Update: Hightower apparently headed for runoff in Arlington

With 80 percent of the vote counted, gay candidate Chris Hightower appears to be headed into a runoff for the District 5 seat on the Arlington City Council with incumbent Lana Wolff.

Although only 112 votes separate the two, Hightower is leading by 7 percentage points.

Their closest competitor is Julie Douglas with 13 percent.

—  admin

Live-blogging tonight’s election results

UPDATE: Early voting results from Dallas are here.

I’m here at the Instant Tea Brewery, David Taffet is doing his best watch party pub crawl, and Tammye Nash is keeping an eye on things over in Tarrant County. Together we’ll be bringing you coverage of tonight’s municipal election results, so keep it right here.

The polls close at 7 p.m., and early voting results should be posted shortly therafter. In Dallas, about 26,000 people voted early, which amounts to about half of the expected overall turnout. This means the early voting results should give us a good idea where some races are headed. However, it could be 10 p.m. or later before Election Day results are posted and we know the final outcomes.

Races we’ll be watching most closely include:

Dallas mayor: David Kunkle, Ron Natinsky, Edward Okpa and Mike Rawlings are in a four-way battle to become the city’s next top elected official. If no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote tonight, we’ll have a June runoff between the top two vote-getters. Kunkle is endorsed by Stonewall Democrats, while Natinsky has the backing of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance.

District 14 Dallas City Council: Three-term incumbent Angela Hunt, a staunch LGBT ally, is being challenged by openly gay candidate James Nowlin, who’s endorsed by Stonewall Democrats and has raised the most money in the race. Hunt is endorsed by DGLA. The other two candidates in the District 14 race are Vernon Franko and Brian Oley. Again, if no one gets 50 percent tonight, we’ll have a runoff between the top two.

District 7 Dallas City Council: Casie Pierce is vying to become the first out lesbian elected to the council in the city’s history, but she faces an uphill battle against incumbent Carolyn Davis for this South Dallas seat. Also challenging Davis is Helene McKinney. Pierce is endorsed by both Stonewall Democrats and DGLA.

District 3 Dallas City Council: Incumbent Dave Neumann faces a stiff challenge from Scott Griggs for this Oak Cliff seat previously held by openly gay Councilman Ed Oakley. Griggs is endorsed by both Stonewall Democrats and DGLA.

District 5 Arlington City Council: Realtor Chris Hightower is vying to become Arlington’s first openly gay city councilman. Hightower, one of four candidates challenging eight-year incumbent Lana Wolff, is endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

Fort Worth mayor: Five candidates are vying to replace Mike Moncrief, who is not seeking re-election. They are Jim Lane, Cathy Hirt, Betsy Price, Dan Barrett and Nicholas Zebrun.

—  John Wright

Gay candidate Hightower leads in fundraising in District 5 race for Arlington City Council

Chris Hightower

Last week, Realtor and openly gay Arlington City Council District 5 candidate Chris Hightower told me he expected campaign finance reports to show he is way ahead of the field when it comes to fundraising. Well, the “30th day out from election” reports were filed Thursday, and as it turns out, Hightower was right on the money: Not only did he raise more than any other candidate in the District 5 race, he raised more than the other four candidates combined.

Hightower, who raised $33,246 in the period between Jan. 1 and April 4, also raised more than any single candidate in any race in the May 14 Arlington municipal election. Incumbent Mayor Robert N. “Bob” Cluck, running for re-election against Carl Scrivner, came to the closest to Hightower in fundraising, with a total of $24,400. District 4 incumbent Councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon was next with $15,005, and District 3 incumbent and Mayor Pro Tem Robert Rivera has raised $12,418.

In the race for District 5, incumbent Councilwoman Lana Wolff reported raising $3,695. Terry Meza has raised $1,721.15, and Julie M. Douglas has raised $1,100. The fifth candidate, Christopher McCain, had not filed a campaign finance report as of Monday morning — or at least no campaign finance report for him had been posted on the Arlington City Secretary’s elections website by that time.

Hightower has also outspent all the other candidates in the municipal elections, listing total campaign expenditures of $19,193. In the District 5 race, Wolff has spent only $260, while Meza has spent $368, and Douglas has spent only $150. The only other candidate in this election to come close to Hightower so far in terms of campaign spending is Rivera in District 3, who has spent $9,578 in his bid to keep his seat.

—  admin

Openly gay candidate for Arlington City Council says ‘basic issues’ key in 5-way race

Chris Hightower

Chris Hightower says sexual orientation hasn’t been a significant issue so far

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

ARLINGTON — When Chris Hightower first started talking to family and friends about running for the District 5 seat on the Arlington City Council, the response he got, he said this week, was, “It’s time.”

“That just turned out to be the theme I was getting from everyone: ‘It’s time,’” Hightower said.

Hightower, who grew up in District 5, is the son of Paula Hightower Pierson, who represented District 5 on the City Council from 1989 to 1997, and then served in the Texas House of Representatives from 2008 to 2010.

If he wins the District 5 seat, Hightower will become the first openly gay person on the Arlington council.

Thanks to his mother’s life in government and the civic service arena, Hightower said, “I have always had civic service in my blood. I’ve thought about running for public office before, but this time, I just decided to do it. I’m not getting any younger, and I decided it was time to step up. Like everyone said to me, it’s time.

“We are a very close family, and when one person in the family is doing something, the whole family is there to support them. I would not have run for the council while my mother was still in the House. I wouldn’t have wanted to take away from her efforts. But since she lost re-election last year, I decided the time was right to run for the council. And she supports me completely,” Hightower said.

Hightower is one of four candidates challenging eight-year incumbent Lana Wolff for the District 5 seat. Also on the ballot with Hightower and Wolff are Terry Meza, Christopher McCain and Julie M. Douglas.

With five people in the race, most poll watchers expect a runoff. Apparently Wolff is among them, Hightower said, noting that the incumbent has, so far, done little campaigning.

“She expects there will be a runoff and that she will be in it, and she is saving her efforts for the runoff,” he said. “But my plan is to win outright in the general election, to avoid a runoff altogether.”

And if campaign contributions are any indication, Hightower is on his way. He said this week he expects his campaign contributions so far to significantly exceed the other candidates’ when financial statements are reported to the City Secretary’s Office this week.

So far, Hightower said, only only one person — not one of the candidates — has tried to make Hightower’s sexual orientation an issue in the race. But Hightower said he doesn’t believe the gay-baiting tactics have gotten much traction.

However, Hightower added, if he does find himself facing Wolff in a runoff, he expects the incumbent to try and make his sexual orientation a campaign issue. But he doesn’t think it will hold much sway over voters then, either.

“There are only 1,800 registered voters in District 5. This is a small, intimate community with a small town mentality. It’s not about what you are, but who you are and do people know you,” Hightower said. “The people in this district know me. When I am out walking the district, I am door-knocking my old teachers, my neighbors. I ran into my old elementary school principal. They know me; they know my family.”

When it comes to the issue of his sexual orientation, Hightower seems to be taking a page out of the playbook of the national Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund — which has endorsed him in the race — and is employing a strategy that paid off for other groundbreaking LGBT candidates in Texas, like Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns and Houston Mayor Annise Parker.

Although he has never tried to keep his sexual orientation secret, Hightower hasn’t let it become the focus of his campaign, either, focusing instead on what he sees as the basic, core issues that affect all Arlington citizens.

“I have been out my whole life. But is that an issue in this race? I shouldn’t think so,” Hightower said. “This campaign is about city issues, about the streets that need repairs, public safety issues. It’s not about personal things. That’s how I see it, and that’s how I think the voters see it, too.

“I’m not running for City Council with a gay agenda of some kind. I am running on the issues all the citizens care about,” he said.

For the past 10 years in Arlington, “it’s been all about the Cowboys and building the stadium here. That’s not a bad thing. That stadium and the Cowboys and the Super Bowl this year have done great things for our city,” Hightower said. “But now it’s time to get back to the basics. Now it’s time to focusing on fixing the streets, on code enforcement, on public safety.

“When those things are in place, people want to live here and businesses want to move here. That’s where we will get the development we need to continue to grow.”

Hightower said he sees the University of Texas at Arlington as the city’s greatest resource, and that “finding a way to engage those students in our city and make them want to stay here and open businesses and raise their families” will be integral to Arlington’s future.

“UT-A has a great engineering program, a great nursing program, a great social work program. It has many, many fantastic programs. But what’s key is the engineering programs, the technology programs. With those, you’re talking about jobs, high-paying jobs. That’s the economic engine that will really drive Arlington into the future,” he said.

Hightower said that the success of the American League Champion Texas Rangers baseball team, the new Cowboys Stadium and this year’s Super Bowl has meant that Arlington has been “fairly lucky” through the recent recession, and so is not facing the severe budget crunch other area cities now face.

Still, he added, the city has to beginning working to “get [pensions and benefits] under control” by honoring existing contracts while at the same time “doing a better job of negotiating new contracts on the front end.”

The city also has to “crank it up a notch and do a better job” of attracting new businesses and industries to the city, Hightower said. “Right now, the council’s concept is writing checks to one business at a time, to try and get them to move here. We need a comprehensive approach that makes the city more attractive to all kinds of new businesses.”

Hightower also acknowledged that the Arlington council will eventually have to address what he called the “hotly-contested” issue of mass transit.

“People don’t have an answer yet, but we do all understand that we don’t live in a microcosm. You may live in Arlington, but work in Dallas or Fort Worth, and you need to have a way to get there,” he said. “We have to have some sort of regional transit system, and not just a municipal system.”

Hightower said that while various city programs that receive federal funds already include nondiscrimination policies that include LGBT protections, there is not citywide ordinance protecting LGBTs from discrimination.

While such an ordinance is not a No. 1 priority for him at this time, Hightower said he believes it will happen eventually.

“I do believe that the people of Arlington of fair-minded people, overall, who would frown on any kind of discrimination. And I believe that kind of [nondiscrimination] ordinance will be a natural fit here,” he said.

—  John Wright

Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund formally endorses Parker in Houston, Hightower in Arlington

Annise Parker at Dallas Pride

Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Arlington City Council challenger Chris Hightower were among eight openly LGBT candidates who received formal endorsements from the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund today.

Parker was elected to a two-year term in 2009, making Houston the largest U.S. city with an openly LGBT mayor. Hightower is vying to become the first openly gay council member in Arlington’s history.

The Victory Fund has now endorsed 14 candidates in 2011, including three in Texas. Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns was the first candidate to receive the group’s backing this year.

From GayPolitics.com:

“We are proud to support Mayor Parker. Her success in Houston is proof of the remarkable talent and leadership LGBT Americans have to offer their communities as public servants,” said Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund.

Parker welcomed the Victory Fund’s backing.

“I am grateful for the early and strong support of the Victory Fund. The Victory Fund is more than just a force for LGBT equality – it educates and equips qualified candidates to excel in public service for the benefit of all whom they represent. I will use the Victory Fund’s support to run a campaign that reaches out to every Houstonian and asks each one to join us in protecting and enhancing what is best about the city we share,” said Parker.

—  John Wright

Arlington councilman dismisses constituents’ concerns about gas drilling with a gay joke

Mel LeBlanc

Arlington City Councilman Mel LeBlanc recently responded to a constituent’s concerns about gas drilling in the city by making a joke about gay sex, according to e-mails obtained by Instant Tea.

LeBlanc couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

According to copies of the e-mails, Arlington residents Ken and Kim Feil sent LeBlanc a copy of an article from The Advocate, a newspaper in Baton Rouge, La., about an oil and gas well blowout in that state. Arlington is considering changes to its gas drilling ordinance.

LeBlanc, who reportedly supports gas drilling, responded to the Feils’ e-mail by saying he thought The Advocate was a national gay publication — which it is; there is more than one Advocate — and asking what this has to do with “drilling holes in the … .” Then LeBlanc added, “oh, wait, I see” in an apparent attempt at humor. Here’s the e-mail:

___________________________

____________________________

So, should we be offended by this bad juvenile joke? From a gay standpoint, probably not. But if we were the Feils we’d probably be a little annoyed that LeBlanc is making light of their concerns about gas drilling. We’d say LeBlanc’s e-mail might also raise the question of how he knows about the gay Advocate.

We spoke with Kim Feil about the e-mail on Friday, and she said LeBlanc has already called her to apologize. But Feil, who calls herself an environmental activist, said based on her past experience with LeBlanc, she wasn’t surprised by his joke.

“It was expected,” Feil said. “He just evades facing the issues. He’s pretty consistent with being offensive.”

UPDATE: LeBlanc has posted a response in the comments below.

—  John Wright