Herrera campaign sponsoring World AIDS Day event; Councilman Oakley defends city’s spending on AIDS
Dallas lawyer Roger Herrera will showcase himself during a World AIDS Day event as a candidate who would be an “education mayor” for the city.
Herrera’s campaign is sponsoring a reception at Havana’s on Friday, Dec. 1, at 6 p.m. The event is designed to raise awareness about the need for more funding of HIV education and services for HIV-positive people, he said.
“Politics at its best is a platform for raising awareness regarding important issues and when used as a vehicle for positive change,” said Herrera, who is gay.
Herrera said he is concerned that the city’s budget for 2007 includes only $250,000 general operating fund for HIV/AIDS prevention and education. The money, which represents a $50,000 increase from the 2006 budget, was designated for outreach primarily to African-American and Hispanic women.
“The city needs to be spending a whole lot more money on AIDS prevention, AIDS education and caring for those people who are suffering from HIV and AIDS,” Herrera said during a telephone interview. “I can’t believe we would spend so little money on something so important something that robs our city of so much talent.”
In the first sign of what political observers expect to become a nasty mayor’s race, Herrera recently wrote on dallasblog.com that he wanted gay City Councilman Ed Oakley to explain why he had failed to include any money in the 2007 budget for HIV education targeting the gay community. Both Herrera and Oakley have announced they will run for mayor in the May 2007 election, and at least six more candidates are expected to run.
“I guess Mr. Oakley is too busy forcing the Santiago Calatrava bridge down our throats,” Herrera wrote.
Oakley said in a telephone interview he depends on the leaders of HIV service organizations to advise him on the community’s needs. He described his track record serving the LGBT community as “good.”
“I have always worked with our community and the various organizations to carry anything they deem necessary for our community at City Hall,” Oakley said. “Not once has anyone said we have a crisis. Had that been an issue I certainly would have raised the question at City Hall.”
Oakley was instrumental in getting sexual orientation added as a protected class to the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance and getting domestic partner benefits awarded to city employees. He has also recruited record numbers of City Council members and city department heads to ride in the annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade.
Herrera also criticized the authors of the 2007 budget because the amount of federal funds designated for housing assistance and other services to persons with HIV decreased by about $800,000. The 2007 budget includes $3.1 million for that category, in comparison to $3.9 million in the 2006 budget, according to a report by city staff.
According to information obtained through the city’s Department of Public Information, this year’s budget represented a decrease in federal funds because money generated from the federal program Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS decreased because the city was ineligible for incremental funding it received last year. The HOPWA formula allows incremental funding when an area has higher-than-average incidence of AIDS cases, and that was not the case in Dallas this year, according to the city report.
Herrera called that “unacceptable” and said the city should have made up the $1 million difference from the general operating fund. He said if the city could make up the difference when the cost of building the planned Calatrava bridge exceeded projections by $7 million, money should be found to keep HIV services at a stable level.
“These are real people suffering from a horrible disease,” Herrera said. “I think it is important for us to help these people.”
Oakley said community leaders had also not raised concerns about this issue with him, but he said it would be an unlikely development for the City Council to supplement decreased federal funding had it been discussed.
“That’s not what we typically do,” Oakley said. “It probably just would not have happened.”
When asked why he thought he would be a better mayor than Oakley, Herrera said he had been disappointed in Oakley’s performance as a City Council member. He cited concerns about the homeless population.
Oakley noted that the city recently passed a $23.8 million bond program in 2005 for the construction of a new homeless center.
“We are working with all of the providers and the state and county agencies to combine our services and resources under one roof,” said Oakley, who is in his third term. “We have moved light years ahead on our homeless issue.”
Although he is highlighting his position on HIV/AIDS issues in recognition of World AIDS Day, Herrera said he wants to reach out to all Dallas residents. He said he also would like to be a role model for students in the Dallas Independent School District.
“I want to be a “‘Jose does good’ kind of story, but my name is Roger,” said Herrera, who practices criminal defense and family law. “I want to be an example of success, if I can call myself that.”
Herrera is also scheduled to speak on Friday morning at the El Centro branch of the Dallas County Community College about AIDS and politics.
Herrera acknowledged that the mayor’s race would be a difficult one. Former close political associates Elba and Domingo Garcia are no longer his allies, he said.
“That’s sad, but people get divorced all of the time,” Herrera said.
Herrera said he would not be certain who will be a political ally and who will be an enemy until the election draws closer.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, December 1, 2006.