Leppert seems like a nice guy, but Oakley has a big edge on LGBT issues
Many people inside and outside of Dallas in the last couple of weeks have asked me who I think our next mayor will be.
It’s not an easy question to answer, but I apparently was right on target when I responded each time that I didn’t have a clue who would be elected on Saturday, June 16. “It’s gonna be close,” was all I had to say.
A Dallas Morning News/WFAA-TV poll released this week appears to confirm my hunch. The mayor’s race is too close to call, with 47 percent of the people responding backing Leppert, while Oakley is enjoying 45 percent of the favor.
Eight percent of the respondents were undecided and with a margin of error of 5.8 percentage points, either candidate could come out the winner, according to the poll results.
The candidates already knew that, which is why gay candidate Ed Oakley told the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce last week that the gay and lesbian community is in a position to decide this race. It is more important than ever to get out the vote, he said.
“This community can make a difference in the history of Dallas,” Oakley said. “You’ve got to go vote.”
That’s probably one of the major reasons that Tom Leppert was also at the same event, and why he has reached out to the gay and lesbian constituency. Every political consultant in town is aware of the enormous impact the gay and lesbian constituency had in helping get Mayor Laura Miller elected twice. That goes double for Leppert’s consultant, Carol Reed, who saw two of her candidates, Tom Dunning and Mary Poss, trounced, despite their best efforts to attract the gay vote.
Everyone who attended the chamber’s candidate forum seemed to appreciate Leppert and his wife, Laura, joining them for breakfast and answering their questions. I was struck by how nice they seem to be, and I have no doubts that Leppert is sincere when he says that he wants to reach out to all communities and include everyone. I believe he is a fair man.
In fact, I suspect both he and wife are way too nice to be successful in politics.
But the bottom line is, when it comes to GLBT issues, he is no Laura Miller.
Miller made history during her first campaign in 2002 when she became the first mayor to refer to the gay and lesbian community in a campaign appearance before a general audience. She made history again when she became the first Dallas mayor to ride in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade.
Leppert has said that he would participate in any community’s parade, including the city’s annual gay rights parade. The candidate said he would do that because it is important for the city’s mayor to reach out to every community in the city in order to unify all residents in common goals.
“I think the mayor of Dallas should bring all groups together,” Leppert said.
Just about everything Leppert had to say at the forum pleased me. It was what he didn’t say that troubled me. I don’t recall him using the words “gay and lesbian” or LGBT one single time during the hour he and Oakley spent behind their podiums.
When the candidates were asked what they would do to ensure that domestic partner benefits are made available equally to all employees regardless of sexual orientation, Leppert chose not to say anything and tossed the question to Oakley.
When asked if he would advocate including sexual orientation as a group to be guaranteed equal access to city business contracts, Leppert said he would not support adding any new groups.
When asked if he supported the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau’s outreach to LGBT business and pleasure travelers, Leppert said he thought the city should stay out of that agency’s business.
In contrast, Oakley said wherever problems existed he would address them, and that he supported the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau’s efforts to draw more gay and lesbian travel to the city.
Leppert has said that he believes that the city’s anti-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and its domestic partner benefits policy that includes gay and lesbian employees is working well and should be left alone. But I wonder what he would have said five years ago when those measures were not in place before Miller led a charge to get them enacted?
To further concern me, a Dallas Morning News writer just reported on the newspaper’s blog that the conservative Texas Eagle Forum is backing Leppert, and that his campaign advertisements earlier this year included a picture of him with LaNeil Wright Spivy, a longtime leader of the Texas Eagle Forum.
This comes on the heels of anti-gay robo calls sponsored by the Heritage Alliance political action committee last week condemning Oakley because he is gay. On top of that, Leppert refused last week to answer yes or no when he was asked if he is gay-friendly. After being asked for a yes or no answer three times, he clearly became agitated and said, “I’m not going to get into your definition.”
This week his campaign contacted the Dallas Voice on Wednesday asking for another interview, to clarify his stance on LGBT issues. My suspicion is that his campaign handlers took note of the early voting figures that show large numbers in Oakley’s strongholds, and they became concerned about how things are going. (See Page 1 to read about the interview with Leppert.)
When you compare the two candidates, they both would bring impressive experience to the job. The difference is that while Oakley has both business and government experience, Leppert has never run for public office, but he was a successful chief executive officer of one of the world’s largest construction companies. Incidentally, his company did have an anti-discrimination policy in place outlawing anti-gay bias. I checked on that long ago.
As a three-term city councilman, Oakley has racked up an impressive record of advocating for the LGBT community. At the same time, he has won praise from all communities across the city for his advocacy.
What everyone needs to ask themselves now is if they feel comfortable with the possibility that Leppert could be taking over when Miller steps down and the new mayor is sworn in on June 25. If it is a concern, you’re only a vote away from having a say in who the next mayor is going to be.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 15, 2007.