Anti-gay robocalls may have been difference in Arlington race, as gay candidate loses by just 74 votes
FROM STAFF REPORTS
Mike Rawlings and Betsy Price cruised to victories in runoffs for mayor in Dallas and Fort Worth, respectively, on Saturday night, while Chris Hightower was narrowly defeated in his bid to become Arlington’s first openly gay council member.
Hightower was one of three openly gay candidates who lost city council races in Texas on Saturday, along with Randi Shade in Austin and Elena Guajardo in San Antonio.
According to unofficial results, with all precincts reporting, Hightower was defeated by just 74 votes. District 5 incumbent Lana Wolff captured 997 votes to Hightower’s 923, or 52 percent to 48 percent, and it may have been some rabidly anti-gay last-minute robocalls that made
Hightower himself declined to comment on the calls, saying “I’m not going to even give that any credibility.”
One of the calls, recorded by a Hightower supporter, was made by a man identifying himself as Joe Barnett, who called Hightower “a convicted sex pervert,” a “sex creep,” and “this weirdo.”
The caller also warned voters that they needed to “protect our children and our grandchildren from sex perverts running around our neighborhoods.”
The call ended with Barnett encouraging residents to “vote for a Wolff, not a pervert.”
The caller also said Hightower had been arrested and jailed for “sex crimes,” and that he’d pleaded guilty and been given probation,
allegations that Hightower’s mother, former state Rep. Paula Hightower Pierson, said Saturday night were patently false.
The incident to which the caller was apparently referring occurred in the 1990s when Hightower owned a gift and video store on Jennings Street in Fort Worth. When someone complained to police that Hightower was selling gay pornography, police raided the shop, confiscating the videos and arresting Hightower on a misdemeanor charge.
The charges were later determined to be unfounded and were dismissed, and Hightower has no criminal record.
Hightower led by 31 votes after the early ballots were counted, giving his supporters who had gathered at Arlington’s Atomic Café high hopes for the outcome. But after ballots were tallied from the first two ballot boxes — in precincts where Hightower had been expected to do well —
his lead had dropped to only two votes, and his supporters’ hopes begin to dim.
When vote counts had been counted from four of five boxes, leaving only those precincts that were strongest for Wolff yet to be tallied, the incumbent led by 35 votes, and Hightower conceded the race.
He thanked his supporters, friends and family, including his partner of 10 years, D.J. Johanesson who, Hightower said, had been “standing behind me, every step of the way. He also offered special thanks to his mother, and to the national Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which had endorsed him.
“We had a lot of stuff thrown our way that wasn’t expected,”
Hightower said in an oblique reference to the anti-gay tactics, “and they [the Victory Fund] helped us learn how to handle that.”
Hightower said he and his supporters had run “a good, hard, positive campaign,” adding that he believes this campaign had “laid the
groundwork” for the future.
“We’re not going to stop here,” he declared, drawings cheers from the crowd.
“I am proud of Arlington,” Hightower said. “Look how far we’ve come: We almost did it! It makes me have hope for the future.”
District 5 has 21,391 registered voters, and turnout for the runoff was 9.05 percent. Turnout in the May 14 general election was 9.78 percent.
In the Dallas’ mayoral runoff, Rawlings captured 56 percent of the vote to David Kunkle’s 44 percent, or 31,077 to 24,617. The outcome of the race was apparent shortly after 7 p.m., when early voting numbers were released and put Rawlings well ahead.
Hundreds of people crowded into the Meddlesome Moth in the Design District, just across Stemmons Freeway from the gayborhood, for Rawlings’ watch party. They included openly gay former city councilmen Ed Oakley and John Loza, as well as former city plan commissioner Neil Emmons.
“If you look around this group, you can see there’s a lot of diversity here,” Rawlings said during his victory speech at about 9:30 p.m.. “That’s important. There are people here with different views, believe it or not, but instead of focusing on where we differ, we chose to focus on what brings us together.”
Kunkle, the city’s former police chief, was endorsed by both Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, the only two LGBT groups that make endorsements in city elections. However, Rawlings had the backing of several gay former council members including Oakley, Loza, Chris Luna and Craig Holcomb.
“Stonewall Democrats and DGLA were very important endorsements for me that I’m very proud of,” Kunkle said Saturday night during his watch party at the San Francisco Rose on Greenville Avenue. “They worked very hard in the campaign.”
“I want to thank everyone here tonight and all those who supported me in the campaign,” Kunkle said later during his concession speech. “I called Mike Rawlings and told him I think he’ll be a great mayor for Dallas and offered him all the support I can give him.”
DGLA issued a rare warning about Rawlings before the May 14 election, saying the former Pizza Hut CEO’s “passion for commerce and business interests supremely outweights his appreciation for the civil rights of all people.” Rawlings adamantly denied the allegation, which was based on a statement he made in an interview with the group, and DGLA chose not to re-issue its warning in the runoff.
Oakley, who initially endorsed Ron Natinsky then got behind Rawlings in the runoff, said he isn’t worried about the new mayor on LGBT issues.
“The city’s going to be in good hands,” Oakley said at the Rawlings watch party. “We couldn’t have gone wrong with any of the three candidates as far as our issues go.”
Four years ago, Oakley was defeated in a runoff for mayor by a similar margin against Tom Leppert, who recently came out against both same-sex marriage and civil unions after stepping down to run for U.S. Senate.
Asked whether he thinks there’s any risk Rawlings would betray the LGBT community in the same manner as Leppert, Oakley responded, “I told him I’d hunt him down if he did.”
Also in Dallas, Sandy Greyson, who has a pro-LGBT voting record in public office, defeated Donna Starnes in a runoff for Natinsky’s old seat. Greyson voted in favor of Dallas’ nondiscrimination ordinance, which includes both sexual orientation and gender identity, when she was on the council in 2002. She also voted in favor of adding sexual orientation to DART’s nondiscrimination policy in 1995, when she sat on the transit agency’s board.
In Fort Worth, former Tax Assessor/Collector Price won the mayoral runoff over former City Councilman Jim Lane, 56 percent to 44 percent.
Price took an 18 point lead after early voting, and stayed ahead throughout the night, although Lane did close the gap to 12 percent by the end of the night.
Before the final count was in, Lane declined to concede the race but did tell reporters that Price is “smart” and will “do a good job” as mayor, according to spectators at his campaign’s watch party.
Both Fort Worth mayoral candidates had courted the LGBT vote throughout the runoff.
In other races of interest to the LGBT community:
• In the race for the Carrollton Place 2 council seat, Bonnie Kaplan, who promised to represent all citizens in her district, lost to Anthony Wilder, who used Kaplan’s statement against her. Kaplan said during the campaign that Carrollton is very diverse and she embraces the diversity. Wilder, meanwhile, said gays and Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve on boards and commissions. Kaplan received 806 votes to Wilder’s 926 votes.
• In Austin, lesbian incumbent Randi Shade lost her re-election bid to Kathie Tovo, 56 to 44 percent. Tovo was seen by many voters as the progressive in the race and had quite a bit of support in the LGBT community. Shade was endorsed by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.
• In San Antonio, lesbian candidate Elena Guajardo was seeking a second term on the San Antonio City Council. She was elected to a term in 2005 but defeated in 2007. Guajardo’s opponent received 76 percent of the vote.