In case you hadn’t noticed, Texas is now down to just 3 openly gay city council members

A Victory Fund spokesman called Chris Hightower’s defeat in Arlington ‘heartbreaking.’

As we mentioned in our big election roundup from Saturday night, three gay city council candidates lost runoffs in Texas — Randi Shade in Austin, Elena Guajardo in San Antonio, and Chris Hightower in Arlington.

Shade was the only incumbent of the three, and her departure from office will leave Texas, the second-largest state in the nation, with just three openly LGBT city council members — Joel Burns in Fort Worth, Sue Lovell in Houston, and Scott Sherman in Pearland.

Openly gay Kemp City Councilman Jerry Hazelip didn’t seek re-election this year. And the two gay council candidates in Dallas, James Nowlin and Casie Pierce, lost their races May 14.

Of course, Texas still has plenty of LGBT appointed and elected officials (view the full list here), including high-profile ones like Mayor Annise Parker in Houston and Sheriff Lupe Valdez in Dallas — but nevertheless the lack of gay council members is cause for concern, according to Denis Dison, a spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.

Dison said the Victory Fund, which endorsed both Hightower and Shade, doesn’t keep a running total of the number of gay city council members in each state. But he noted that Texas is one of the few big states that lack an out legislator, and city councils are often a stepping stone to higher office.

“Chris Hightower’s loss was heartbreaking, both because he came so close and because he was subject to some pretty awful anti-gay politicking,” Dison told Instant Tea today. “My understanding is Shade’s loss had nothing to do with her sexual orientation.

“Municipal offices like those are very important because that’s often where future state legislators get their start, and Texas really needs an openly LGBT voice in the Capitol.

“We hope our progress is constant, but sometimes the challenges seem to bunch up and we’ve got to redouble our efforts,” Dison said. “We’ve seen a lot of success in Texas and I think we’ll continue to see good people decide to run from both parties.”

Really? Both parties? A gay Republican candidate in Texas? Now that would be something.

—  John Wright

ELECTIONS: Rawlings, Price cruise to victory; Hightower narrowly defeated in Arlington

Dallas Mayor-elect Mike Rawlings celebrates his victory at the Meddlesome Moth on Saturday night. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

Anti-gay robocalls may have been difference in Arlington race, as gay candidate loses by just 74 votes

FROM STAFF REPORTS

Mike Rawlings and Betsy Price cruised to victories in runoffs for mayor in Dallas and Fort Worth, respectively, on Saturday night, while Chris Hightower was narrowly defeated in his bid to become Arlington’s first openly gay council member.

Hightower was one of three openly gay candidates who lost city council races in Texas on Saturday, along with Randi Shade in Austin and Elena Guajardo in San Antonio.

According to unofficial results, with all precincts reporting, Hightower was defeated by just 74 votes. District 5 incumbent Lana Wolff captured 997 votes to Hightower’s 923, or 52 percent to 48 percent, and it may have been some rabidly anti-gay last-minute robocalls that made
the difference.

Chris Hightower delivers his concession speech Saturday night at Arlington’s Atomic Cafe. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Hightower himself declined to comment on the calls, saying “I’m not going to even give that any credibility.”

One of the calls, recorded by a Hightower supporter, was made by a man identifying himself as Joe Barnett, who called Hightower “a convicted sex pervert,” a “sex creep,” and “this weirdo.”

The caller also warned voters that they needed to “protect our children and our grandchildren from sex perverts running around our neighborhoods.”

The call ended with Barnett encouraging residents to “vote for a Wolff, not a pervert.”

The caller also said Hightower had been arrested and jailed for “sex crimes,” and that he’d pleaded guilty and been given probation,
allegations that Hightower’s mother, former state Rep. Paula Hightower Pierson, said Saturday night were patently false.

The incident to which the caller was apparently referring occurred in the 1990s when Hightower owned a gift and video store on Jennings Street in Fort Worth. When someone complained to police that Hightower was selling gay pornography, police raided the shop, confiscating the videos and arresting Hightower on a misdemeanor charge.

The charges were later determined to be unfounded and were dismissed, and Hightower has no criminal record.

Hightower led by 31 votes after the early ballots were counted, giving his supporters who had gathered at Arlington’s Atomic Café high hopes for the outcome. But after ballots were tallied from the first two ballot boxes — in precincts where Hightower had been expected to do well —
his lead had dropped to only two votes, and his supporters’ hopes begin to dim.

When vote counts had been counted from four of five boxes, leaving only those precincts that were strongest for Wolff yet to be tallied, the incumbent led by 35 votes, and Hightower conceded the race.

He thanked his supporters, friends and family, including his partner of 10 years, D.J. Johanesson who, Hightower said, had been “standing behind me, every step of the way. He also offered special thanks to his mother, and to the national Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which had endorsed him.

“We had a lot of stuff thrown our way that wasn’t expected,”

Hightower said in an oblique reference to the anti-gay tactics, “and they [the Victory Fund] helped us learn how to handle that.”

Hightower said he and his supporters had run “a good, hard, positive campaign,” adding that he believes this campaign had “laid the
groundwork” for the future.

“We’re not going to stop here,” he declared, drawings cheers from the crowd.

“I am proud of Arlington,” Hightower said. “Look how far we’ve come: We almost did it! It makes me have hope for the future.”

District 5 has 21,391 registered voters, and turnout for the runoff was 9.05 percent. Turnout in the May 14 general election was 9.78 percent.

In the Dallas’ mayoral runoff, Rawlings captured 56 percent of the vote to David Kunkle’s 44 percent, or 31,077 to 24,617. The outcome of the race was apparent shortly after 7 p.m., when early voting numbers were released and put Rawlings well ahead.

Hundreds of people crowded into the Meddlesome Moth in the Design District, just across Stemmons Freeway from the gayborhood, for Rawlings’ watch party. They included openly gay former city councilmen Ed Oakley and John Loza, as well as former city plan commissioner Neil Emmons.

“If you look around this group, you can see there’s a lot of diversity here,” Rawlings said during his victory speech at about 9:30 p.m.. “That’s important. There are people here with different views, believe it or not, but instead of focusing on where we differ, we chose to focus on what brings us together.”

Kunkle, the city’s former police chief, was endorsed by both Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, the only two LGBT groups that make endorsements in city elections. However, Rawlings had the backing of several gay former council members including Oakley, Loza, Chris Luna and Craig Holcomb.

“Stonewall Democrats and DGLA were very important endorsements for me that I’m very proud of,” Kunkle said Saturday night during his watch party at the San Francisco Rose on Greenville Avenue. “They worked very hard in the campaign.”

Former Police Chief David Kunkle shares a moment with his wife and campaign manager Sarah Dodd during his watch party at the San Francisco Rose on Greenville Avenue. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

“I want to thank everyone here tonight and all those who supported me in the campaign,” Kunkle said later during his concession speech. “I called Mike Rawlings and told him I think he’ll be a great mayor for Dallas and offered him all the support I can give him.”

DGLA issued a rare warning about Rawlings before the May 14 election, saying the former Pizza Hut CEO’s “passion for commerce and business interests supremely outweights his appreciation for the civil rights of all people.” Rawlings adamantly denied the allegation, which was based on a statement he made in an interview with the group, and DGLA chose not to re-issue its warning in the runoff.

Oakley, who initially endorsed Ron Natinsky then got behind Rawlings in the runoff, said he isn’t worried about the new mayor on LGBT issues.

“The city’s going to be in good hands,” Oakley said at the Rawlings watch party. “We couldn’t have gone wrong with any of the three candidates as far as our issues go.”

Four years ago, Oakley was defeated in a runoff for mayor by a similar margin against Tom Leppert, who recently came out against both same-sex marriage and civil unions after stepping down to run for U.S. Senate.

Asked whether he thinks there’s any risk Rawlings would betray the LGBT community in the same manner as Leppert, Oakley responded, “I told him I’d hunt him down if he did.”

Also in Dallas, Sandy Greyson, who has a pro-LGBT voting record in public office, defeated Donna Starnes in a runoff for Natinsky’s old seat. Greyson voted in favor of Dallas’ nondiscrimination ordinance, which includes both sexual orientation and gender identity, when she was on the council in 2002. She also voted in favor of adding sexual orientation to DART’s nondiscrimination policy in 1995, when she sat on the transit agency’s board.

In Fort Worth, former Tax Assessor/Collector Price won the mayoral runoff over former City Councilman Jim Lane, 56 percent to 44 percent.

Price took an 18 point lead after early voting, and stayed ahead throughout the night, although Lane did close the gap to 12 percent by the end of the night.

Before the final count was in, Lane declined to concede the race but did tell reporters that Price is “smart” and will “do a good job” as mayor, according to spectators at his campaign’s watch party.

Both Fort Worth mayoral candidates had courted the LGBT vote throughout the runoff.

In other races of interest to the LGBT community:

• In the race for the Carrollton Place 2 council seat, Bonnie Kaplan, who promised to represent all citizens in her district, lost to Anthony Wilder, who used Kaplan’s statement against her. Kaplan said during the campaign that Carrollton is very diverse and she embraces the diversity. Wilder, meanwhile, said gays and Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve on boards and commissions. Kaplan received 806 votes to Wilder’s 926 votes.

• In Austin, lesbian incumbent Randi Shade lost her re-election bid to Kathie Tovo, 56 to 44 percent. Tovo was seen by many voters as the progressive in the race and had quite a bit of support in the LGBT community. Shade was endorsed by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.

• In San Antonio, lesbian candidate Elena Guajardo was seeking a second term on the San Antonio City Council. She was elected to a term in 2005 but defeated in 2007. Guajardo’s opponent received 76 percent of the vote.

—  John Wright

Price has big lead over Lane in Fort Worth; Hightower ahead by just 31 votes in Arlington

Chris HIghtower

With early votes counted in Tarrant County, former Tax Assessor/Collector Betsy Price has a commanding lead over former Councilman Jim Lane in the Fort Worth mayoral runoff, while the margin in the contest for the District 5 Council seat in Arlington is razor thin, with gay candidate Chris Hightower leading incumbent Lana Wolff by two points.

Early voting turnout in both the Fort Worth mayoral runoff and the Arlington Council runoff exceeded early voting turnout in those races in the May 14 election.

Hightower, who if elected will be Arlington’s first openly gay council member, received 615 of the 1,199 early votes in the Arlington Council runoff. Wolff got 584.

Earlier this week, Hight0wer said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the election, despite anti-gay campaigning by Wolff supporters.

A total of 19,402 early votes were cast in the Fort Worth mayor’s race, and 11,433 went to Price, giving her 59 percent. Jim Lane trails with 7,969 votes, or 41 percent.

 

—  admin

ELECTION: Hightower says voters want change

Chris HIghtower

Early vote totals up in runoff; gay candidate says anti-gay tactics ‘falling on deaf ears’

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

ARLINGTON — Conventional wisdom says that turnout in a runoff election will be lower than in the general election. But if early vote numbers are any indication, voters in Arlington’s District 5 are defying conventional wisdom.

And Chris Hightower thinks that’s a good sign.

Hightower is the gay man challenging incumbent Lana Wolff for the District 5 seat on Arlington’s City Council. Hightower came out on top of the five-candidate heap in the May 14 general election, with 39 percent of the vote. Wolff, first elected to the council in 2003, earned a place in the runoff with 35 percent of the vote.

In the May 14 general election, District 5 voters cast 1,179 early ballots, including mail-in ballots. Of those early votes, 42 percent went to Hightower, compared to 34 percent to Wolff.

Early voting for the runoff ended Tuesday, June 14, with a total of 1,196 ballots, including mail-in ballots, cast, Hightower said.

Hightower, who if he is elected would be Arlington’s first openly gay council member, said this week that he has concentrated his runoff campaign efforts on keeping his supporters motivated and on getting them back out to the polls for a second time. And he said he thinks the high early vote turnout means he has accomplished his goal.

“We feel good,” Hightower said Wednesday, June 15. “I think the early vote shows we’ve got a lot of motivated voters out there.”

Hightower said that there are a number of “hot-button” issues drawing voters back to the poll, including the city’s thoroughfare development plan and a hike and bike plan now under consideration.

But, he added, he thinks voters’ desire for new representation is the biggest draw.

“It’s been awhile since we had any real change at city hall, and the voters are ready for it now,” Hightower said.

Although none of the other four candidates in the general election tried to make an issue of Hightower’s sexual orientation, the candidate did find himself the target of anti-gay campaigning by at least one Arlington resident.

“It happened in the general election campaign, and it continued into the runoff,” Hightower said. “I guess that kind of thing is probably typical of politics in general. But we’re just keeping our head down and keeping on talking about the real issues, the things the voters care about. And I think [the anti-gay tactics] are falling on deaf ears.

“The personal attacks just aren’t getting it any more,” he continued. “Voters in municipal elections are smart. They are concerned about the real issues, things like good streets, cutting down on crime and keeping the city safe, creating and keeping good neighbors. Those kinds of personal attacks just aren’t getting any traction with the voters.”

Hightower added, “People care about the issues. People are ready for a change, and we have given them something to vote for.”

Polls in Arlington will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday.

—  John Wright

Rawlings, Kunkle headed to runoff; Griggs knocks off Neumann; Hunt cruises past Nowlin

District 3 Dallas City Councilman-elect Scott Griggs poses with his mother during a watch party at his campaign headquarters in Oak Cliff on Saturday. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Gay candidate Chris Hightower advances to runoff in Arlington

From Staff Reports

Former Pizza Hut CEO Mike Rawlings and former Police Chief David Kunkle are headed to a June 18 runoff for Dallas mayor.

Meanwhile, challenger Scott Griggs knocked off incumbent Dave Neumann for the District 3 Dallas City Council seat, and District 14 incumbent Angela Hunt easily staved off a challenge from openly gay candidate James Nowlin in a race that has sharply divided the LGBT community.

The only other openly gay candidate on the ballot in Dallas, Casie Pierce, lost to incumbent Carolyn Davis in District 7. However, openly gay candidate Chris Hightower advanced to a runoff for the District 5 council seat in Arlington.

Rawlings and Kunkle were the top two vote-getters in the Dallas mayor’s race, beating out City Councilman Ron Natinsky. Rawlings converted his huge fund-raising advantage into a strong showing at the polls, capturing 41 percent of the vote with 551 of 555 precincts reporting. Kunkle, endorsed by Stonewall Democrats, had 32 percent. Natinsky, endorsed by the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, had 25 percent.

In District 3, Griggs captured 57 percent of the vote to Neumann’s 43 percent. Griggs, endorsed by both DGLA and Stonewall, will take over the Oak Cliff seat once held by gay Councilman Ed Oakley.

In District 14, Hunt captured 67 percent of the vote, to Nowlin’s 28 percent. Brian Oley was third with 4 percent, and Vernon Franko was fourth with 2 percent. Hunt was endorsed by DGLA, while Nowlin was endorsed by Stonewall.

In District 7, Pierce was backed by both DGLA and Stonewall as she vied to become the first out lesbian elected to the Dallas City Council. But Davis cruised to re-election with 61 percent, while Helene McKinney finished second with 21 percent and Pierce finished third with 18 percent.

In the Fort Worth mayor’s race, former Tarrant County Tax-Assessor Collector Betsy Price advanced to a runoff against former Councilman Jim Lane. Price received 43 percent of the vote to Lane’s 26 percent. Of the five Fort Worth mayoral candidates, Price was the one whose answers to a recent right-wing religious voters guide were the least LGBT-friendly. Fort Worth attorney and LGBT activist Jon Nelson, however, said he believes Price “has a good heart” but “just isn’t educated on gay issues.”

In the Arlington District 5 race, Hightower was the top-vote getter and advances to a runoff against incumbent Lana Wolff. Hightower captured 39 percent of the vote to Wolff’s 35 percent.

“Our supporters have really rallied behind us and behind our positive message,” Hightower said. “We have a positive message that goes back to the basics, and the voters have gotten behind that message. We feel the voters are saying they are ready for new leadership from a new generation.”

Hightower, who is endorsed by the Washington, D.C.-based Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said he’s looking forward to the runoff against Wolff.

“We feel good about where we are,” he said. “We have a broad base of support in the district, and we are going to just keep at it, keep delivering that positive message to the voters. We are ready to go. We came into this prepared for a runoff. We will still be doing some fundraising, but we are in good shape. We just have to put our heads down and keep going.”

In other Dallas races, District 2 incumbent Pauline Medrano handily defeated challenger Billy MacLeod, 75 percent to 25 percent.

In District 6, Monica Alonzo defeated Luis Sepulveda for the seat being vacated by Councilman Steve Salazar. Alonzo, endorsed by Stonewall Democrats, captured 61 percent to Sepulveda’s 39 percent. Sepulveda was endorsed by DGLA.

In the race to replace Natinsky in District 12, Sandy Greyson and Donna Starnes are headed to the only other Dallas runoff aside from the mayor’s race.

Incumbents Delia Jasso, Dwaine Caraway, Vonciel Jones Hill, Tennell Atkins, Linda Koop, Sheffie Kadane, Jerry Allen and Ann Margolin were all re-elected to the council.

 

—  John Wright

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

Hightower leads after early voting in Arlington

Chris Hightower

Realtor Chris Hightower, who’s vying to become Arlington’s first openly gay city councilmember, leads the District 5 race after early voting.

Hightower received 41 percent of the early vote. Incumbent Lana Wolff is second with 34 percent. Julie Douglas is third with 11 percent, Terry Meza is fourth with 9 percent, and Christopher McCain is fifth with 4 percent.

Although fewer than 100 votes separate Hightower and Wolff, he appears likely to at least advance to a June runoff.

Hightower is endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

For a profile of Hightower, go here.

—  John Wright

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