Gay former councilman says that choice between Rawlings, Kunkle means gay community ‘can’t lose’
DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
Even though Dallas has a “weak mayor” form of government where the city manager is the person with actual control over the city’s day-to-day operations, having mayor who supports LGBT equality is still very important for Dallas’ LGBT community, advocates said this week.
Voters go to the polls Saturday, June 18, to decide whether Mike Rawlings or David Kunkle will replace Tom Leppert, who resigned from office earlier this year to run to replace Kay Bailey Hutchison in the U.S. Senate. Although Leppert reached out to the LGBT community for votes, pledging his support on LGBT equality issues, when he ran against gay candidate Ed Oakley in 2007, in recent months he appeared to backtrack on those issues as he prepared for his senate campaign.
Oakley, a former City Council member, said this week that having elected officials who understand and embrace the diversity of the city played an integral part in progress the city has made on LGBT issues.
“We wouldn’t have passed [the] nondiscrimination [ordinance including protections for LGBT people] if Laura Miller wasn’t sitting in that [the mayor’s] seat,” he said.
Miller, who had campaigned on adding a nondiscrimination ordinance, put it at the top of her agenda when she came into office.
“The city manager could not have done that,” Oakley said. “The mayor accomplishes what he wants to accomplish.”
Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance President Patti Fink agreed.
“Until Laura Miller made it [the nondiscrimination ordinance] a priority and put it on the agenda, it didn’t happen,” she said.
She said that although the city has a strong city manager form of government, the mayor can be an advocate, and he or she is the one that presides over the council that sets policy.
Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Omar Narvaez said the mayor is the face of the city.
“The mayor makes sure people and city services are being taken care of. He makes sure our civil rights are being protected. His big job is promoting the city,” Narvaez said.
And the city’s LGBT community can play a big role in who wins the seat this year.
In the general election on May 14, turnout in what are considered the top 10 precincts in the LGBT community, mostly in Oak Lawn and North Oak Cliff, was 38 percent, compared to a citywide turnout rate of only 11 percent.
And if early voting totals are any indication, LGBT voters have the chance to play an even bigger role in the runoff outcome. In the May election, 46,109 people voted early in Dallas County.
In the runoff, only 27,962 voted early.
Narvaez said that because voter turnout is traditionally low in runoff elections, the LGBT community could decide the mayor’s race.
“People [in our community] were heavily engaged in this election,” Narvaez said. “I don’t see them suddenly not voting for mayor.”
While DGLA and Stonewall Democrats have both endorsed David Kunkle in the runoff, Mike Rawlings has the support of many members of the LGBT community, including several gay former elected officials.
Both candidates actively sought the endorsement of both DGLA and Stonewall, and both have actively campaigned in the community.
Oakley said that Rawlings’ life experiences are different than some members of the City Council that Oakely served with who did not support LGBT issues.
“He faced our issues in the corporate world,” Oakley said.
He said that Rawlings’ company, Pizza Hut, had nondiscrimination policies in place and embraced diversity.
Fink said Kunkle has a prove, and public, record on LGBT issues.
“Kunkle has a proven record working in the community and being an advocate for us,” she said, noting that as police chief, Kunkle turned the LGBT Dallas police liaison position into a fulltime position and presided over the police department while an officer transitioned without incident and with his support.
“And we worked with him on diversity training,” she said.
Former Dallas City Councilmember Chris Luna said, “The biggest role the mayor plays is cheerleader, spokesperson and figurative head of government.”
He said that when something like the Rainbow Lounge raid in Fort Worth or a raid at a gay bathhouse happens, the mayor’s job is to say, “This is wrong. I’m going to go gather the facts.”
The mayor needs to know when something’s wrong, he said.
“That’s why so many people feel burned by Leppert,” he said.
Luna said that the mayor also appoints the chairs to all boards and commissions, which many council members served on before being elected to office and Rawlings was president of the park board.
The mayor makes committee assignments. When Councilmember Angela Hunt opposed Leppert’s positions, he took away those assignments away.
“The mayor helps distribute the power,” Luna said.
In the race between Kunkle and Rawlings, Luna said, “I have my preference, but from a community standpoint, we can’t lose.”