Tom Leppert convinces evangelical leaders he’s sufficiently ex-gay-friendly to represent Texas

I was baffled when I saw this headline in the DMN last week, because the story was over a year late. I now suspect the newspaper was just doing its part to help Leppert distance himself from his past.

In November 2009, after then-Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert enthusiastically joined the virulently anti-gay First Baptist Church of Dallas, I opined here on Instant Tea that the move was purely politically motivated because Leppert was planning to run for U.S. Senate. After calling Leppert’s decision to join First Baptist “a slap in the face to not only the LGBT community, but also to Hindus, Muslims and Mormons,” I wrote that it would be “good riddance for Dallas if he steps down to run” for Senate.

Not surprisingly, Leppert’s office, including openly gay chief of staff Chris Heinbaugh, didn’t take kindly to my comments, and let’s just say I ended up being called on the carpet. But to this day, I stand by those statements, and in retrospect, it would certainly appear as though they were dead on.

When he did finally step down as mayor to run for Senate, Leppert promptly sent out his infamous anti-gay tweet, before coming out against both same-sex marriage and civil unions on his campaign website. During his Senate run, Leppert has been attacked by the other GOP candidates for appearing at gay Pride twice while mayor, but now it looks like he’s managed to win over some of the folks you’d expect to be most critical of his decision to participate in such an “orgy” of “drunken revelries,” in the words of Lela Pittinger.

The Dallas Morning News reports today that a group of evangelical pastors, led by none other than First Baptist’s Robert Jeffress, has formally endorsed the former mayor. The group includes others such as David Dykes of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Randel Everett of First Baptist Church of Midland, etc. (On a side note, we’re sure the DMN’s main headline on its Metro page last Friday quoting Ed Oakley as saying Leppert had “abandoned gays” didn’t hurt his cause among the pastors. At first I was baffled by this headline because it was over a full year late, but now I consider it to be nothing more than a ceremonial political ex-gay cleansing by the city fathers, if you will.)

As I wrote last month, it’s sad to think that on paper at least, Leppert may be the least anti-gay of the four major GOP candidates for Senate. But I don’t care, I’ll still be glad when he comes in third May 29 behind Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former solicitor general Ted Cruz. And in the highly unlikely event that Leppert were to decide to never again run for public office, it would indeed be good riddance.

—  John Wright

Santos celebrates 10 years at TITAS

Charles Santos has told the story many times — last in Dallas Voice here — about how, just days after accepting a job in Dallas, he dodged catastrophe, being near  the World Trade Center when the towers were attacked in New York.

That was 10 years ago last month. Which means that 10 years ago this month, Santos celebrated a decade as the executive director of TITAS. Thus, the board of TITAS, along with luminaries like Veletta Lill, Matrice Kirk, Chris Heinbaugh and city councilwoman Ann Margolin, noted the anniversary with a surprise party for Santos at Komali last night.

Santos was bestowed a sculpture, pictured, to mark his time here, and he indicated his desire to be around for another 10 years.

TITAS next brings the inventive dance troupe Pilobolus to the Winspear on Nov. 19.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Omni confirms DP benefits for convention hotel

ROOMS WITH VIEWS | Workers put the finishing touches on the pool deck this week at Dallas’ convention center hotel, as the downtown skyline looms behind them. The hotel is scheduled to open Nov. 11. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

CLICK HERE TO VIEW MORE PHOTOS FROM INSIDE THE HOTEL

Facility owned by city of Dallas to open Nov. 11

JOHN WRIGHT | Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

A spokeswoman for Omni Hotels confirmed this week that the company will offer domestic partner benefits to its employees at Dallas’ convention center hotel, slated to open next month.

It marks the first time a representative from Irving-based Omni Hotels has stated directly that the company plans to offer DP benefits at the city-owned facility.

Omni, which operates 50 luxury hotels in North America, is one of the few major lodging chains that doesn’t offer DP benefits across the board. However, Omni spokeswoman Caryn Kboudi said the company opted to do so at the convention center hotel because the facility is owned by the city, which has offered DP benefits to its employees since 2004.

“We’re pleased to do it, and it’s in keeping with the city of Dallas’ practices,” Kboudi said.

Kboudi said the convention center hotel, slated to open Nov. 11, will initially employ 600-650 people, about 80 percent of whom will be full time and eligible for benefits. At “peak performance,” the hotel could employ up to 800 people, she said.

The question of whether Omni Hotels would offer DP benefits at the facility was first raised in a Dallas Voice article in April 2009 — two months after the city had signed a 15-year operating agreement with the company for the $500 million hotel.

The article appeared days before the vote on a referendum aimed at barring the city from building and owning the hotel. Mayor Tom Leppert, a major supporter of the hotel, assured the newspaper that he would convince the company to offer DP benefits, even though it had not been considered as part of the operating agreement.

The referendum was defeated, and six weeks later, both Leppert’s office and the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce announced that Omni had agreed to offer DP benefits — although the company wouldn’t confirm it at the time.

“Until you [Dallas Voice] raised the issue, it wasn’t on people’s radar,” said Chris Heinbaugh, who’s openly gay and was Leppert’s chief of staff. “A light bulb went off. It was a significant step for the city.”

It reportedly marked the first time the city has prompted a contractor to offer DP benefits.

Heinbaugh, who now works for the AT&T Performing Arts Center, declined to discuss in detail the negotiations that led to Omni’s commitment to offer DP benefits. Leppert is running for U.S. Senate as a Republican and has come out against both same-sex marriage and civil unions.

A spokesman for Leppert’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In addition to agreeing to offer DP benefits, Omni Hotels joined the North Texas GLBT Chamber in 2009. Tony Vedda, president and CEO of the chamber, said this week the company remains a silver level corporate member, which means an annual contribution of $5,000 to the organization.

“I certainly assumed that they were going to stick to their word [on DP benefits],” Vedda said. “It would be devastating if we were told one thing and something else occurred.”

Vedda said the chamber would also like to see Omni offer DP benefits at its publicly owned convention center hotel in Fort Worth. Fort Worth began offering domestic partner benefits to municipal employees last year.

—  John Wright

Applause: Chris Heinbaugh: Act 3

Former TV newsman Chris Heinbaugh left the mayor’s office to return to his roots in the arts community

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Being near the stage (including the iconic Wyly Theatre) is nothing new for the former mayoral chief of staff; Heinbaugh once made his living as an actor. | Photography by Arnold Wayne Jones

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Applause Editor

Chris Heinbaugh will not soon forget his first day working for the AT&T Performing Arts Center as its external affairs director. A “patio session” live music show preceded the opening night of Billy Elliot at the Winspear, the Mavs hosted one of their home games on the way to the NBA title, and there was an after-party at Jorge’s where he needed to make an appearance. All without an assistant. Jorge’s is where he is sitting now, margarita in hand, after work.

All that might sound like the kind of first day that might also be your last, but for Heinbaugh, it was completely manageable. As the openly gay chief of staff to Mayor Tom Leppert (and briefly Mayor Dwaine Carraway), Heinbaugh was a fixture in the media, at council meetings and throughout the community; Day 1 at ATTPAC was just another example of doing what needs to be done.

“You hit the ground running in both jobs,” he says with a sly smile. “People ask me, ‘Do you miss City Hall? Do you miss the politics?’ There’s still politics in what I do, interacting with the city, the chambers [of commerce], other arts organizations.” He shrugs and takes another sip of his margarita.

Now, instead of working for the man who runs a huge city, he work for an entity that manages, operates and programs the Wyly, Winspear, Strauss Square and Sammons Park (there are no plans for ATTPAC to operate the City Performance Hall currently under construction, “though we are supportive of what they want”) — also a breathtakingly expansive job.

But working for an arts organization isn’t as far a cry from Heinbaugh’s prior life as it may seem. Before he started working for Leppert, Heinbaugh was on-air talent for WFAA-TV. Although he was hired to be a political reporter, Heinbaugh says he made it a condition of his employment that he got to dip his toe occasionally in arts coverage to “keep my creative juices working.”

“Ray Nasher was one of the first stories I did when I moved here,” he says. “He got me a full tour of his house and he was so passionate about every piece — every piece had a story. And the [performing arts center] was something I started covering immediately. It was a great way to get to know the arts community.”

That was back in 2000, and Heinbaugh ended up in Dallas almost by accident. After 18 years in television journalism, he was ready to quit and start a different career when WFAA tapped him. The flagship station of the Belo Corp., being asked to work for Channel 8 is to TV journos what being called to the majors is for a minor league pitcher:The juiciest plum in his profession. He couldn’t turn it down.

But even journalism was a second career in itself. In a prior life, Heinbaugh received his college degree in theater from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and made his living (barely) as actor for more than a decade.

“That was a long time ago,” he sighs. “Although there’s an episode of Divorce Court out there with me in it. Every so often I still get a residual check for two bucks.” (He also appeared as a bachelor on The Dating Game and won the vacation with the bachelorette, though it was platonic and they stayed in separate rooms.) Eventually Heinbaugh craved the regularity of a steady paycheck and went back to school to study journalism.

Now all those careers are behind him, though his position at ATTPAC didn’t come as a surprise to him, or even feel like much of a change.

“The job was something on my radar,” he admits. Even before Leppert’s sudden resignation as mayor so that he could run for U.S. Senate, Heinbaugh planned to switch careers, and something in the arts seemed a natural extension of both his theatrical and political lives.

“I loved all the things going on in the city, from the Calatrava bridge to the Performing Arts Center, so now I just get to be an advocate.”

Heinbaugh works for ATTPAC, which is a separate entity from the Arts District neighborhood, headed by Veletta Lill.

“I work closely with Veletta,” he says. “I’ve known her since I’ve lived here and she has such a great appreciation for the arts community and the gay community.”

They work together in trying to turn Downtown into its own destination, with sunset movie screenings, outdoor concerts and festivals. Something is working.

“When I moved here there were maybe 200 people living Downtown; now there are 7,000 to 8,000,” he says. “Museum Tower is coming. It’s just a matter of time.”

But he also know what really will serve the ATTPAC is the programming at the halls.

“What’s the real challenge for the resident companies is, they have this tremendous space and the question is, what do they do with it? I think [Dallas Theater Center artistic director] Kevin Moriarty has pushed the envelope, and that’s good for the arts. That’s what’s really exciting. And we’re getting the word out.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Chris Heinbaugh has left the City Hall building

Chris Heinbaugh
Chris Heinbaugh

Wednesday was Chris Heinbaugh’s last day in the Dallas mayor’s office. And today is his first day as external affairs director for the AT&T Performing Arts Center. Once Heinbaugh’s life settles down a bit, we hope to talk to him in more detail about his nearly four years at City Hall — most of it as the openly gay chief of staff for Mayor Tom Leppert — and about his new position. But for now, here’s what Heinbaugh said in an email to members of the media on Wednesday:

As you probably know, today is my last day at Dallas City Hall. Tomorrow I begin work as the External Affairs Director for the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Downtown Dallas.

Looking back, it has been a great four years serving two Mayors, two Councils, surviving several brutal elections and challenging budgets, traveling across the world, etc., etc., etc. I have enjoyed every moment of it. It’s not often you get to fill a job that you enjoy, that stretches your talents, challenges you every day and leaves you feeling like you may have actually made a difference in the City where you live.

And for me, luck has struck again. You may know, when I was a reporter, I spent time covering the Arts and the AT&T Performing Arts in its early stages. These are things I’m very passionate about. So for me, this is a perfect job. And, since I’m also handling local press, I will still get the chance to work with many of you.

I have really enjoyed working with you all. Sometimes the stories were positive, sometimes I wanted them to go away! But I appreciate that we always kept it professional, never personal, and we tried to stay as accessible as possible.

I wish you all the best.

Thank you again. It’s been a pleasure. I hope to see you again soon, and please — come out and enjoy your Center!

—  John Wright

Chris Heinbaugh leaving mayor’s office to join AT&T Performing Arts Center

Chris Heinbaugh

Chris Heinbaugh has been named external affairs director at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.

Heinbaugh, an openly gay former TV reporter, served as Mayor Tom Leppert’s chief of staff for three years and has remained in the mayor’s office under Dwaine Caraway.

Heinbaugh will start his new job June 9.

“I’m ready to do something different,” Heinbaugh told Instant Tea this afternoon. “I’m very excited about it. I wanted to stay in Dallas, I like the arts, I like that center.”

Here’s what Heinbaugh said in an email to members of the media:

Hey folks,

Today I notified Ms. Suhm and Mayor Caraway that I am leaving my position in the Mayor’s office. Effective June 9, I will assume the position of External Affairs Director for the AT&T Performing Arts Center. I’ll be handling government relations and institutional press and working with the new CEO, Mark Weinstein to create exciting and inclusive new programs for the many diverse communities in Dallas and its North Texas neighbors. As you probably know from my days as a reporter, I have been a lover of the arts and passionate about the ATT PAC and the Dallas Arts District. As chief of staff, I’ve been fortunate to able to be a cheerleader for the Center both here at home and during our travels across the country and overseas. I am very excited that I will now be joining this tremendous team and its new CEO to continue moving the Center and the city forward.

I look forward to maintain a personal and professional strong relationship with you as well. We’ll chat more before I go, but I wanted to be sure to let you know. Please feel free to share this with your colleagues.

All the best,

Chris

—  John Wright

WATCH: Gay travel writers descend on Dallas for GLBT International Press Tour 2011

Former City Councilman Ed Oakley, from right, Sheriff Lupe Valdez, Councilwomen Linda Koop and Delia Jasso all attended the kickoff party.


CLICK HERE TO VIEW MORE PHOTOS FROM THE GLBT PRESS TOUR KICKOFF AT ILUME

San Juan Capistrano has its swallows, Copper River has its salmon, Mexico has its monarch butterflies. But Dallas has its own annual migration: Every spring, gay travel writers from around the world come to town give precious ink (or for the bloggers, electrons) to what makes gay Dallas a worthwhile travel destination. The process seems to have worked: Over the six years the Tavern Guild has been sponsoring this influx of journos — the group that arrived Thursday marks the seventh time — Dallas has popped up on the radar of many “best of” polls for gay cities. And all without a beach or clothing-optional guesthouses.

I’ve taken these tours myself as a writer (surprisingly, the Tavern Guild has never invited me to take the tour), and Dallas usually puts on a pretty good show. First, it’s a lengthy tour (running for most reporters until Monday). Second, it is organized with Teutonic efficiency, including a great variety of dining options (from high-end to down-home) and traversing the Trinity to include our Cowtown brethren. From the responses I heard, the show is a good one.

And another selling point is, our local celebrities turn out. At Wednesday night’s kick-off event at the ilume pool bar, the five journalists in attendance — from  Barcelona, London, Madrid, Los Angeles and Chicago — were welcomed by a slate of local dignitaries including Sheriff Lupe Valdez, Chief of Police David Brown, and three current members of the city council, as well as former councilman and mayoral candidate Ed Oakley and current mayor attache Chris Heinbaugh. After the meet-and-greet, the writers headed off for Nana for dinner, followed Thursday with a trip to Fort Worth.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Easter in the Park to go forward as scheduled despite rumors, but Pooch Parade still up in air

The Pooch Parade in Lee Park.

Despite rumors and after some behind-the-scenes negotiating, Easter in the Park will take place as usual on Easter Sunday, April 24.

The Turtle Creek Association, which has staged the event for years, decided to move some of the activities to the Sunday before Easter, April 17, for a family-friendly event. While some members of the LGBT community took that to mean gay-unfriendly, Keith Nix of TCA assured everyone that “family” means all families.

The April 17 event will include a DJ and an Easter egg roll for children.

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra will begin its season of free concerts in city parks with its Easter Sunday concert in Lee Park. According to Lee Park and Arlington Hall Conservancy President and CEO John Williams, that event has not changed. Vendors will be at the park selling food and drinks, and he encouraged everyone to come with their blankets for the annual picnic.

What is still not resolved is the Pooch Parade. The Turtle Creek Association was planning to move the Pooch Parade to the week before Easter, April 17. After an outcry from the LGBT community, the Cedar Springs Merchants Association met with the Conservancy last Friday.

On Monday, all of the groups involved met with Chris Heinbaugh in Dallas Mayor Dwaine Caraway’s office, about funding. The expense involved includes a required number of Dallas police to close Turtle Creek Boulevard and provide security. Cleanup also must be provided professionally, not with volunteers, by city ordinance.

More on Easter in the Park and the fate of the Pooch Parade in Friday’s Dallas Voice.

—  David Taffet

Tom Leppert is running for Senate, but Chris Heinbaugh will remain in the mayor’s office

In case you missed it, Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert officially announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate today.

Not long after Leppert’s video announcement (above) was posted to his campaign website, we spoke with his openly gay chief of staff in the mayor’s office, Chris Heinbaugh.

Leppert, who announced his resignation Wednesday, will remain mayor until 11:59 p.m. today, at which point Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway will take over.

Heinbaugh declined to publicly comment on the Twitter message sent out by Leppert on Wednesday, in which he slammed President Barack Obama for ordering the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

Heinbaugh, who is no longer handling media calls for Leppert, advised Instant Tea to contact the mayor’s Senate campaign office about the tweet. We left a message with campaign spokeman Shawn McCoy but haven’t heard back.

Chris Heinbaugh
Chris Heinbaugh

Heinbaugh did tell us that he plans to remain in the mayor’s office to help Caraway, who will serve out the remainder of Leppert’s term — until a new mayor is elected in May and sworn in in June. In other words, Heinbaugh will not be going to work on Leppert’s campaign.

“I’m gonna be here for a while,” Heinbaugh said from City Hall. “I’m just going to continue on in the office and do whatever I can to help Mr. Caraway. If I can make it a good, stable, smooth transition, then great.”

Heinbaugh said he won’t serve as Caraway’s chief of staff, and it’s still unclear what exactly his role will be. However, he said both Caraway and City Manager Mary Suhm have expressed a desire for him to stay on.

“We’ve got a lot of things going, and they don’t just stop if the mayor walks our the door,” Heinbaugh said.

We asked Heinbaugh about the challenge of working for Caraway, whose recent missteps have prompted concerns from other council members about him serving as mayor — even temporarily.

“Mr. Caraway is a good guy,” Heinbaugh responded. “I’ve known him for a long, long time. Ever since I moved to Dallas, I’ve known him. His heart is in the right place, and he will work very hard for the next four months.

“Over and over again he’s said, ‘I’m not going to start some new initiative — dig up Main Street and stick a river down it,’” Heinbaugh said. “We’re just going to continue the things that are already moving forward. I’m here to help him do that as long as he wants me here.”

—  John Wright

GOP Senate candidate Tom Leppert tries to distance himself from fag-loving past in Dallas

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert just announced his resignation today (effective Friday), and he hasn’t even formally announced that he’s running for U.S. Senate in 2012. But Leppert has already started pandering to social conservatives as he prepares to seek the Republcian nomination for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat.

As you can see above, Leppert sent out an anti-gay tweet today in response to the Obama administration’s announcement that it will no longer defend a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court.

“Another mistake from Obama on DOMA,” Leppert tweeted. “We need leaders in Washington to stand for the principle of marriage between one man and one woman.”

Clearly, Leppert is anxious to distance himself from his record in Dallas, where he hired an openly gay chief of staff, Chris Heinbaugh, and appeared in two gay Pride parades. Being a big old fag-lover could seriously hurt Leppert in a statewide Republican primary, so he’ll have to work hard to prove how much of a bigot he is.

Leppert’s tweet is utterly disgusting, but it isn’t at all surprising.

—  John Wright