Veletta Lill joins 4 gay former council members in endorsing Bobby Abtahi

Lill.Veletta

Veletta Lill

Former District 14 Dallas City Councilwoman Veletta Lill has added her name to the list of endorsements for Bobby Abtahi, who is running to replace Councilwoman Angela Hunt.

Lill joined former Councilman Craig McDaniel, who represented the district before her. McDaniel was the first openly gay person elected to office in Dallas. Openly gay Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons has also endorsed Abtahi. Other gay former elected officials who’ve endorsed Abtahi are former Dallas City Councilmen Chris Luna, Ed Oakley and Craig Holcomb.

Lill, who represented District 14 from 1997-2005 before becoming executive director of the Dallas Arts District, wrote in her endorsement:

“I want a councilmember with a strong vision for the entire district and a passion for our city. At the same time Bobby understands that the small details in our lives can make a big difference in the way we live – safe streets, stable neighborhoods, basic services and a good quality of life keep us personally invested in our community.

“It is no secret that I believe the arts are important to a city, from our school children to our seniors and from our neighborhood artists and cultural centers to the Dallas Arts District — Bobby is committed to being an ally for arts and culture on the council.”

Current District 14 Councilwoman Angela Hunt and former County Judge Hon. Margaret Keliher have endorsed Philip Kingston in the race.

Former state Reps. John Bryant and Harryette Ehrhardt have endorsed Jim Rogers. Former City Councilwoman Lori Palmer, who represented Oak Lawn before McDaniel, as well as former Mayor Mary Poss, have also endorsed Rogers.

Also in the District 14 race are David Blewett, Kevin Curley, Chuck Kobdish and Judith Liimatainen. None of those four had high-profile endorsements listed as of today.

—  David Taffet

LGBT supporter Claudia Meyer files to run against anti-gay incumbent Hill

Raymond Crawford

Raymond Crawford

Back in October 2011 we reported on the plight of gay residents in the South Oak Cliff neighborhood of Kiestwood.

Kiestwood is currently represented by District 3 Dallas City Councilman Scott Griggs, a strong LGBT ally. But in 2011 redistricting placed Griggs in District 1, where he’ll face off against fellow LGBT ally Delia Jasso this May. Meanwhile, the heavily gay Kiestwood remains in the redrawn District 3, where Vonciel Jones Hill is the incumbent.

Hill, the lone sitting member of the Dallas City Council who has refused to appear in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, once explained her boycott of Dallas’ gay Pride celebration as follows: “I believe that all people are loved by God, all people are created equal under God, but there are acts that God does not bless.”

Raymond Crawford, the gay president of the Kiestwood Historical Homeowners Association, warned in 2011 that Hill’s anti-gay views would come back to haunt her.

“The day she [Hill] comes to call to do some door-knocking or to get some votes, whether I’m the president or not, it’s going to be an interesting conversation with Councilmember Hill,” Crawford said then. “She’ll be in trouble in 2013 based on her previous statements.”

Which brings us to last Friday, the filing deadline for May elections, when Crawford sent word that longtime Mountain Creek resident Claudia Meyer is among three candidates challenging Hill.

“Claudia is a good friend of mine and would be a good friend, and solid supporter of the LGBT community at Dallas City Hall,” Crawford wrote.

The other candidates who’ve filed in District 3 are Michael J. Connally and Kermit Mitchell. Below is full press release announcing Meyer’s candidacy.

—  John Wright

Leland Burk files in District 13

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Leland Burk, right, via Facebook

Out businessman Leland Burk has filed to replace Dallas Councilwoman Ann Margolin in conservative District 13.

Burk, who founded First Independent Bank and is now a real estate and oil and gas investor, has been endorsed by Margolin and her predecessor Mitchell Rasansky.

Burk’s run marks the first time a viable openly gay candidate has sought office outside of the heavily gay districts in Oak Lawn and Oak Cliff.

District 13 has been redrawn to include all of Preston Hollow, which is in the center of the district. One of the wealthiest and most conservative areas of Dallas, Burk describes himself as a conservative and says his sexual orientation likely won’t be an issue during the campaign.

Jennifer Staubach Gates is the only other candidate who has filed in the race so far.

Between Burk filing in District 13 and Herschel Weisfeld in District 2, it’s likely Dallas could gain an openly gay council member this year. The last time Dallas had a gay member on the council was in 2007, when Ed Oakley resigned from office to run for mayor.

But with the filing deadline only two days away, who knows, we could see even more gay candidates pursue a bid for office.

—  Dallasvoice

Herschel Weisfeld files in District 2

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Herschel Weisfeld

Gay real estate developer Herschel Weisfeld made his bid for City Council District 2 official today.

He filed for Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano’s District 2 seat, which she is vacating due to term limits.

Wiesfeld’s been heavily involved in the arts and historical preservation spheres, starting the Sara Ellen and Samuel Weisfeld Center in honor of his parents. He said he’s excited about the race and looks forward to sharing his diverse experience of cultural knowledge and civic engagement in Dallas with voters.

“I’ve had an active presence and I think it’s important for people to know that I would bring a diverse experience and knowledge to the council to all the diverse communities I’m a part of and have worked with,” he said. “At this point, I think it’s a choice between someone who’s worked on a lot of things instead of someone with a single focus like my opponents.”

DISD trustee Adam Medrano, Pauline Medrano’s nephew, filed for the seat earlier this month after resigning from his position in the Park and Recreation department in January. Community activist Ricky Gonzales has also filed.

Vernon Franko, who’s also gay and ran for District 14 in 2011, returned a Dallas Voice candidate questionnaire and filed a treasurer’s report for District 2. He’s expected to file for office. The deadline to file is March 1.

Dallas hasn’t had an openly gay council member since Ed Oakley resigned in 2007 to run for mayor. Two past openly gay council members, Chris Luna and John Loza, have served District 2.

The district covers most of Oak Lawn, as well as parts of downtown and East Dallas, making it one of the gayest council districts.

Pauline Medrano has been a staunch LGBT ally during her time on the council, riding in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade and agreeing to support pro-equality two resolutions expected to go before the council this spring in favor of marriage equality and a statewide ban on anti-LGBT job discrimination. Medrano was on the DISD school board when its LGBT nondiscrimination policy passed. And he, too, has ridden on the Dallas Tavern Guild’s float alongside his aunt over the years.

Weisfeld has been active in Dallas’ LGBT community, announcing his candidacy for City Council at last year’s Pride parade. He is a founder of the Oak Lawn Stakeholders Crime Watch group.

Medrano hasn’t returned our calls seeking comment about his run for his aunt’s seat, but he recently launched his campaign and website.

—  Dallasvoice

Scott Griggs is ‘very optimistic’ his pro-LGBT resolutions will pass

Dallas City Councilman Scott Griggs addresses LULAC #4871—The Dallas Rainbow Council on Thursday at Havana on Cedar Springs Road.

Dallas City Councilman Scott Griggs says he wants to obtain signatures from eight or more council members — a majority — before he brings forward resolutions in support of marriage equality and statewide LGBT employment protections.

Only five signatures would be needed to place the resolutions on the agenda for a council vote, but Griggs said because it’s an important issue, “You want to know where you are going into it.”

Dallas Voice reported in December that seven of 15 council members have said they support the concept of the resolutions, which Griggs now hopes will pass sometime this spring.

Griggs said he met with Mayor Mike Rawlings recently to discuss the resolutions, which the mayor has not yet publicly endorsed. Griggs called it a “positive meeting” but would not comment on whether he thinks Rawlings will come around.

“I’m not in a position to speak for him or any of my colleagues on a particular vote,” Griggs said, adding that he’s “very optimistic” the resolutions will pass the council.

—  John Wright

Griggs, Jasso to battle for gay vote in District 1 after lawsuit dropped

Scott Griggs and Delia Jasso

It’s looking more and more like next year’s District 1 Dallas City Council race will pit incumbents Scott Griggs and Delia Jasso against each other.

The Dallas Morning News reports that plaintiffs have dropped a federal lawsuit challenging the city’s redistricting map on the grounds that it discriminates against Hispanic voters. The map placed Jasso, who currently represents District 1, and Griggs, who represents District 3, in the same North Oak Cliff district.

The news brings added significance to resolutions Griggs says he plans to introduce next year in support of marriage equality and statewide ban on anti-LGBT employment discrimination.

I don’t think there’s any doubt the resolutions are partly designed to help Griggs compete for the gay vote against Jasso, who created the city’s LGBT Task Force after taking office in 2009.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the resolutions are overdue, and Jasso is among seven council members who’ve said they’ll support them.

The downside is that both Griggs and Jasso are LGBT allies, and one of them will likely be leaving the council.

The filing deadline for May 11 city elections is March 1.

—  John Wright

Gay Dallas real estate developer announces candidacy for City Council

Gay Dallas real estate developer Herschel Weisfeld announced his intention to run for the District 2 Dallas City Council seat on Thursday.

District 2 Councilwoman Pauline Medrano, District 14 Councilwoman Angela Hunt and District 11 Councilwoman Linda Koop will reach the four-term limit in 2013. Both District 2 and 14 are heavily LGBT.

Weisfeld will officially launch his campaign at Dallas Pride on Sunday with a float in the parade. He said it was the perfect way to introduce himself as a candidate to the district with the slogan “uniting our diverse city.”

“We realized since District 2 cuts right down the center of Cedar Springs, the fact that we are the ninth-largest city in America [and] without a gay or lesbian representation on our City Council, that Pride would be a perfect time to kick off the campaign,” he said.

Weisfeld has been involved in civic affairs for many years and is known for restoring an old church into a performing arts center he renamed the Sara Ellen and Samuel Weisfeld Center after his parents. He said his background in business and finance will help the council re-evaluate plans for environment, quality of life, bike paths and connecting alternative modes of transportation.

“The issues that pushed me toward running was planning for the next 30 to 50 years, not just the next three to four years,” he said. “I think those are things that will play a long-term role in the future of the city of Dallas for the generations to come, not for the years to come.”

Weisfeld said his diverse background in the gay, Jewish and Hispanic communities, as he is bilingual, will help him relate to the diverse communities in District 2 and help the art venues, entertainment districts and communities thrive.

“These are all very important pieces of the city of Dallas that I believe I’ve got the experience and the exposure to a wide variety of issues that will be important and that will be educational components for me that I can bring to the table to the benefit of all of the citizens of Dallas,” he said.

Read Weisfeld’s full announcement below.

—  Dallasvoice

Would a resolution backing marriage equality pass the Dallas City Council?

Equality Texas has posted a petition calling for the Austin City Council to approve a resolution in support of marriage equality. As far as I know, Austin would be the first city in Texas to do so.

According to the petition, the resolution is sponsored by Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Councilwoman Laura Morrison, and backed by Equality  Texas, the Human Rights Campaign, the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. The resolution will be voted on in September.

“Marriage provides legal and economic protections including access to health care, recognition of parental and custodial responsibilities, property rights, and other protections which are vital to the safety and security of every family, and is a powerful and important affirmation of love and commitment and a source of social support and recognition,” the petition states in part. “As the Supreme Court said in the 1967 landmark case Loving v. Virginia, ‘Marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival. Thank you for your leadership in support of the freedom to marry and for sending the message nationwide that the City of Austin values equality.”

The petition currently has 326 signatures, with a goal of 1,000. Especially if you live in Austin, but even if you don’t, sign it by going here.

On a side note, one can’t help but wonder how long it will be before a similar resolution is proposed in Dallas. Leffingwell is among the six mayors from Texas who signed a Freedom to Marry “pledge” earlier this year. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, of course, is not — even though Rawlings has said he would vote in favor of marriage equality if he had the chance.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that with Rawlings’ support, the votes are there right now, today, on the Dallas City Council to pass a similar resolution. Can you guess who my other seven votes are?

UPDATE: Daniel Williams at Equality Texas sent over a copy of the resolution that will be voted on by the Austin City Council in September, and I’ve posted it below. The resolution is a powerful statement in support of equality, and one that pro-LGBT council members in every progressive city in this state should consider putting forward.

—  John Wright

Openly gay candidate runs for chair of Denton County Democratic Party

John McClelland serves on water board, founded chapters of Drinking Liberally and Stonewall Democrats

mcclelland.john

IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED | John McClelland lost races for Dallas City Council and Texas House before winning a seat on the local water board. Now he’s running for Denton County Democratic Party chair.

DANIEL VILLARREAL  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

DENTON — When he got elected to the district board of the Denton County Fresh Water Supply in March 2010, John McClelland says he became the first openly gay elected official in the county’s history.

This year he’s running for chair of the county’s Democratic Party with the hopes of finally turning Denton — and possibly the whole Lone Star State — blue.

And it all started with a drink.

When President George W. Bush got re-elected in 2004, McClelland consoled himself with the thought that things in the U.S. couldn’t really get much worse. Then in 2005, they did.

The state’s voters passed Proposition 2, an amendment banning both same-sex marriage and civil unions in the Texas Constitution.

McClelland had identified as a Republican during his college days, but gradually came to feel like he couldn’t be gay in the GOP.

He spent time making phone calls, marching on the Capitol and organizing voters against Prop 2. But in the end it still passed with 76 percent of the vote. And by the time it was all over, all McClelland wanted was a drink.

He’d read about Drinking Liberally, a group of New York progressives dedicated to discussing politics over drinks, so he decided to start his own

Addison chapter. He placed an ad on Craigslist and seven people showed up, mostly wondering why he’d even bothered organizing a progressive meeting in such a conservative state.

“Most of the people just wanted a place to sit down, talk and air their grievances, kinda like

Festivus [the made-up holiday celebrated on TV’s Seinfeld], just without the pole and the wrestling match,” he said.

But as the meet-ups continued, McClelland felt he couldn’t just sit around without doing something to make the world a better place. So in 2007, he decided to run against Ron Natinsky for the Dallas City Council District 12 seat.

Natinsky got 4,452 votes. McClelland got 979.

Undeterred, he decided to run against Republican incumbent Myra Crownover in the 2008 race for Texas House District 64.

Crownover received 40,758 votes and McClelland only received 28,195. But considering that Crownover had raised $216,471 for her campaign and McClelland had only raised $28,134, McClelland considered it a worthwhile achievement.

“Being an openly gay, Democrat in a red district in Denton County, that’s pretty good.”

Though he admits that having Barack Obama at the top of the ticket certainly helped, McClelland feels that voters didn’t care that he was a Democrat or gay; they just wanted new leadership and knew that McClelland was qualified.

Though he kept hanging out with the Drinking Liberally crowd, after Obama got elected in 2008, their national outlook became more optimistic.

Instead of complaining about Bush all the time, they complained about the Republicans controlling the state Legislature.

Likewise, McClelland himself had changed. Not only had he run two local races, he had also founded the Stonewall Democrats of Denton County, the national gay political organization’s fifth chapter in North Texas.

“It’s important for LGBT people to have that sort of thing, to be around one another and educate the people that you’re dealing with in the grand scheme of the big tent,” McClelland says. “There are a lot of people who don’t even know what Stonewall means. A lot of people think it refers to Stonewall Jackson, the war general, instead of Stonewall bar.”

He continued acting as his Stonewall chapter’s president after he got elected to the district board of the Denton County Fresh Water Supply in March 2010. But after three years in the office, he has stepped down and refocused his efforts on becoming Denton County Democratic Party chair.

Typically, a county Democratic Party chair supports Democratic campaigns by working closely with candidates, conducting primary elections and helping precinct chairs get out the vote.

But McClelland thinks that the Denton County Democratic Party can do a lot more to help make this happen. As chair, he would train precinct chairs on how to use voter databases to contact voters and host events, fundraise through local donors who normally give to the Democratic

National Committee but not to their local party (“the money doesn’t trickle down,” he says) and prepare future candidates and party organizers through a county program called “Project Farm Team.”

Right now he has 2,000 hangers sitting on his floor just waiting to grace the doors of potential voters.

“I want to get Democrats elected, that’s the main reason I’m doing this, that’s the goal,” McClelland said. “Without Denton or Collin county, it’s gonna be a pretty tough spot getting a Democrat elected, like a governor or a U.S. Senator. Getting Denton County to turn blue is one of the keys to getting the entire state to turn blue.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 10, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

City unveils planned Cedar Springs improvements

Hunt, Medrano present plan to Merchants Association; will include new crosswalk lights, red lights

CedarSprings

GETTING THE SIGNAL | A pedestrian runs to avoid traffic as he crosses Cedar Springs Road at Knight Street on Thursday, Jan. 12. The intersection will get a traffic signal under a pedestrian safety plan unveiled by the city this week. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE FULL CEDAR SPRINGS PEDESTRIAN SAFETY PLAN

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

In the wake of two pedestrian fatalities on the Cedar Springs strip in November, Dallas officials have unveiled a host of planned safety improvements ranging from crosswalk lights to a new traffic signal to, eventually, the possibility of narrowing the street to two lanes.

Dallas City Council members Angela Hunt and Pauline Medrano, along with city staff, unveiled the changes during a closed-door meeting at the Round-Up Saloon on Thursday afternoon, Jan. 12, with representatives from the Cedar Springs Merchants Association, the Dallas Tavern Guild and other community groups.

The city’s Cedar Springs pedestrian safety plan calls for new flashing lights at crosswalks on Cedar Springs by the end of this month. A new traffic signal at Knight Street — where one of the pedestrians was killed — is scheduled to be installed by June.

“They did come with concrete solutions and things that they’re starting immediately, which is pretty exciting,” Merchants Association Executive Director Scott Whittall said after the meeting. “This is a big deal, and we’re excited about it. It’s a situation where we’re taking something unfortunate and we’re going to get as much out of it as we can to improve the street.”

Hunt said prior to Thursday’s meeting that the improvements have already begun with the recent addition of three streetlights on Cedar Springs.

“I think it’s pretty aggressive,” Hunt said of the plan, “which it needs to be, given the fatalities and accidents we’ve had there.”

In addition to the two fatalities in November, two pedestrians were seriously injured when they were struck on Cedar Springs in December.

Michael Doughman, executive director of the Dallas Tavern Guild, said the pedestrian safety plan represents “some great work from the city and those in attendance were most impressed with the ideas.”

“We had a great turn-out,” Doughman said. “Some ideas may need some tweaking but generally speaking, it was very well received. We will be doing an education campaign soon that we will ask the Dallas Voice to participate in. This will include pedestrian safety rules as well as driver safety issues.”

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Scott Whittall

According to a copy of the plan provided by Doughman, yellow warning flashers will be installed in both directions at four crosswalks on Cedar Springs, near Knight Street and Reagan Street. The two Reagan street crosswalks will remain in their current locations. The existing crosswalk at Knight Street will be moved to the south in front of Bank of America, while a crosswalk will be added between ilume and the city library.

Whittall said the flashing crosswalk lights will be at motorists’ eye level — and will be similar to the ones in place where Knox Street crosses the Katy Trail a few miles away. For the first 30 days, the crosswalk lights will flash around the clock, but after that pedestrians will have to activate them.

The city will also install a traffic signal at Cedar Springs and Knight Street by June, and begin an engineering study Feb. 1 to determine whether a traffic signal is warranted at Reagan Street. Also by June, the city will remove the right turn lane and island on the southeast corner of Cedar Springs and Douglas Avenue.

Other possible additions to the plan include banning left turns onto Cedar Springs from Reagan Street eastbound.

According to the plan, police have already increased traffic enforcement in the area, and Whittall said the Merchants Association has signed off on issuing jaywalking citations once the crosswalk improvements are in place.

“If we’re going to provide you with multiple safe crosswalk areas, they need to be utilized,” Whittall said. “You put your life at risk in an entertainment district if you try to cross somewhere that is not marked.”

Long term, the pedestrian safety plan calls for a “complete street” assessment of Cedar Springs, which could include revising the width of the street and reconfiguring lanes over the next three to five years.

“We’ve been harping and harping and harping on going to two lanes for a long time,” Whittall said. “Anything that would increase foot traffic on Cedar Springs and decrease traffic speed on Cedar Springs, we’re all for.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 13, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas