Kunkle says warning not accurate portrayal of his runoff opponent; both candidates agree on most LGBT-specific issues
TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
During an LGBT mayoral runoff forum held Tuesday night, candidate Mike Rawlings addressed the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance’s warning, in which the group suggested that the former Pizza Hut CEO’s “passion for commerce and business interests supremely outweighs his appreciation for the civil rights of all people.”
The warning was based, according to DGLA, on Rawlings’ responses to a question during an interview with the group’s PAC about whether he would support requiring major city contractors to have LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies.
“If you want to believe what they said, believe it. It’s not true. It’s not the way I’ve lived my life. But it’s OK if you want to believe that,” Rawlings said after being asked why the LGBT community should disregard DGLA’s warning.
The city already requires contractors to have LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies, but DGLA reportedly was unaware of the requirement when the group posed the question to Rawlings, who responded at the time that he would not support adding the requirement. Rawlings has since said that he supports maintaining the requirement given that it’s already in place.
Rawlings also said Tuesday that he now supports requiring major city contractors to offer domestic partner benefits. Rawlings previously said he was opposed to requiring contractors to offer DP benefits.
During Tuesday’s forum, DGLA President Patti Fink asked Rawlings for clarification about his stances, leading into her question by saying: “I don’t think anyone at DGLA or anyone in this room believes you support or condone discrimination of any kind. We did not mean that by our warning at all.”
Rawlings reminded Fink that he called her after DGLA issued the warning to apologize for “not clearly understanding the facts that were in place. I made a mistake. … This dichotomy that there’s human rights and economic rights is bogus. … Human rights and civil rights, it must start there and the economy is built on it. … I believe we must do what’s right by the economy and by the civil rights of each individual at the same time. I just don’t believe this argument that one must take place over the other.”
Damien Duckett, political director for the DGLA PAC, said Wednesday, May 25, that the reason behind DGLA’s warning against Rawlings “has been consistently mischaracterized,” and that it was based on a lengthy discussion with the candidate, not the single question about Dallas’s policy on requiring contractors to have LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies.
Duckett said the discussion began with the question of whether Rawlings would support such a policy, to which he answered no, and then continued at some length, with DGLA members presenting the candidate with numerous scenarios. They even went so far, Duckett said, as to propose a situation set in 1957 in which citizens asked Rawlings, as mayor, to support a policy in which the city would not do business with contractors who did not have policies in place to prevent employment discrimination based on gender and race.
“We asked him, would you support that, and he said, flat out, no. He said he would not support anything that would get in the way of commerce,” Duckett said. “We issued the warning because of his unwillingness to come to any sort of balance between human rights and commerce. There was no way we could have not issued a warning after that.”
Kunkle said while he disagrees with Rawlings on some issues, he doesn’t think the DGLA warning is “a fair characterization of Mr. Rawlings … I think Mr. Rawlings is a very honorable and noble man.”
Tuesday’s forum, sponsored by Dallas Voice and 12 partner organizations, was held at Cathedral of Hope and was only the second of the mayoral runoff. More than 100 people attended.
Both candidates reiterated their support for the LGBT community, and both appeared to agree, in general, in their responses to questions on LGBT-specific issues.
Kunkle and Rawlings both stressed that public safety must be a top priority and pledged to dedicate the necessary resources to address the crime rate in Oak Lawn and other neighborhoods.
They also agreed that city government must find a way to equitably balance the needs of the neighborhoods and the needs of commerce in entertainment districts such as Cedar Springs.
Rawlings and Kunkle also both pledged to find a way to reinstate city funding for AIDS services that was cut two years ago, but said that the council has to balance the budget and make up funding shortfalls before that can happen.
They also both said they would lend their authority as mayor, if elected, to efforts to educate the public on HIV/AIDS issues.
But when asked about creating a Dallas human rights commission, the two candidates diverged slightly in their responses.
While Kunkle said he continues to fully back the creation of a human rights commission, Rawlings stepped back a bit from his previously stated support, saying that members of Councilwoman Delia Jasso’s LGBT task force had told him they preferred a task force to a commission, because they would have more flexibility as a task force to address problems.
Rawlings said he had a meeting planned with Jasso for later in the week to specifically discuss that issue, and that he would defer to her expertise.
But Kunkle said he believes the city needs a standing commission to address human rights issues and complaints related to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance because “a task force would just fade away once those issues are perceived to have been settled.”
Both Kunkle and Rawlings agreed that ongoing diversity training for city employees is essential, but both appeared to be caught short when asked where they stand on expanding health benefits for transgender city employees.
Kunkle said the prospect of expanding benefits would be based on cost effectiveness, and both he and Rawlings said they were not familiar enough with the issue to comment further.
The two candidates also seemed to be caught off guard when asked whether they would support efforts to eliminate the need for entertainment venues in Dallas to maintain a dance-hall license.
“I have often wonder why we had our dance hall rules in Dallas, and how a bar could be engaged in all sorts of inappropriate behavior, but what we’re chiding them for is something standing up off their chair and acting like they’re dancing,” Kunkle said. “For somebody my age, I don’t know how anybody can tell if I’m moving or I’m dancing.
“I think that’s something that probably needs to be looked at,” he continued. “It was created to be a tool to help regular bars. But I don’t know if it accomplishes the intended purpose. And it seems a little bit silly in today’s world that we have these dance hall requirements.”
Rawlings drew a laugh from the audience when he responded, “Through this campaign, I learn a lot … I have no clue. I don’t. Are we going to have fun there? If we’re going to have fun, I am all for it. Fun and safety — those are my two things. I have no clue on this.”
In answer to non-LGBT specific questions, Kunkle and Rawlings both said they oppose state laws requiring local police officers to question the citizenship status of those they encounter in their duties, and both said they oppose oil and gas drilling within the city limits without further study.