How much more “‘out’ can he get?

Posted on 31 May 2007 at 8:27pm
By David Webb – The Rare Reporter

Time Magazine article makes Oakley sound almost closeted



David Webb – The Rare Reporter

There was a quirky report in Time Magazine recently about Dallas’ mayoral runoff pitting veteran gay City Council member Ed Oakley against straight political newcomer Tom Leppert.

In “The Lavender Heart of Texas,” which is now on newsstands, the writer described Oakley as a businessman who had avoided mentioning his sexuality while he was building his profitable construction company and of being alarmed that widespread attention now to his sexual orientation could cost him the mayoral election. In contrast, the writer portrayed lesbian Sheriff Lupe Valdez as being a “bit more open” when she campaigned for office.

My reaction to that was, huh? In fact, I had to go back and read those few paragraphs again to make sure I had interpreted them correctly.

I don’t know how long the writer spent in Dallas researching his story, but it obviously wasn’t quite long enough.

First of all, any voter who lives in Dallas who is unaware Oakley is gay has been asleep in the voting booth. When you consider that he almost single-handedly convinced all but a couple of members of the City Council and the city manager, the police chief and the fire chief to ride in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, you realize this guy is not bashful about discussing gay rights. What’s more, his construction company is best known for its work for Caven Enterprises, Dallas’ premiere gay and lesbian nightclub venture.

Secondly, although I greatly respect Valdez and am quite fond of her, I recall with great clarity how uncomfortable she seemed to be with questions about her sexuality during the early days of her campaign. It was the subject of a lot of discussions among the staff at this newspaper.

I doubt that Valdez was open about her sexual orientation during her 24-year law enforcement career, and why would she discuss sexual orientation in connection with a business matter? Before her successful campaign for sheriff, Valdez ran for a Dallas County school board position and never approached anyone at this newspaper for coverage, to the best of my recollection.

When Valdez won the sheriff’s office two years ago, most straight voters had no idea she was a lesbian until after she was in

office and the media began reporting it. And when County Judge Jim Foster and District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons were swept into office last November, most straight voters were surprised to learn that they were gay not because they were hiding it but because there wasn’t any reason for them to broadcast the information during their campaigns.

Again, I’m not knocking Valdez or anyone else about how they choose to acknowledge their sexual orientation. It’s everyone’s right to address that subject on the schedule and to the degree that best suits their individual interests. I’m sure as the election grew nearer Valdez probably had grown much more comfortable discussing her sexual orientation.

The point is that no other public official in Dallas has been more open in the media about their sexual orientation than Oakley.

That said, I think I know how the writer of the Time article probably got a bit confused. At this point in the race for mayor, it’s a forgone conclusion that Oakley is going to take the LGBT vote, so it’s not the voting bloc where he needs to devote most of his attention. I guess that’s at least one of the reasons why one of our reporters couldn’t get him on the phone last week to respond to some comments Leppert made in an interview that and a possible growing animosity toward reporters that all politicians on the rise seem to experience.

But even though Leppert made some gay-friendly comments in last week’s issue of the Dallas Voice (I view someone agreeing to ride in a gay rights parade as a pretty friendly gesture.), I feel confident in saying it was way too late and too little to make much of a difference to gay voters.

Leppert claimed that his failure to seek an endorsement from the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance’s political action committee during the general election probably was an oversight by his campaign, but I’m having a hard time buying that. I know how diligent DGLA political action campaign volunteers are about repeatedly following up with campaigns to make sure everyone is aware of the schedule. I suspect his campaign staff may have conveniently misfiled those reminders.

The truth is that it’s much safer for Leppert to appeal to LGBT voters now that his opponent is an openly-gay politician. It reminds me of something Donna Blumer, an archconservative former City Council member and previous president of the Eagle Forum, had to say about all of the candidates running in the 2002 mayoral election supporting a citywide anti-discrimination ordinance that included sexual orientation. “What are you going to do?” Blumer reportedly said in exasperation to her friends. “They’re all for it.”

That’s where we are today in the mayor’s election. It’s not going to hurt Leppert to make gay-friendly statements. In fact, those remarks may be seen as a way to temper other strategies, such as his campaign drawing attention to Oakley’s strong LGBT support. That seemed to be the intention of a press release the campaign sent out this week noting that Stonewall Democrats of Dallas had pushed the Dallas County Democratic Party to endorse Oakley.

Oakley, on the other hand, must make sure all voters realize that he is the most knowledgeable and most experienced candidate on the ballot. That’s going to require him talking about a much broader platform than just gay rights. Unfortunately for Oakley, the gay angle has captured the attention of the mainstream media and they’re running with it in some cases to the exclusion of the larger, bigger picture. All of this is happening against the backdrop of a small number of fanatics who are warning that Dallas is about turn into Sodom and Gomorrah if Oakley wins.

It would and should concern any gay candidate. My hope is that on June 16 voters will look at the records of the candidates and decide who is best prepared to lead the City of Dallas.

Leppert, 52, a successful former chief executive officer of an international construction company and a Republican contributor, has never held public office. He has been a Dallas resident for only a little more than three years, and he failed to vote in several recent local elections. He has shown that he can run a successful business, but can he guide the city to greater heights?

In contrast, Oakley, 54, as was reported in The Dallas Morning News this week, “has an “encyclopedic knowledge of City Hall operations.” His experience includes three terms as a City Council member and service on the Plan Commission. He’s also well known for helping forge a consensus on the City Council on several occasions and has helped put together major bond packages.

So if the voters can just keep their minds on what’s best for Dallas and off what the candidates might do in their privacy, I think I know whom our next mayor will be.

E-mail webb@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 1, 2007.

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