Opposition to the Trinity toll road drives Stonewall endorsements in many Dallas city council races
DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
Stonewall Democrats’ endorsement committee has voted to support opponents of Mayor Mike Rawlings and Councilman Rick Callahan. The recommendations voted on at the March 7 screening will be considered and ratified or changed at the group’s general meeting on March 17.
Three incumbents running unopposed — Councilmen Scott Griggs, Adam Medrano and Philip Kingston — received the organization’s nod, as did Councilwoman Monica Alonzo.
Councilman Lee Kleinman, who passionately supported equal benefits for city of Dallas employees recently at the Employee Pension Fund and the Police and Fire Pension Fund, did not seek the group’s endorsement. He is running unopposed.
Three candidates for mayor spoke before the group during the screening meeting held at Sue Ellen’s.
Rawlings talked about recently signing on to a marriage equality amicus brief sent to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the past, the incumbent mayor had resisted signing Freedom to Marry’s list of mayors supporting same-sex equality. He said he’s been approached to sign a variety of pledges and he’s refused all of them. But this time, it was different.
“I thought it would make a difference,” Rawlings said of why he chose to sign the brief this time. “This is the big one.”
He also said he hoped his signature on that brief upset some people in Austin.
The mayor mentioned ways the council has addressed LGBT issues over the past few years, adding that he “took my lead from Adam” Medrano.
Medrano heads the city council’s LGBT Task Force, which recommended a number of changes to city policies that have taken effect over the past year, gaining Dallas 10 points on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index.
Rawlings put education at the top of his re-election agenda. He said only about one in ten Dallas students are ready for college when they graduate from high school.
He talked about his Grow South initiative and new opportunities in the city’s southern sector, calling South Dallas “an investment opportunity, not a charity case.” And the mayor blasted legislation that would prevent cities from enforcing their own nondiscrimination ordinances.
Rawlings’ main opponent is Marcos Ronquillo, a former law partner of legendary Hispanic attorney Adelfa Callejo. It was Ronquillo who earned the Stonewall committee recommendation.
“We can’t take four more years of this leadership,” Ronquillo told Stonewall, adding that Dallas is becoming a glorified bus stop on the way to Frisco.
On education, Ronquillo called for community-based schools instead what he called the current “condescending approach.”
But while Rawlings continues to push for the Trinity toll road, Ronquillo opposes it. And that probably earned him more votes that any other issue he addressed. Throughout the day, that issue decided the committee’s recommendations in a number of the races.
A third candidate for mayor also spoke — write-in candidate Rich Sheridan.
Sheridan had surprisingly kind words for the LGBT community. He said he supported civil unions, not marriage equality. He also said the community should be protected from verbal abuse and physical abuse. When asked about his support for protection from being fired, he said, “generally yes,” and pledged to represent all people if elected.
Sheridan, who is well known for his regular appearances at Dallas City Council and has run for office several times in the past, often argues in emails sent to the press that the city’s problems are the fault of the “sodomites.”
All three District 5 candidates sought the Stonewall endorsement. Rick Callahan currently represents the district, but Sherry Cordova won the endorsement.
Last year, Callahan voted to support a resolution to equalize all city policies relating to LGBT employees and residents. However, several weeks ago, he voted against a change in wording for the Employee Retirement Fund to give legally married same-sex couples the same benefits as opposite-sex couples who may be legally married or in a common-law marriage. The change brought that pension fund in compliance with a current IRS ruling.
Callahan didn’t appear personally because his mother is terminally ill, so his campaign manager spoke on his behalf. She had trouble justifying his position on a number of issues. On his ERF vote, she tried to explain his difficulty in reconciling his views on marriage equality.
Cordova said she would have voted in favor of the change in wording.
And while Callahan supports the toll road, Cordova opposes it. She said it would hit her district hard.
“My people can’t afford it,” she said.
The third candidate in the race is Jesse Diaz who received Stonewall’s endorsement in the 2013 race.
“I am going to be a champion for you,” Diaz said.
He said he would have voted in favor of the pension fund change as well.
Because of problems in Diaz’s 2013 campaign, Cordova appeared to be the stronger candidate and so won the Stonewall committee’s backing this time around.
Districts 7 and 8
In the race for District 7, four candidates appeared before Stonewall. The race is open because incumbent Carolyn Davis faces term limits.
Hasani Burton, who serves on the landmark commission and was on the South Dallas Fair Park Trust Fund Board, received the committee’s nod against a strong field.
Two candidates — Gail Terrell and Erik Wilson — running for District 8 both sought Stonewall’s endorsement. Mayor Pro Tem Tennell Atkins currently holds the seat and also faces term limits. While both candidates were strong on support for the LGBT community, both support the
Trinity toll road. Stonewall members attending the screening voted not to endorse in that race. A total of six candidates are seeking the position.
Vonceil Jones Hill also will not be returning to the council because of term limits.
One of the five candidates seeking to replace her attended the Stonewall screening. A second was scheduled to appear, but didn’t.
Joe Tave, who lives in the district’s heavily gay Kiestwood neighborhood, won the endorsement recommendation after speaking passionately about equality.
“I have to do the right thing,” Tave said. “I’m African-American. I had my life threatened for doing what was right.”
District 9 and 10
District 9’s Sheffie Kadane and District 10’s Jerry Allen also leave the council this year because of term limits.
In District 9, Mark Clayton received the recommendation for an endorsement. He was the only one of the five candidates in that race to seek it.
Two of the three candidates in the District 10 race appeared. Adam McGough made an impression in a highway construction worker’s vest, but James White was seen as the serious candidate who opposed the toll road and could become a vocal ally on the council. White received the recommendation.
While the election is nonpartisan, Stonewall only endorses candidates with a Democratic voting record or who sign a pledge that they are affiliating with the Democratic Party. McGough was the only candidate who appeared who was ineligible because of his Republican voting record.
The endorsement recommendations will be considered by the entire membership at its general meeting at 6:30 p.m. on March 17 at Ojeda’s, 4617 Maple Avenue. Everyone is welcome to attend, but only people with current paid memberships for at least 30 days are eligible to vote. That rule helps prevent candidates from packing the meeting.
In the past, some committee recommendations have been challenged. John Wiley Price received the Stonewall endorsement in his last election, for example, after the endorsement committee recommended no endorsement in that race.
At the meeting, Stonewall also endorsed Larry Duncan and Omar Narvaez who are running unopposed for re-election to the Dallas County School Board.
Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance is beginning its screening and endorsement process for Dallas City Council as well. President Patti Fink said questionnaires for the candidates are being prepared. That organization is nonpartisan and endorses regardless of party affiliation.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 13, 2015.