Attorney hopes to break into ‘good-old-boys’ club and become first Latina, first gay person on board in at-large race
Hispanics comprise 38 percent of Dallas County’s 2.4 million residents, according to 2007 Census figures.
But the seven-member Board of Trustees for Dallas County Schools — which provides transportation and other services to 14 independent school districts in the county — has never included a Hispanic representative.
Cassandra Gandara, 27, an openly gay Latina attorney, is hoping to change that in the May 9 municipal elections. Gandara is among four candidates vying for two seats on the Board of Trustees in an at-large race.
"I really believe that it’s important that all Dallas government boards reflect the diversity that is Dallas," said Gandara, who’d also be the first openly LGBT member of the board. "In the past it’s been known as a good-old-boy’s board, and that’s been changing. I just want to see that change continue and make sure we don’t go back to the old ways."
Gandara, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, grew up in Oak Cliff and graduated from Skyline High School. Gandara earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas at Dallas, where she also founded a chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
She went to law school at the University of Houston, where she was an officer in the LGBT student group. She said she "turned down the big firm jobs" so she could return to Dallas and complete a LULAC public interest fellowship under former Democratic state Rep. Domingo Garcia.
Gandara, who became an attorney in Garcia’s law office in 2007, said while she’s always been drawn to community service, she was inspired to run for office by the election of President Barack Obama.
"I believe that if what we really want is change, it needs to start at the local level," she said. "My parents always instilled in me that you needed to have an education to reach the American dream. I’ve always loved education and had a passion for it."
If elected, Gandara said she’d push for Dallas County Schools, which has 1,700 employees, to adopt an employment nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
"I also think it’s important that the employees, and specifically the bus drivers, undergo more training in regards to bullying and hate crimes directed toward GLBT students," Gandara said. "I was on these buses less than 10 years ago, and I remember what went on on them."
Gandara, who resides in Oak Cliff with her partner, has been endorsed by the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance.
DGLA also has endorsed incumbent Larry Duncan, a longtime LGBT ally, for the Board of Trustees at Dallas County Schools. "That’s two votes that are really convertible into a lot of good things for the LGBT community," DGLA President Patti Fink said. "I think that’s just an amazing opportunity that we have there."
Gandara is one of three known openly LGBT candidates running for office in North Texas this year. Daniel Benchot is running for Dallas City Council in District 1, while incumbent District 9 Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns is unopposed for re-election.
DGLA has endorsed 10 candidates in Dallas City Council races. For a complete list and more info, go to www.dallasgla.org. The Collin County Gay and Lesbian Alliance has posted survey responses from candidates in Frisco and Plano on the group’s Web site, www.ccgla.org.
Meanwhile, the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce has come out against Propositions 1 and 2 in Dallas. Proposition 1 would effectively bar the city from building and owning a $500 million Convention Center hotel. Proposition 2 would prevent the city from providing more than $1 million in incentives to developers without first conducting a referendum if 500 Dallas voters sign a petition.
It remained unclear this week whether Omni Hotels, which would operate the Convention Center hotel if it’s built, would offer domestic partner benefits to an estimated 800 permanent employees at the proposed facility. The question of whether Omni Hotels would offer DP benefits at the Convention Center hotel was first raised in a Dallas Voice article last week.
Chris Heinbaugh, Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert’s chief of staff, said Thursday, May 7, that "serious discussions" were under way between the city and Omni concerning DP benefits. Leppert said last week he planned to try to persuade Omni Hotels to offer DP benefits.
"Omni has been very open to talking about this," said Heinbaugh, who suggested that a commitment from Omni to offer DP benefits was imminent.
Early voting numbers up
The battle over a proposed $500 million Dallas-owned Convention Center hotel appeared to be driving people to the polls in higher numbers for 2009 municipal elections. Toni Pippins-Poole, assistant elections administrator for Dallas County, said Wednesday, May 6 that 57,320 people countywide had cast ballots during early voting, which ended Tuesday. That’s up from 48,276 in 2007, when unlike this year a Dallas mayoral race was on the ballot. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 9, when voters can cast ballots at their regular precinct locations. For more info, go to www.dalcoelections.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 8, 2009.