Candidates, community leaders denounce anti-gay robo calls by right-wing PAC
Prominent local civil rights leaders and the current mayor this week condemned the use of anti-gay measures in political campaigning after a conservative group attempted to derail Ed Oakley’s mayoral campaign in a robo call telephone recording.
Hector Flores, immediate past president of Dallas’ League of United Latin American Citizens, said anti-gay campaigning is “unacceptable” in Dallas. The recordings were described as “hateful” by many people who received them.
“In another time this could have been called race baiting,” Flores said. “Obviously, this is just unacceptable behavior, regardless of who issued it or who funded it.”
Mark Briskman, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, said that his group’s policy in general is that it opposes the use of such tactics.
“Clearly the introduction of issues like race, religion or sexual orientation are issues that are inappropriate for any kind of a political race,” Briskman said. “For any group on any side of this campaign to be involved in such activity is something that should not be permitted.”
Dallas Mayor Laura Miller called the tactics “reprehensible.”
“Sexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with being mayor,” Miller said. “It is totally immaterial.”
Anti-gay robo calls denouncing gay mayoral candidate Ed Oakley and praising his opponent, Tom Leppert, spread across Dallas over last weekend, June 9-10.
The recorded phone messages, attributed to the Heritage Alliance’s political action committee on the recordings, told voters the three top issues of the mayoral runoff race are “crime, education and homosexuality.” The messages also noted that Oakley would be the first openly-gay person to be elected mayor of a large city if he is elected on Saturday, June 16.”
“We encourage you to vote for Tom Leppert, a Christian, married father of three children,” the female voice on the recordings said.
The phone calls apparently were timed to coincide with “Super Sunday,” a grass-roots event designed to turn out the vote in South Dallas. Both Oakley and Leppert campaigned vigorously in South Dallas on Sunday.”
Flores said he believes most Dallas residents would condemn the Heritage Alliance for making the phone calls.
“I don’t think there is room for these types of shenanigans and dirty politics to take place at least not in Dallas,” Flores said. “It’s just not right morally or any which way. You can’t defend it.”
The Heritage Alliance’s mission, according to its Web site (www.txvote.com), is to “empower the handful of citizens necessary to restore principles of free enterprise, limited government, limited taxation and our traditional Judeo-Christian heritage in government.” The group was founded by Dallas resident Richard Ford, who counts Focus on the Family founder James Dobson as one of his associates, his Web site notes.
The Leppert campaign quickly posted a message on its Web site disassociating the candidate from the robo calls. In a press release the campaign sent out on Sunday, June 9, Leppert called on the Heritage Alliance to discontinue making the calls.”
Leppert had previously vowed in interviews not to make Oakley’s sexual orientation an issue in the race, but Oakley claimed last week that a “whisper campaign” has plagued him throughout the mayoral election.”
Leppert said in interviews his campaign has had nothing to do with a whisper campaign or robo calls that went out on the day of the general election on May 12 accusing of Oakley having a “radical anti-gay agenda” and also criticizing candidates Max Wells and Don Hill. Those calls omitted the sponsoring information heard on the most recent calls.
“I want to assure the citizens of Dallas that it is not our campaign,” Leppert said in the statement. “These tactics will only divide our city and discourage voters. Dallas voters have been tasked with the very important decision of who will lead our city into the future, and they deserve better than this.”
But Oakley said he suspects the Leppert campaign may have had prior knowledge of the calls, based on the speed in which Leppert had a message posted on his Web site condemning them. The calls were made to both Republicans and Democrats all over the city. Oakley said he even received one of the calls at his house.”
“It was clearly a method to inflame the electorate from North to South,” Oakley said.
Oakley noted the recordings also included inaccurate information about crime and drop-out rates.
“There’s nothing factual about it at all,” Oakley said.
Becky Mayad, a publicist for Leppert, said the Leppert campaign “absolutely did not have any advance knowledge” of the Heritage Alliance plans to launch the robo calls.
“We began getting calls and e-mails from Dallas citizens early Saturday afternoon,” Mayad said. “We investigated the situation, contacted the organization by phone and e-mail, and then put a statement up on our Web site asking the Heritage Alliance to immediately stop the hateful calls. We distributed this message to the media as well.
“We addressed the situation and took action in a timely fashion, as we have done throughout our campaign,” she said.
Mayad reiterated Leppert’s message condemning Heritage Alliance’s tactics and saying “Dallas voters deserve better.” The campaign did not get a response from the Heritage Alliance, she said.
Oakley said it was Leppert’s responsibility to speak out against the Heritage Alliance’s tactics, particularly since it touted him as the candidate worthy of being mayor.
“I’m glad he did,” said Oakley, who noted that when he got his first phone call alerting him to the robo calls, a member of his campaign staff found a letter on Leppert’s Web site condemning the calls. “He had a letter up almost immediately that it was coming which led me to believe he had prior knowledge it was coming.”
Jesse Garcia, president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and a member of Dallas Gay LULAC chapter, said the calls “angered and saddened” him.
“To be blatant about gay bashing in a phone call, demeaning nearly 100,000 LGBT members of your community who live, work and support the city of Dallas, is just so backwards,” Garcia said. “This hateful call did not come out of Tom Leppert’s campaign, but it came from people who support him which says a lot about the candidate with whose ideas they are aligned with.”
Pete Webb, president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, said the calls were shocking.
“As any community leader I’m very concerned,” Webb said. “I know along with the Human Rights Campaign and other community organizations we are definitely outraged that an organization whether they are tied directly or indirectly to a campaign are using robo calls and blanketing an entire area with inciting phone calls, stirring up people’s fears. The phone calls preyed upon people’s fear and bigotry.”
Webb said he suspects the organization made the phone calls because of a feeling of “desperation.”
“I think when people feel their candidate is not doing well in certain areas they will use inciting language and bigoted rhetoric to stir up the emotions of the electorate,” Webb said.”
Oakley said he doubts that the phone calls did the Leppert campaign any good.”
“I think it’s doing damage to my opponent’s side more so than me,” Oakley said. “I can’t tell you how many outraged phone calls we got.”
Oakley said one woman criticized him for his television ads attacking Leppert’s record running Turner Construction Co., but she called the robo calls a far worse example of negative campaigning.
Flores said Dallas voters are frustrated by negative campaigning.
“Everybody should attempt to take the high road,” Flores said. “I think both candidates should put their best foot forward.”
Oakley said his campaign staff opened the office early on Sunday just to deal with all of the phone calls about the recordings.”
Garcia said he hopes the robo calls make Dallas’ LGBT voters realize how important it is to get out and vote on Election Day.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 15, 2007.