Oakley says gay issue, lack of funds cost him race
Ed Oakley says his sexual orientation and a significant fund-raising deficit were the key factors that cost him the June 16 runoff for Dallas mayor.
Oakley, an openly gay city councilman, was defeated by retired construction industry executive and political newcomer Tom Leppert.
According to unofficial results, Leppert captured 58 percent of the vote, or 49,517, to Oakley’s 42 percent, or 36,083 a surprisingly large margin in a race many figured would be close.
Oakley said he thinks final campaign finance reports due in July will show Leppert outspent him 2-to-1 over the course of the election. This allowed Leppert, who had little name recognition coming in, to build an
image of himself for voters.
“Radio and TV are very expensive in this market, and that’s the advantage my opponent had,” Oakley said.
Oakley also blamed media coverage focusing on the fact that he’s gay, as well as an anti-gay robo call, for increased turnouts in conservative areas of North Dallas. Oakley would have been the first openly gay mayor to represent any of the nation’s big cities.
“It became the only story during the runoff,” Oakley said. “It changed the whole dynamics of the election.”
Other factors in the defeat included bad weather, which may have kept supporters away from the polls, Oakley said.
“It’s hard to get people to go out and vote when it’s pouring down rain,” he said.
He added that he is unsure whether his negative ad campaign attacking Leppert’s record in the private sector backfired.
“Maybe it was a little harsh looking back at it,” he said. “You can always Monday morning quarterback, but there’s no way to replay the game.”
As for gay-baiting, the floodgates were opened by an article that appeared in the May 28 edition of Time Magazine, Oakley said. The article, titled “The Lavender Heart of Texas,” talked about Oakley’s candidacy in the context of the city’s changing political landscape and thriving LGBT community.
Oakley said other media outlets, including the Dallas Morning News, used the Time article as justification for their own coverage focusing on his sexual orientation. In three previous successful runs for City Council, it had never been a major issue.
Oakley said the Time reporter who wrote the story, John Cloud, ignored pleas not to pursue the topic in the manner that he did.
“I told him that if he printed the story the way he was headed he would torpedo my mayoral campaign, because it would then become a national issue, and the Dallas Morning News would do exactly what they did, which was run it on the front page,” Oakley said. “It happened exactly the way I told him it would happen. It ceased to become about the election and what I accomplished and it became about, “‘Oh my god, we’re going to have a gay mayor.'”
Time spokesman Daniel Kile defended the article.
“We found the story of Dallas’ changing demographics and politics to be a compelling one and thought it would be of great interest to our readers,” Kile said via e-mail. “If you read the story, you’ll see the focus is on the excitement surrounding the city and its evolving identity as a great place for gays and lesbians to live and work. John Cloud was clear with everyone he interviewed that he was writing a piece on the role of gays in the city’s life.”
Until the Time article, local reporters had shied away from the subject, and his campaign wasn’t talking about it, Oakley said. After the article, other national media outlets, including the Associated Press, followed suit. Then the Morning News printed its version.
“Suddenly, it wasn’t about all the things we had worked on,” Oakley said. “It engaged voters that truly weren’t engaged and really hadn’t thought about it.”
To make matters worse, the Heritage Alliance sent out the anti-gay robo call to thousands of Dallas residents one week before election day.
Jesse Garcia, president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, agreed such tactics were a big part of the reason for Oakley’s defeat. Ironically, the Morning News story had focused on how being gay has become less of an issue in Dallas politics.
“We got to see the ugliness of gay-bashing in the religious community and the gay-baiting from our own hometown newspaper,” Garcia said. “Merely putting it on the front page of the newspaper, they made it an issue.”
Bob Mong, editor of the Morning News, dismissed conspiracy theories suggesting that the story was deliberately printed in the same edition as the paper’s endorsement of Leppert.
“It’s just totally preposterous,” Mong said, adding that the newsroom is totally separate from the editorial board. “There was no coordination at all between that recommendation and that story.”
Mong also defended the story, calling the Morning News’ coverage of the campaign “straightforward.”
“I think the national coverage signifies that it was of interest,” Mong said.
“From our judgment, this was a legitimate topic.”
Longtime local political analyst Dan Weiser said Oakley lost by far too big a margin to point to any one reason. But Weiser said the Morning News article certainly didn’t help.
“They didn’t write a story about [current Mayor] Laura Miller being Jewish,” Weiser said. “They didn’t write a story about [former Mayor] Ron Kirk being black. So what are you writing this one for, now? After the election, sure. But before the election? To me it doesn’t matter what the intent is. There’s no disagreement that it was harmful.”
Regardless, Oakley said he’s not bitter about the race.
He said he views his candidacy as a step forward for the LGBT community.
“The next person who runs won’t have to face that,” he said.
Tom Leppert 49,517 58 %
Ed Oakley 36,083 42 %
Dallas City Council, District 3
Dave Neumann 3,647 52 %
Joseph Hernandez 3,362 48 %
Cedar Hill City Council, Place 5
Makia Epie 567 58 %
Jason Russell 409 42 %
Frisco City Council, Place 4
David L. Prince 1,656 66 %
Chris Moss 840 34 %
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 22, 2007.