Dutton wins Bank of America ‘local hero’ award

Samaritan House head honored for work in housing people with AIDS, other chronic illnesses

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Steven Dutton, president and CEO of Samaritan House in Fort Worth, has been named a Bank of America local hero. The award is given to five people in each of 45 cities across the country.

Winners were chosen by a committee made of local leadership from Bank of America, previous grant recipients and other civic leaders, according to Mike Pavell, Fort Worth market president of the bank.

Samaritan House provides affordable, quality housing to low-income individuals and families including those affected by HIV.

“We were impressed with Steve not only because of his tireless pursuit to develop housing for persons who are homeless, ex-offenders, and those with chronic illness and disabilities,” said Pavell, “but because he speaks with residents of his program all day, showing them respect and care and enables them to become the strongest voice in their own recovery.”

Since joining the agency in 1996, the focus has shifted from hospice care to long-term support and even transitional housing. Soon after joining Samaritan House, the agency moved from the Northside into a 32-bed former nursing home southeast of downtown.

Dutton oversaw the new facility grow to 60 beds.

When the Villages at Samaritan House opened in 2006 with 66 apartments, they began serving 375 people, many affected with HIV.

In addition to providing housing, they help with finding employment opportunities for residents. Through a partnership with Z’s Café inside the Fort Worth Community Arts Center, 15 residents are employed.

“Z Café is going great,” Dutton said.

He called that project one of Samaritan House’s greatest successes because it has led to other restaurants in the area who are looking for new employees to call.

“One of our ambitions is to multiply the number of job opportunities,” he said.

He said it was a joy to see people who haven’t had a job in years after their first day at work.

“But it’s not just restaurants,” he said. “Others are working in maintenance and construction.”

The Local Heroes award comes with a $5,000 grant that Dutton directed to Samaritan House. He earmarked the money to an HIV prevention campaign.

“Every week, the number of persons contacting us increases,” he said. “Most new residents are under the age of 24.”

As part of that campaign, he has scheduled a screening of the film, And the Band Played On Sunday, Nov. 7 with the Lone Star Film Society. Bob Ray Sanders will introduce the movie. He said that with the average age of his new residents so young, most had never seen the HBO film.

Dennis Bishop, Lone Star Film Society director, was vice president of production at HBO when they made the film. He will be on hand at the screening to answer questions and talk about how difficult it was to bring this controversial movie to TV.

Dutton noted that they will hold one of their biggest fundraisers next week. On Wednesday, Nov. 10, they will present their Out of the Box fundraiser.

The luncheon will be held at the Fort Worth Sheraton and there is no cost to attend.

While the luncheon is free, reservations are required so they can plan the number of lunches to provide.

Reservations can be made by phone.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Election 2010 • Fitzsimmons looks forward to completing digital courts project

Gay district clerk wins 2nd term; Parker is 1st openly LGBT person elected judge, county’s first gay African-American elected official

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Judge Tonya Parker
Judge Tonya Parker

Two of three openly gay candidates in Dallas County won their races. Among them was District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons who was reelected to a second term in office.

He said sexual orientation did not figure into the races in Dallas County.

But now that the election is behind him, Fitzsimmons said his priority is completing his digital courts project. Filing paperwork electronically has already saved his office $1.3 million, he said, while opening new job opportunities in IT work at the county.

During the upcoming term, he expects his office with its electronic filing to become a model for the state.

“In four years we’ll be the envy of Texas,” he said.

In his first term in office, Fitzsimmons updated his employment policies to reflect non-discrimination. He was the first at the county level to do that and he said he has no tolerance for any sort of discrimination in his department.

He said that voters knew what they were getting when they elected him and expected him to carry out that policy. “Employees who can’t accept the diversity of Dallas County have no business in government,” he said.

But while sexual orientation was not a factor in the general election and hasn’t been a issue in his department, one candidate tried to make it the focus of the Republican primary. A candidate recruited by County Commissioner Ken Mayfield said that there were “moral issues in the race,” Fitzsimmons said.

That candidate was defeated in the primary and Mayfield was turned out of office in the general election after 16 years in the Commissioners Court.

While he heard from several sources that his eventual opponent had planned to use the issue, she never ran much of a campaign, Fitzsimmons said.

“Basically, she just got on the ballot,” he said.

Fitzsimmons said that mostly he works with attorneys and litigants but a quirk in Texas law allows counties to open passport offices. Those offices come under his jurisdiction. There are already three in the county and he’d like to add one in North Oak Cliff. He said that a vast number of passport applications in Dallas are from Hispanic residents but the office would also serve Oak Cliff’s large LGBT population.

“The outgoing commissioner wasn’t interested,” he said. “I’m excited to work with the new commissioner.”

Elba Garcia, who was elected on Tuesday, will represent the area.

Fitzsimmons was impressed by the lack of focus on the sexual orientation of the candidates through the election.

“Voters elected me and Tonya Parker to do a job,” he said.

On election night, Fitzsimmons watched returns from Magnolia Lounge in Fair Park with several other elected officials. Among them were County Tax Assessor John Ames who was not up for re-election and County Clerk John Warren who was. Warren also won re-election, but Fitzsimmons garnered more votes.

Parker, who was elected to serve in the 116th Judicial District Court, watched returns from the W Hotel.

Sexual orientation was not an issue in her race either. While never denying her sexual orientation, Parker preferred not to be interviewed by Dallas Voice during the campaign and stuck to issues throughout.

The Dallas Association of Young Lawyers named her an Outstanding Young Lawyer. Texas Monthly Magazine listed her as a Texas Rising Star four times over the past few years. She served on the board of directors of both the Dallas Bar Association and the J. L. Turner Legal Association.

Pete Schulte
Pete Schulte

Stonewall Democrats President Erin Moore called her one of the most eminently qualified new candidates running in this election cycle.

Parker won by a 5-point margin.

After the election, Parker left for vacation and was unavailable to comment.

Peter Schulte challenged Dan Branch for his seat in the Texas House of Representatives. Schulte blamed his defeat on the national mood. No Democrats won in challenged state House races in Dallas County and only one out of three prevailed in Tarrant County.

While his sexual orientation was not a campaign issue, Schulte had been in the news as the attorney for one of the men in the same-sex divorce case.

In that case, Judge Tena Callahan ruled that she had jurisdiction to grant a divorce to the Dallas couple who had married while living in Massachusetts.Attorney General Greg Abbott challenged the ruling and an appeals court overturned Callahan’s ruling.

Although additional counsel was retained for the appeal, Schulte continued to appear with his client. While avoiding local media, he made an appearance on Good Morning America and The Daily Show.

Schulte doesn’t believe his connection to the case affected the outcome, nor did it negatively affect Callahan. She won her re-election with about 52 percent of the vote.

Abbott, however, lost in both Dallas County and by a larger margin in Travis where a similar case involving a lesbian couple was heard.

Fitzsimmons said that he doesn’t believe sexual orientation matters to a majority of Dallas voters — competence does. He hopes he and Parker will encourage others in the LGBT community to run for office in the future.

He said that opportunities are especially good for women thinking of running. In Dallas County, six of the top 10 vote getters in contested races were women, including Parker.

Of the remaining four, Fitzsimmons made the list as did Stonewall Democrats member Carl Ginsberg.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens