LGBT groups spar over runoff between Abtahi, Kingston

Posted on 31 May 2013 at 8:45am

Stonewall Democrats official calls on Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance to rescind its endorsement in District 14 City Council race; DGLA responds

Abtahi-Kingston

Bobby Abtahi, left, Philip Kingston, right

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Stonewall Democrats political chair Jeff Strater is calling on the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance to rescind its endorsement of Philip Kingston in the District 14 Dallas City Council runoff.

DGLA endorsed Kingston in the June 15 runoff after its previously endorsed candidate, Jim Rogers, placed third in the general election May 11. Stonewall Democrats has endorsed the other candidate who made the runoff, Bobby Abtahi.

“Not only is that not going to happen,” responded DGLA PAC chair Damien Duckett, “but this highlights the difference in perspective between Stonewall’s endorsement process and DGLA’s. City elections are nonpartisan. DGLA PAC strives to maintain its nonpartisan status.”

Strater cited concerns about Kingston’s financial contributions to the conservative Maverick PAC — which has since become affiliated with GOP Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — several years ago, as well as to Republican Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples in 2010. Staples was the state Senate sponsor of Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and continues to tout that law as one of his major achievements on his campaign website.

Kingston said Strater’s charge is invalid and doesn’t reflect on his level of commitment to the LGBT community. Both donations were event entrance fees, Kingston said. And in 2005, to his credit, Kingston made two contributions to No Nonsense in November, a pro-gay PAC set up to fight the marriage amendment.

According to Kingston, his donation to Maverick PAC came before he’d heard of Cruz. He said the event was billed as a place to identify up-and-coming GOP talent. He said he found he had little in common with attendees, but the minimum amount paid was recorded as a political donation.

Kingston said he’s known Staples for a long time and called him a nice guy, but added he didn’t know about the former state senator’s sponsorship of the marriage amendment. When he learned Staples points to that amendment as one of his qualifications, Kingston said, “Well, I guess he just lost my vote.”

Abtahi has criticized Kingston for signing an oath of affiliation to the Democratic Party to become eligible for the Stonewall endorsement, even though he has a mostly Republican voting history. In a recent Dallas Morning News story about Kingston signing the Democratic oath, he identified himself as an independent.

“What bothers me is his actions and words don’t match up,” Abtahi said. “I don’t change my values depending on who’s in the audience.”

Abtahi commented on Councilwoman Delia Jasso’s decision this week to withdraw her support for an LGBT equality resolution that had been scheduled for a vote in June. Abtahi said the incident shows how important it is to have an ally on the council who will stick by his principles.

“My opponent has tried to hoodwink the community with his history,” said Abtahi, who has a lesbian sister. “It’s a personal issue to me.”

Traditionally voter turnout is low in runoffs. But with seven candidates in the first round of District 14 voting, more voters selected one of the other five candidates than either one of the top two finishers. So in addition to getting their own voters back to the polls, Kingston and Abtahi need to court supporters of the others in the race.

Three of the challengers, Judy Liimatainen, David Blewett and Kevin Curley, have thrown their support to Abtahi.

Meanwhile, DGLA threw its support behind Kingston. DGLA’s Duckett called it a choice between two good candidates.

Kingston has the backing of incumbent District 14 City Councilwoman Angela Hunt, who is vacating the seat due to term limits.

“He [Kingston] brought the same demeanor we admire in Angela,” Duckett said. “He’ll be a strong voice on our issues. His interest in the trans community put him ahead of other candidates.”

While Rogers has not made an endorsement, one of his high-profile supporters, former state Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt, has. She’s supporting Kingston. Councilman Scott Griggs, who remained neutral in the May 11 election, endorsed Kingston in the runoff.

 “The minute the returns came in, money and endorsements poured in,” Kingston said.
Kingston called his supporters “hardcore voters,” who will go back to the polls for the second round of voting.

During the run-up to the June runoff, he said he’d be walking Oak Lawn, the portion of the district where Abtahi was strongest.

Fewer than 400 votes separated Kingston, who finished first, and Abtahi in May 11 results.

• In Pleasant Grove’s District 5, real estate brokers Jesse Diaz and Rick Callahan meet in the only other runoff for council.

On a Dallas Voice candidate questionnaire, Callahan said he would vote to defend and uphold the city’s domestic partner health benefits program and its bans on anti-LGBT discrimination. But in some areas, he showed he would not be a strong ally on the council.

“I do not support gay marriage, but do support the concept of gay unions, with benefits to gay partners and equal protection under the law,” he wrote.

Callahan said he opposes amending the city’s health plan for employees to cover gender reassignment surgery, which he sees as “elective.” And he is against requiring city contractors with contracts over a specific amount to offer health benefits to the same-sex partners of employees.

“It would be intrusive, unfair and discriminatory to place restrictions on private businesses and would most likely be struck down constitutionally,” he wrote.

Diaz received the Stonewall Democrats endorsement. He did not seek the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance’s support and did not return a Dallas Voice questionnaire or return phone calls for this story.

Supporter Jesse Taffala, president of the city’s gay LULAC chapter, said he grew up knowing Diaz. Taffala said Diaz has always been inclusive and would be an LGBT ally.

• In Fort Worth, gay school board member Carlos Vasquez came in second in the general election and faces Jacinto A. Ramos Jr. on June 15. Ramos’ campaign manager is JD Angle, who is married to gay City Councilman Joel Burns.

Burns did not endorse in the race, but he called Ramos an “up and coming star and Hispanic leader in our community.”

Ramos said he was running because he didn’t feel the district has the quality of leadership that advocates for all backgrounds. In a response to a Dallas Voice article reporting the election results, Vasquez wrote he is proud of his record.

“We have put policy in place to protect students and staff from all types of discrimination including gender expression,” he wrote. “I pride myself in providing all of our students with opportunities to grow academically and socially regardless of race, gender or sexual preference and will continue to do so whether I am re-elected or not.”

Early voting begins June 3. For dates, locations and times, visit DallasCountyVotes.org or TarrantCounty.com/evote.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 31, 2013.

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