With almost half its members facing term limits, Dallas City Council faces largest change in years
For the first time in recent elections, none of the three Dallas City Council districts with the largest LGBT populations has a contested race.
The three districts are District 1 in North Oak Cliff, represented by Scott Griggs, and Districts 2 and 14 in Oak Lawn, represented by Adam Medrano and Philip Kingston, respectively.
In the last election, Griggs faced incumbent Delia Jasso when his neighborhood was carved out of District 3. The Oak Lawn seats were vacant. Medrano faced one major opponent and Kingston had six other people in his race.
Griggs, Medrano and Kingston have become known as “The Three Amigos” on the council, not only because they’ve become friends, but because they often vote as a block.
But The Three Amigos are not the only council members who have supported the LGBT community on the current council. Lee Kleinman in District 11, which roughly runs from Walnut Hill Lane to Campbell Road between the Tollway and Central Expressway, sits on both the Police and Fire Pension board and the Employee Retirement Fund.
Other council members sit on the boards as well, but Kleinman took the lead in arguing with non-council board members to equalize benefits for gay and lesbian employees.
The chair of the Police and Fire board accused Kleinman of having a political agenda. While he certainly has LGBT constituents, he stood to gain little since he, too, is running unopposed.
Kleinman never waivered in his arguments that fairness dictated all retirees receive the same benefits.
Two other council members are also running unopposed — Sandy Greyson in District 12 in Far North Dallas and Jennifer Gates in District 13, which includes a small portion of Oak Lawn near Love Field.
The news in this election is how many council members hit term limits — including Vonceil Jones Hill, who has opposed almost anything for the LGBT community and whose redistricted seat includes a large LGBT area in southern Oak Cliff.
Also leaving the council will be Dwaine Caraway, Carolyn Davis, Tennell Atkins, Sheffie Kadane and Jerry Allen.
Former Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Omar Narvaez said, “This is a huge opportunity to change the face of the council.”
He called the current council progressive and said, “Most of the folks running are pro-LGBT.”
Quite a few candidates are running for each of the open seats. For Allen’s northeast Dallas district, three people are vying for the position. Five each for Hill and Kadane’s seats. South Dallas attracted the most candidates with six seeking to replace Atkins and eight each making a bid for Caraway’s and Davis’ seats.
“Whoever comes in, we have to be prepared to rewind a little bit,” Narvaez said. “We have to remember when we meet new folks, we can’t expect them to be where we are.”
Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance President Patti Fink agrees and said her organization’s PAC started interviewing candidates for endorsement this week.
“We’re looking for candidates willing to learn about issues important to our community,” Fink said.
With the exception of Kadane and Hill, each of the retiring council members has become a reliable ally. Davis sits of the ERF board with Kleinman and backed him up every step of the way as he argued for equal benefits.
Atkins sits on the Police and Fire Pension board and after one particularly contentious meeting, met with a group of lesbian police officers who attended that meeting. He was in tears as he apologized to them for not being able to protect their families.
As chair of the Budget, Finance and Audit committee, Allen steered a number of changes in city policy that were recommended by the LGBT Task Force through the committee and the full council.
Two other races are for incumbents Rick Callahan in District 5 and Monica Alonzo in District 6.
Alonzo faces token opposition from three candidates to retain her West Dallas seat. However, her district usually sees the city’s lowest voter turnout, so even a moderate challenge from one of her opponents could cause a run off or even a loss.
First-term councilman Callahan is facing a strong challenge from two opponents. Jesse Diaz opposed Callahan in the 2013 election. Callahan won even though this district was drawn as a Hispanic seat. Diaz had Stonewall’s endorsement.
In this race, Stonewall threw its support behind Sherry Cordova.
Cordova promised to be an ally to the LGBT community in City Hall.
Narvaez said this was one of the races he was personally watching, adding that he considers Callahan to be out of touch with his district.
Earlier this year, Callahan voted against a change to language in the ERF benefit plan to equalize benefits for gay and lesbian retirees. His campaign manager said Callahan has struggled with the issue of same-sex marriage. In his 2013 Dallas Voice questionnaire, Callahan said he supports civil unions, not marriage equality.
Trans Pride Initiative Executive Director Nell Gaither said many of the recommendations of the LGBT Task Force were implemented over the past year equalizing benefits and protections, but some work does remain for the upcoming council.
“Providing trans healthcare benefits that includes all necessary medical care is one,” Gaither said, adding that the council needs to finish addressing some inconsistencies in the wording of the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance.
The major issue in this campaign — even for the LGBT community, if Stonewall Democrats’ screening meeting is an indication — is the Trinity Toll Road. The Three Amigos oppose any road between the levees other than a parkway linking park attractions. The mayor and Kleinman are among the toll road’s supporters.
Candidates from South Dallas are distinguishing themselves mostly on this issue. The anti-road candidates say their constituents won’t be able to afford to use the highway if it’s built. The pro-road candidates say it will bring jobs to their area and get other residents to parts of the city where jobs are more plentiful.
For more election and candidate information, visit CitySecretary.DallasCityHall.com/Elections.html.
4 FW council members are unopposed; 5 others face 1st-time challengers
A political campaign based on reforming the code compliance process or challenging an incumbent’s record on economic development may sound more like an episode of TV’s Parks and Recreation. But it’s really just another campaign season for the Fort Worth City Council.
All incumbents filed for re-election but not all of them are facing challengers.
The four council members unopposed in their re-election bids are Mayor Betsy Price, Councilwoman Ann Zadeh and Councilmen Jungus Jordan and W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman.
Jim Riddlesperger, a professor of political science at Texas Christian University, said he anticipates a low-key election season. Unless there’s an open seat, he said, incumbents coast to re-election with little opposition.
“Fort Worth historically hasn’t been the type of city to seek contested races,” he said.
Incumbents usually hold the edge in an election, but that doesn’t mean outliers won’t try to oust a sitting council member. This cycle, Fort Worth incumbents are facing first-time challengers who are running different types of races.
Take Bob Willoughby. The first-time candidate is challenging Councilwoman Gyna Bivens, who defeated an incumbent in a 2013 runoff. Though Bivens is running for only her second term on council, Willoughby thinks city hall already needs a fresh face. According to his campaign website, he has had multiple issues with code compliance.
He’s what Riddlesperger called an “expressive candidate” — the type with an axe to grind. “Expressive candidates could be running because they’re mad, but it’s difficult to convert that into a win,” he explained.
Andy Gallagher, on the other hand is, what political scientists call a “stealth candidate,” Riddlesperger said. The mortgage loan officer is running against Councilman Dennis Shingleton.
Stealth candidates may be using the opportunity to gather a network and meet people. But Gallagher is the clear underdog in the race, so it’s curious that he’s also declined media requests. “Normally when you’re running for office, you want to be in the media spotlight, not shying away from it,” Riddlesperger said.
Two other challengers are running low-key, but visible campaigns. Financial analyst Steve Thornton is challenging Sal Espino in District 2. And in District 8, Sharon Mason-Ford, a teacher, is challenging Kelly Allen Gray. Both challengers suggest it’s time for some new blood on the council.
While Thornton is campaigning on Espino’s long tenure, Thornton said basic city needs still lack across the district. Espino was elected in 2005.
Mason-Ford isn’t citing Gray’s short tenure as a liability — Gray was first elected in a special election and is running for her second full term — but is citing a lack of development as reason enough to elect her over Gray.
Unlike the other first-time candidates, Cary Moon, the small business owner challenging Councilman Danny Scarth, is running the most typical campaign: meeting with neighborhood groups, raising money and, of course, kissing babies.
Fort Worth does not have a singular “gayborhood,” like Cedar Springs or Oak Cliff in Dallas. And unlike many other cities of its size, Fort Worth lacks a distinct council district more heavily populated with LGBTs.
Riddlesperger pointed out Zadeh’s district as the most LGBT-friendly, in part due to the urban, liberal-leaning population. “It was the district represented by Joel Burns and LGBT issues were a centerpiece of her campaign,” he said.
Fort Worth’s LGBT population is just more dispersed, said David Henderson, president of Fairness Fort Worth. The lack of a distinct LGBT identity is hardly a threat to LGBT equality however, if the city’s high ratings on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index and major advances over the past decade are any indication.
Fortunately, Riddlesperger said, anti-LGBT animosity is hardly a reason anymore for anyone to run in any council races. “We don’t have any openly gay-baiting council members. [The LGBT] issue is over,” he declared.
Council elections take place May 9. Candidate filing information is available at FortWorthTexas.gov/elections/?id=138010.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 10, 2015.