Leonard "Tripper" Goodman III, El Paso Inc.'s El Pasoan of the Year for 2012, heads the Goodman Financial Group and has been active in civic affairs for three decades.
Most recently, he headed up the El Paso Tomorrow PAC that financed the campaign in support of the two bond propositions and the ballpark that voters approved last month.
By Election Day, Goodman said, the political action committee raised and spent close to $400,000 on TV, radio and newspaper ads and mailers to people's homes.
The extent to which the well-funded campaign influenced the final outcome of the election is impossible to tell. But more than 70 percent of voters supported two bond propositions totaling $473 million to pay for quality-of-life projects, and 60 percent backed the controversial Proposition 3 to finance a ballpark Downtown.
Anyone running for office would love to have that kind of voter endorsement in a contested race. And with "For" opposing "Against" on the ballot, the propositions election could be called a contested race.
Though his wife, Doris, was seriously ill with a condition that would take her life just three weeks after the election, Goodman, 61, stayed in the campaign - at her insistence, he says - effectively serving as point man for the cause.
As a couple, the Goodmans have been heavily involved in community and volunteer work over the years. Tripper Goodman said his parents were role models, but it still took mentors to draw him into participation in El Paso.
Community involvement doesn't come naturally or particularly easily to most people, he concedes. It's something to be taught and learned that can carry a lot of rewards: personal satisfaction, friends and business contacts, to name a few.
"I think the bottom line is you get the gratification of seeing a result, and hopefully a good one," he said.
It also comes with risks, but once caught, Goodman said, the community involvement bug is hard to shake.
Goodman spoke with El Paso Inc. recently about how he found himself running the PAC, why he dove into the campaign, the woman who accompanied him and the parents who taught him the importance of community.
Q: A big part of the reason behind El Paso Inc.'s El Pasoan of the Year Award is to highlight their community involvement and, by doing so, encourage others to step up. What does it take to get people involved?
I had some good role models in my parents. I also think El Paso is very open to having people get involved as much as they want. You hear this from a lot of people who come into El Paso who are not from here and are immediately involved.
A big part of that depends on why they get involved. I think if you're doing it for business reasons and things like that, that's pretty transparent. But if you really find something you like or a few things and you get involved in them, then I think El Paso's very open.
Q: There are reports out there that indicate giving, volunteering and participation levels are low in El Paso relative to other cities. If you look at who's involved, don't you tend to see the same people over and over?
In El Paso, we know there are few people who can write the big checks, and we're very blessed to have those people who can do it. And those people not only do it, a lot of the times they give their time, too. I think a lot of people are reluctant to get involved because they don't think they can do anything. They need some mentoring. There are people who do that. Jim Phillips was fabulous at getting people involved and including them in things and encouraging them in things. There are others, but he comes to mind.
Q: In addition to running a business, you are board chairman at ReadyOne Industries and the UTEP Development Board, you co-chair the Paso del Norte Group's civic committee and are on the Downtown Management District board. How did you come to be so involved?
I moved back here a little over 30 years ago, and I was able to get involved because I was from here and I wanted to do it. I wasn't shy about asking to get involved, and I was lucky in that some people asked me.
I will tell you some of the people in the PAC got involved, and I think you're going to see them become more involved because they got a taste of it and saw what it was like. I think once you do that, you're hooked because it gives you a great deal of pleasure.
Q: What did you do before you came back to El Paso?
I was in New York and Boston and Phoenix doing different things. I worked for an insurance company and an airline. I left town like a lot of people do and went to college at Arizona State. I wasn't sure I wanted to come back or what I wanted to do. So, for four or five years, I lived on the East Coast and then moved to Phoenix and got in the insurance business there because I didn't want to start here.
My dad, grandfather and I felt that it wouldn't be a good idea to join the family business and I agreed, because I really needed to find out if I wanted to do business and could do it on my own. I liked insurance and finance and I figured out that Phoenix was a great city, but it doesn't have the roots that El Paso has.
I'm a fourth generation El Pasoan, and I love this city - both sides of the border. I wanted to do something and El Paso is a city where you can be involved and you can make a difference.
Q: What do you get from all that involvement?
First, like everything else, nobody does it by themselves, whether it's ReadyOne or the UTEP board. I work with people I don't know many times, so you get the chance to meet new people. But I think the bottom line is you get the gratification of seeing a result, and hopefully a good one.
Q: Now that the PAC and the election are out of the way, what is the next big thing you are working on?
My family and my business, in that order.
Q: This year, you headed up the El Paso Tomorrow Political Action Committee to raise money to support the two bond propositions on the November ballot and, then, the ballpark proposition. It got controversial and very messy. Why did you take that on?
When we first started talking about the bond issue, the city was out in the fall of 2011 getting input from the community as to what people wanted to see on the ballot. And, we started talking towards the end of 2011 of putting a group together. I got excited because I felt strongly. At that time the ballpark hadn't come into play yet. It came along this year.
All the quality-of-life projects were exciting because, first off, it was huge. It came down to $473 million, but we were talking at one time about as much as $500 or $600 million. To me, those were things we needed in this community of over 700,000 people. We did that in 2000 with a $143 million bond issue, but we needed to do more. I wanted to be part of that.
Q: So no one came up to you and said, "Hey, Tripper, it's your turn"?
I'll tell you what happened. This history is that the Paso del Norte Group and the Downtown group had made this effort six or seven years ago. For whatever reason, it didn't take. But the seed was planted, and I think people got excited about the possibilities.
When we started talking about it again, the PdN, headed up then by Myrna Deckert and Bill Sanders, were excited about it and the city manager Joyce Wilson was excited about the possibility of doing that. So, we got the DMD and PdN together, and we said let's select a few people. Ruben Guerra came from PdN, myself and Brent Harris from DMD were picked. Then, we chose Mark Benitez, who's a community guy, president of the Cielo Vista Neighborhood Association.
That was the small group that started working on this. We knew that once we were ready to select the projects to go on the ballot, and we would be ready to do that in the spring, that we would have to have a full-blown PAC or political committee that would run the campaign. I was asked to be chairman, mainly because I was on the DMD board, which they thought would take a bigger role. We found out later it couldn't because there were some conflicts there. So, I became chair, not because I had any special ability or just by being in the chute, so to speak.
Q: Had you run a campaign before for a cause or candidate?
I helped run a couple of political candidates' campaigns. I was involved in Joe Wardy's first campaign for mayor as chair of the capital drive and in Lorraine O'Donnell's ill-fated campaign (for the Texas House). I've also worked on other political campaigns, not at that level, though.
Q: The bond propositions will cost $473 million, by far the largest in the city's history. What do you think the high level of voter support for the propositions says about El Paso today?
I think the town has changed. I think there's a different attitude. One of the things that really came out in this campaign was how many young people were in the campaign, got involved, many who had never been involved in anything before. There were a lot of young people in all parts of the city. I know a lot of young people who voted for it and gave money. We had signs and doorknockers and people out doing those things and a website and the social media way of doing this was tremendous. The young people really ran with that. They didn't vote in large numbers, but I think they encouraged others.
And I think the over-40 folks realized this was the right thing to do because they wanted their kids to stay or their grandkids to visit, and the cost was minimal for the most part. I think they saw that El Paso needed to make a decision, and we framed it up that way. It was decision time for the city. Do we want to grow and be progressive or stay where we've been?
Q: Were you surprised by the outcome, with over 70 percent of voters in support?
No. I thought we were going to win, and I said all three were going to win - but not by that much. Using the MithoffBurton agency and consultant Rick Armendariz, we had good advertising and good media. I think people realized they wanted to make a difference.
Q: Then there's the ballpark, a $50-million project on its own, much of which will be paid by hotel and motel guests over 15 to 20 years. But there was all the controversy about tearing down City Hall and Insights Science Museum. Were you in favor of the ballpark and tearing down City Hall from the start?
Yes. There had been discussions five, six, seven years ago about tearing down City Hall and putting different buildings there. At one time, it was a stadium and an arena. And I think City Council in 2008 or 2009 said they weren't going to commit to any more maintenance. That to me sent the message very clearly.
Secondly, there were studies about the best location. We didn't want to deal with a lot of individual property owners. It is city-owned property and it made it a much better place to do it.
Q: If you looked at El Paso from the outside, like a company or even a family thinking about moving here, what difference do you think the election will mean down the road?
You have the ballpark and a multipurpose events center. On top of that, you have about $380 million in neighborhood projects, swimming pools, neighborhood parks, park upgrades and the children's museum. These are important to families looking at moving to El Paso or staying here and economic development on top of that. If you're going to get businesses here, they're going to have to convince their people to come here.
Q: Will the ballpark make a big difference?
I think it will make a huge difference. It's going to change the dynamics of the city - Downtown, Sunset Heights and the outskirts and all the other areas of town. That's happened in other communities. People decide to be part of it and so they fix up their place or they invest money or buy more property. They do things that make it a better place.
Q: Since the 1980s, all of the plans and studies for the revitalization of Downtown El Paso called for significant private investment, but that didn't happened until Paul Foster and Woody Hunt came along. Do you think their investments in Downtown and a Triple-A baseball team will spur the Downtown business community to do more?
I do because I think those two guys and others like Jerry Rubin, but those two in particular, have been a perfect example of putting your money where your mouth is.
I think they have set the pace and the example that others I hope will follow.
Q: How much did the PAC raise?
About $350,000 to $400,000.
Q: Did that come easy?
No, it didn't. Some people out there helped a whole lot. It didn't come easy but once you got in front of people, you'd be amazed how many people really said, "I want to be a part of this." But it's like anything else, you have to make the calls and go out and talk to people. Some of the big hitters in this community didn't just write a check, they went out and raised money. There were about seven people who really spent the time doing it.
Q: In the midst of all of this your wife, Doris, was very ill. I expect you were tempted to pull out of the PAC fundraising to be with her. What kept you involved?
It was, but she told me to stick it out.
Q: Would you tell us a little bit about her?
She was a fabulous woman. You know, she wrote a book that just came out about her life. It's called, "From Here to There." She came from Germany. She was born in a small town outside of Munich and moved here in 1978, married and had two children. She became a U.S. citizen. She was smart, beautiful, very encouraging. She raised two sets of families, one from her first marriage and ours. Our son is 17. I loved talking to her. She was great in social settings. She got a master's in psychology at UTEP and became president of the alumni association.
She ran a training company that did human resource training for businesses. She worked for Henry Ellis and Hal Dougherty and Wells Fargo for years, was president of the El Paso Child Guidance Center and was involved with the citywide PTA in the last few years. She was a great role model.
She lived long enough to see I was nominated for this award. She said, "You're going to win. You should win."
Q: And your parents?
My dad was Leonard Goodman Jr. They called him Nardo. My mother is Eleanor. Her maiden name was Kohlberg. They were very active in the community. They were role models for giving back, not expecting anything. Nobody does things strictly for that. There's ego involved and there's gratification, but the idea is you want to see the place where you live and grew up be a better place.
Q: El Paso has a prominent and active Jewish community that often works very closely in business with the Arab-American community. What can you tell us about those relationships? And is El Paso different from other communities?
El Paso in my opinion is so unique because we don't have people who can't be members of country clubs because of their race or their religion. That happens in other cities. In most cities, you don't mix of lot of that. El Paso has always been a city that, in my opinion, has welcomed people regardless of their background, regardless of their race or religion. You have a lot of founders who built this city who come from all walks of life. That's what makes this city so unique.
That's why I think we open our arms to people and encourage them to become involved. I've lived in other cities, and they're not like this one.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.