Dallas could gain gay councilmember

Posted on 03 Aug 2012 at 8:45am

Several gay candidates eye heavily LGBT districts as they consider seeking election to fill 3 term-limited City Council seats in 2013

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James Nowlin, left, Herschel Weisfield, right

ANNA WAUGH  |  Staff Writer

While it’s still too early to officially announce their candidacy for City Council seats that will be open because of term limits, gay candidates are making their rounds to determine whether they should seek election.

District 2 Councilwoman Pauline Medrano, District 14 Councilwoman Angela Hunt and District 11 Councilwoman Linda Koop will reach the four-term limit in 2013, possibly making way for the next gay councilmember. Districts 2 and 14 are both heavily LGBT.

The City Council hasn’t had an openly gay member since Ed Oakley stepped down to run for mayor in 2007. Prior to that, there was at least one openly gay person on the council for 14 consecutive years.

Openly gay Dallas real estate developer and political newcomer Herschel Weisfeld is eyeing Medrano’s seat.

“I feel like it’s an opportunity for me to offer my experience to the city,” he said.

While District 2 is traditionally a Hispanic district, Weisfeld said he had a strong Hispanic upbringing in The Valley and is bilingual.

“I believe the city of Dallas is ready for fair and equal representation without the color of your skin,” he said. “I feel that I can represent the Hispanic community very fairly and very equally.”

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John Loza, left, Casie Pierce, right

Weisfeld said his possible candidacy for the Council seat would go beyond ties to the Hispanic, gay and Jewish communities because he would represent the city’s diverse culture. His involvement in the arts and homeless spheres, as well crime watch as one of creators of the Oak Lawn Stakeholders Crime Watch group, help add to his diversity.

Weisfeld also said his sexuality is a “small piece” of who he is and who he would represent, adding that it is of more importance to have qualified candidates than diverse ones, of which he said he is both.

“I think I have a cross of experience and exposure to a lot of arenas that makes me an ideal representative on the City Council,” Weisfeld said. “I believe it’s important that we have qualified candidates representing our community. The fact that I am gay adds another valuable commodity to who I am and who I represent as a city.”

Although Weisfeld hasn’t made any formal announcement on his candidacy either way, he said he is in the process of meeting with stakeholders to “understand and gauge what the needs and necessities are of the community and how I as a city councilmember can facilitate the needs of our community.”

Another possible candidate for District 2 is Adam Medrano, a Dallas school board member for District 8 and Pauline Medrano’s nephew.

Medrano said he’s received “broad support” over the past year by people asking if he would run for the seat.

“I’ve thought about it. It’s a possibility,” he said. “I’m strongly considering it.”

But Medrano works for the city’s park department, so he said he’d have to quit his job in order to run for City Council, something he’s also considered.

“I’ve considered it all,” he said.

Openly gay candidate James Nowlin was among Hunt’s challengers in 2011, when she sought re-election to her seat after considering a run for mayor.

Campaign mudslinging from both Hunt and Nowlin supporters divided the gay community as LGBT groups endorsed both candidates.

Nowlin said recently that he was “still assessing my options,” if he decides to run again for the District 14 seat, adding that he’ll maintain a strong campaign and backing.

“We ran a strong race last time and last election cycle my candidacy was taken very seriously,” he said. “I was a very strong candidate and extremely proud of what my supporters accomplished. If I decide to run again, that strength will be multiplied.”

Although no one is rumored to be eyeing Koop’s seat, Nowlin said he wouldn’t consider moving to run unopposed. He said he sought the District 14’s position because he was so deep-rooted in the district’s community.

“District 14 is my home. It’s the heart and the soul of the city,” he said. “It’s a dynamic district that calls for dynamic leadership and it’s where my heart is.”

A redistricting plan approved by the Council last year made many changes among districts including moving District 3 Councilman Scott Griggs into Delia Jasso’s District 1. If they were forced to run against each other, it could cost the LGBT community an ally. There are rumors about a lawsuit challenging the plan, but Griggs declined to comment on the rumors or redistricting, saying he hasn’t thought about running against Jasso.

“Right now I’m focusing on my constituents,” he said. “There’s still a lot to do in District 3.”

Griggs gave the same answer about staying focused on his present constituents in reference to rumors about another redistricting plan to move Griggs’ district into District 14 where Hunt is termed out next year.

Casie Pierce, a lesbian who ran against incumbent Carolyn Davis in District 7 in 2011, said she has considered running again next year. She, too, said she wouldn’t move because she loves her district.

“I’m just not sure. I’m still on the fence about it,” she said about running.

Aside from the challenge of unseating an incumbent in a black district, Pierce said her being a lesbian increases her difficulty of gaining the votes of the district’s socially conservative constituents.

“Even though people are pretty liberal in the district, they’re Democrats, it’s [the district’s] kind of conservative on the gay thing,” she said. “So, it’s kind of hard for a lesbian to go up against that.”

Former City Councilman John Loza, who served on the Council from 1997 to 2005 for District 2, said he expects to have many LGBT members on the Council in the future. He said he thinks the times are changing to where, even in Texas, an LGBT candidate could win a council seat in any Dallas district.

Echoing Loza’s sentiments, Nowlin said diversity is always needed on the Council, but said he would want to win the seat based on his experience, not his sexual orientation.

“My background is a part of who I am but not all of who I am,” Nowlin said. “I do believe that the Council could benefit from diversity but I’m certainly running based on my ability to serve and not on my background. I will run and win as the best candidate period.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 3, 2012.

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