New Precinct 5 constable denies gay-baiting in past elections, has joined Stonewall Democrats
If Dallas Democratic Party primary voters had elected Jaime Cortes to run on the 2006 ballot for constable of Precinct 5, it could have saved the Commissioners Court and taxpayers a lot of time, headaches and money.
The Commissioners Court appointed Cortes on Tuesday, July 10, to the position he had battled gay Constable Mike Dupree for in the primaries for the 2002 and 2006 elections. He was appointed to replace Dupree, who resigned June 28 and later pleaded guilty to one charge of official misconduct. Dupree left office amid allegations of corruption, sexual harassment of employees and failure to carry out official duties.
Dupree was unopposed in the November 2006 general election.
Precinct 5, which includes Oak Lawn and parts of Oak Cliff and East Dallas, is a Democratic Party stronghold, and the party’s candidate is virtually guaranteed election to that position.
Cortes’ election probably would have also saved the LGBT community a lot of embarrassment. The Dupree scandal spawned criminal and civil investigations and countless media reports about his employees’ allegations during the past six months.
County officials claim Dupree’s failure to carry out official duties has resulted in a liability of more than $1 million for the county.
“For a change, I’m so excited,” said Mike Lo Vuolo, political affairs director for Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. “Things are going to start looking up for a change. It’s been a rough few months.”
Lo Vuolo and Jesse Garcia, president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, said they are rejoicing that Cortes was appointed to replace Dupree. The alternative could have been a conservative because Republicans hold a majority on the Commissioners Court.
“It could have gone really, really bad,” Garcia said. “We could have gotten some right- wing person appointed who wouldn’t want to reach out to our community. But we got a miracle.”
Cortes, who was a sergeant for the Precinct 1 Constable’s Office prior to his appointment, promised in a telephone interview he would be responsive to the LGBT community and fair to gay and lesbian employees. Anti-gay discrimination will not be practiced by anyone in the Precinct 5 Constable’s Office, he said.
“I’m not going to tolerate it, just as we wouldn’t tolerate anybody saying anything derogatory about any other minority group,” said Cortes, 38, who is also a youth basketball coach. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re all equal, and we’re going to treat each other equally here.”
Cortes said his first step as constable would be to inspect the office and its records. Then a plan will be implemented to turn the office around and make it successful, he said.
Precinct 1 Constable Derrick Evans, who oversaw the office for a week after Dupree resigned, reported this week that he found the office’s records in disarray and work piled up and unattended.
Cortes said he plans to prove to LGBT residents that he is a fair man who harbors no anti-gay sentiments. In the primaries for both the 2002 and 2006 elections, Dupree maintained that Cortes’ campaign had participated in gay baiting.
“I know there were a lot of things said about me,” Cortes said. “I would like an opportunity to show through my actions that I treat everybody fairly. I look forward to doing that. I just ask for an open mind and a chance to do so.”
Garcia said he and other Stonewall members now believe Cortes had no involvement in the alleged gay baiting if it actually ever occurred.
“Given what has gone down with Dupree, I would say it was probably baseless,” Garcia said.
Dupree said in a statement that he wished Cortes well in his duties as constable.
“I wish him the best,” Dupree said. “He’s worked hard through two election trying to win that seat over there. Now, it belongs to him, and I wish him the best.”
Garcia said he and other Stonewall members had supported Dupree’s candidacy because he was openly gay, but they were impressed with Cortes when he sought an endorsement prior to the 2006 primary. That favorable impression continued because Cortes apparently held no grudges about losing the endorsement to Dupree and reached out to gay Democrats at Democratic Party functions, he said.
“He was just a real class act,” Garcia said. “He never took that personally. He’s just a very kind individual who knows how to connect with people.”
Garcia noted that Cortes joined Stonewall’s membership on July 7.
Last weekend, Cortes and his wife attended the benefit at the Round-Up Saloon for the widow of a man who was slain in Oak Lawn earlier this year at an ATM. The event was sponsored by the Dallas Tavern Guild and other gay groups.
Garcia said he was impressed that Garcia spent two hours at the event getting to know members of the community when it was unknown if the Commissioners Court would appoint him to the position.
“It wasn’t a sure shot at all,” Garcia said.
Cortes began seeking support from members of the community for the $101,843-per-year job after it became clear Dupree would likely be losing the position, Garcia said.
To maintain the position, Cortes must run for election next year to fill the unexpired term that ends in 2010.
The office Cortes has taken over has had a history of problems. Dupree’s predecessor, Aurelio Castillo, was indicted on charges of bribery and fundraising law violations. He was acquitted of bribery, but he was placed on probation for accepting an illegal corporate campaign donation.
Dupree had served in the position for nine years. He was elected for an unexpired term and twice for full terms.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 13, 2007