Shabazz find much about Boney to appreciate, such as his interest in expanding business opportunities for minorities and reaching out to Africa. Others are unwilling to begrudge Boney the opportunity to make some extra money after years of foregoing creature comforts while he fought the good fight.

Indeed, Ben Reyes understood the value of a little supplemental income. As he told Julio Molineiro, the undercover FBI operative in the Operation Parallax sting: "Why not? That's what people need. Work your fucking ass off, getting nothing -- for what?"

Though the criticism surprises him, Boney isn't completely out of touch with the notion that he is, as one person described him, "a good activist gone bad." Then again, he no longer seems to recognize his former persona.

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