Out businessman Leland Burk picks up endorsements from 2 previous council members in District 13, which covers all of Preston Hollow
For the first time, Dallas has a viable openly gay candidate for City Council outside of heavily gay districts in Oak Lawn and Oak Cliff.
Leland Burk, 50, who founded First Independent Bank and is now a real estate and oil and gas investor, is running for City Council District 13.
Burk lives with his partner of seven years and has three children — twins in college and a high school junior still at home.
After District 13 incumbent Ann Margolin and her predecessor Mitchell Rasansky approached him to run, Burk said he discussed it with his family.
“My kids are so well adjusted, which played into my being able to devote the time,” he said. “And family comes first.”
Margolin, who is stepping down after four years on the council, called Burk smart and dedicated.
“And Mitchell [Rasansky] was very eager to see him on the council,” she said.
Margolin said Burk would be a leader on the council because he’s an experienced businessman who will watch spending.
She doesn’t believe his sexual orientation should be a factor in the race.
“That’s not an issue to me,” she said. “The voters in District 13 have voted for someone with strong business experience. Leland is that person.”
The new lines for District 13 extend as far south as Lemmon Avenue and Inwood Road. From there the district extends north to I-635 roughly between Marsh and Preston roads. Preston Hollow, one of the city’s wealthiest and most conservative areas, forms the core of the district, but it also takes in a small area east of Central Expressway at Park Lane that has one of the city’s highest crime rates. Among those who live in District 13 are Preston Hollow residents President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush.
A self-proclaimed conservative, Burk said he doesn’t believe his sexual orientation will be brought up by opponent Jennifer Staubach Gates.
Her father, Roger Staubach, received the 2010 Hope for Humanity award for promoting tolerance and equality from the Dallas Holocaust Museum, so Burk said he thought she would be above that sort of campaigning.
Gates, the other candidate who plans to run in District 13, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Thairrific owner Danny Sikora, who grew up in Preston Hollow and lived there until a few years ago, called the area extremely conservative but agreed sexual orientation wouldn’t be much of a factor in the race.
“There’s a faction in the community that would make an issue of it,” he said. “To others it wouldn’t matter.”
Openly gay former City Councilman John Loza said he believes the right candidate can be elected anywhere in the city.
“That wasn’t true when I ran,” he said.
In 1997, Loza became the second openly gay non-incumbent elected to the council. He represented District 2, which includes much of Oak Lawn.
“If he’s known in the district and has a history in the district, he stands a reasonable chance,” Loza said of Burk.
He said a successful LGBT candidate must have knowledge and experience on a wide variety of issues.
“That’s what I’d expect regardless of orientation,” Loza said.
In addition, he said, a successful gay candidate needs good backing and support.
Craig Holcomb served on the City Council from 1983 to 1989. Although he was always an LGBT ally, Holcomb was married to a woman when first elected.
By his last term, he was living with his current partner, Hector Garcia, and appearing with him at public events.
“I think we’re past the period where sexual orientation is a qualifier or disqualifier,” Holcomb said. “Straight, gay and lesbian voters don’t consider that an issue.”
He said the LGBT community is more interested in quality of life issues and is looking for someone who is going to responsibly manage the city budget and make sure that city services are provided efficiently.
Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Omar Narvaez said North Dallas voters tend to elect candidates who are socially progressive and fiscally conservative.
“In the northern districts we don’t have anyone super-right wing,” he said.
Although Burk expects the race to center on neighborhood issues and fiscal responsibility, he is clear about where he stands on issues that face the LGBT and other minority communities.
“I will oppose discrimination wherever I see it,” he said.
Much of Burk’s neighborhood work has been as a member of the Oak Lawn Committee, an organization that addresses quality of life issues for the Oak Lawn Special Purpose District.
“I’ll focus on what’s good for our neighborhoods,” Burk said.
He described development that benefits the city as a balancing act between knowing when to expand and when to preserve and protect.
He cited a recent case that came before the Oak Lawn Committee. An out-of-state developer proposed a new development in Oak Lawn with apartments, retail, restaurant space and very little parking. Before sending the proposal to the city, the community group insisted on removing the restaurant.
Burk said Oak Lawn already has a parking problem and it wasn’t fair to make residents of a project fight with restaurant patrons for the same spaces.
While District 13 has little room for expansion and development, he said he hopes to work with the mayor on development in South Dallas.
“There are vast opportunities in the southern sector,” he said. “I could be helpful in that area.”
Burk is an active member of the Dallas Assembly, an organization of 350 city leaders who interchange ideas and discuss issues to improve the community through dialogue.
Over the years, the group has been led by people as diverse as former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to gay former Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Chris Luna.
He is a member of the Greater Dallas Crime Commission, and the Better Dallas, Safer Dallas Steering Committee. He also serves on the board of the Children’s Cancer Fund of Dallas, Inc.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 8, 2013.