Minority “Partners,” Crony Capitalism, and Airport Concessions

Now that the mayor has stirred up the hornet’s nest of airport concessions, let’s poke around in it a little. The battle has quickly turned rancorous, and there’s a reason why. It’s a provision in the contracting rules of DFW Airport that gives weight to a bidder’s minority status.

The original intent, I suppose, was to use public money to encourage minority business development. Fine with me. I’m all for business development of any kind.

But that’s not the way it works. It has nothing to do with minority business development. Here’s the way it goes down:

One day you get a call from one of the Pappas brothers. “Hey,” says he, “we’re about to open a Pappadeaux at DFW Airport, and we want you to be our partner.”

Wow, you think. Pappadeaux is a great restaurant. DFW Airport is the second-busiest airport in the country. That restaurant ought to do great. “But wait,” you think. “I don’t have any money to invest.”

So you tell your new friend, the Pappas brother, that you don’t have any money. “No problem,” says he. “We’ll loan you the money.” “But how will I pay you back?” you ask. “Don’t be silly,” he says. “You’ll pay it back from your profits, which with operators like us will flow like water.” Wow, you think. A free ride.

I imagine that’s how the conversation went with civic leaders Johnnie and Delva King, owners of a tiny ad agency in DeSoto. And that’s how they ended up with 14 percent of the new Pappadeaux at DFW Airport.

Why did the Kings get that wonderful phone call, and not you?

First question: Are you African-American or Hispanic? Not good enough. Second question: Are you politically connected? Still not good enough. Third question: are you politically connected enough to get on the discreet list of recommended “partners” for concessionaires board members slip to the administration at DFW Airport? Bingo.

That’s how it works. Every store you see at DFW Airport, every restaurant, every bar, has a local minority “partner.” These “partners” normally contribute nothing — not money, not expertise,  not nothing. What they provide is the pretense that DFW Airport is encouraging minority business development. 

And what about Love Field? We sell magazines at Hudson News at Love Field. I love Hudson News. But until recently, I didn’t realize that I should also love State Rep. Helen Giddings, scion of the one of the oldest black families in Dallas. I love her immensely now that I know she owns 25 percent of the Hudson News Love Field concession. Nor did I realize how much I should love Eddie Bernice Johnson, the Dallas Congresswoman who happens to sit on the House Subcommittee on Aviation. Her blind trust owns 15 percent of the Hudson News Love Field concession. I don’t see how Giddings and Johnson actually help sell magazines for Hudson News. I’m just glad they are selling so many of mine. But, come to think of it, I have not seen Giddings and Johnson branch out to sell more magazines anywhere else. This is a minority business that has not developed. I wish it would. We need more people as prominent as Giddings and Congresswoman Johnson out selling our magazines.

Okay. At both airports, obviously, the whole thing is a sham. It is not even a polite sham. It is a sham that devolved into a shakedown. You want to open a tie shop? You say you have successful tie shops in 25 airports around America? Fine. Here’s your partner. Go make friends with him. Oh, and if you don’t make friends with him, no tie shop at DFW Airport.

But wait, you say. I’m an African-American. I started this business with nothing. I built it by myself. I am certified as a minority business. Yeah? Great. Here’s your partner. Go make friends with him. (Don’t believe me? Read Ann Zimmerman on black bookseller Robert Crews in this 1998 Observer piece.)

This is minority business development? Not by a long shot. That’s why the debate has become so rancorous. Because thanks to the mayor the sham is out in the open.

What saddens me is that not one African-American politician has stood up to say, “Hey, wait a minute!. I want minority business development. I want to see people get an opportunity to build their own businesses. I want to end the sham and to help give good, solid business people from my community an opportunity to succeed.”

Nobody likes to be tossed off the gravy train. Any black leader who said that would make enemies for life. He would also become our next mayor.

AN UPDATE AND FULL DISCLOSURE: I have just been reminded by our audience development manager that we are working with another company to bid on a newsstand space at DFW Airport. I take back everything I just said. I love DFW Airport. Everything is great at DFW Airport. Cover your eyes, cover your ears, cover your mouth, and just move along. Nothing to see here.

Newsletter

Get a weekly recap in your inbox every Sunday of our best stories from the week plus a primer for the days ahead.

Find It

Search our directories for...

Dining

Dining

Bars

Bars

Events

Events

Attractions

Attractions

View All

View All

Comments