WATCH: Tom Leppert’s GOP Senate rivals again attack him for appearing at gay Pride in Dallas

Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert walks alongside the city float at gay Pride in 2009.

Republican Senate hopeful Tom Leppert again came under fire today for his decision to appear in two gay Pride parades while mayor of Dallas.

Leppert was attacked by fellow candidates Ted Cruz, Craig James and Lela Pittenger during a debate luncheon hosted by the right-wing Eagle Forum at the Dallas Country Club.

The exchange featured some strong anti-gay language, with James saying he believes homosexuality is a choice and Pittenger comparing the Pride parade to an orgy. It began when the debate moderator, John C. Goodman, president and CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis, noted that Cruz had attacked Leppert for appearing at gay Pride during a recent candidate forum in Fort Worth.

Goodman then asked Cruz, “Do you have something against gay people?”

“I have something against gay marriage,” Cruz responded. “I don’t support gay marriage. I think there is an onslaught right now in this country to tear down traditional marriage, and I don’t think it’s right.”

—  John Wright

WATCH: Attacked for appearing at gay Pride, Tom Leppert compares himself to Jesus

Tom Leppert now claims Dallas' LGBT community was well aware he didn't agree with them when he marched in the city's gay Pride parade, as shown here in 2007.

Attacked for appearing in Dallas’ gay Pride parade as mayor, Republican Senate hopeful Tom Leppert claimed this weekend that the city’s LGBT community was well aware he didn’t agree with them, but said he was engaging them anyway because that’s what Jesus did.

The Dallas Morning News’ Trail Blazers Blog reports that Leppert made the statements after being attacked by GOP rival Ted Cruz, a tea party favorite, for allegedly supporting both gay rights and immigrant rights while mayor of Dallas.

“You know, just a moment ago Tom Leppert told you how he used the office of mayor to stand against the gay rights agenda,” Cruz said prior to a conservative group’s endorsing convention in Fort Worth. “Somehow, he forgot to mention that he marched twice in the gay Pride parade.”

“On the gay parades, it’s real simple,” Leppert responded. “There was not a single group in this city that I didn’t engage. They all knew, a lot of them knew that I didn’t agree with them, but there’s not a group that I didn’t engage. Jesus engaged every single group when he was here on earth and I did, too. And what wasn’t told is all the different times that I talked about my faith and went out there and every single person in this city understood exactly where I stood.”

After defeating openly gay candidate Ed Oakley in a runoff for mayor in 2007. Leppert hired an openly gay chief of staff, Chris Heinbaugh, and repeatedly expressed support for the LGBT community. In addition to gay Pride, Leppert appeared at Dallas’ Black Tie dinner, the largest annual fundraiser for the city’s LGBT community. He also refused to answer a question about whether he supported same-sex marriage.

But when Leppert decided to run for Senate about midway through his four-year term, he abruptly joined the virulently anti-gay First Baptist Church of Dallas. And, almost immediately after stepping down as mayor to launch his Senate campaign last year, he sent out an anti-gay tweet and came out on his website against both same-sex marriage and civil unions.

Leppert’s statements at the forum this weekend came just as his successor, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, was meeting with LGBT leaders about his refusal to sign a pledge in support of same-sex marriage. Rawlings, like Leppert, has verbally expressed support for the LGBT community and appeared at gay Pride. Rawlings also happens to have contributed $1,000 to Leppert’s Senate campaign.

Watch video of the exchange between Leppert and Cruz below.

—  John Wright

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

Caraway, Davis absent from gay Pride

Eleven of 15 councilmembers appeared on the city float.

Dallas City Councilmembers Carolyn Davis and Dwaine Caraway were absent from Sunday’s Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, despite having RSVP’d affirmatively for the gay Pride celebration.

Eleven of 15 councilmembers, including Mayor Mike Rawlings, rode in the parade, sources at City Hall confirmed this week.

“He enjoyed it and looks forward to next year,” said Paula Blackmon, chief of staff for Rawlings, who became the third mayor in Dallas history to ride in the parade.

Councilmembers Sandy Greyson and Vonciel Jones Hill were the only two who indicated in advance they wouldn’t make the parade — Hill due to religious objections and Greyson because of a scheduling conflict.

—  John Wright

Councilmembers line up to ride in Pride parade

Jones Hill again fails to RSVP, has said religious beliefs prevent her participation; Greyson cites scheduling conflict

RIDE IN PRIDE | Members of the Dallas City Council ride together on a float in the 2009 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade as then-Mayor Tom Leppert walks alongside. This year all but two of the 15 councilmembers have said they will participate in the Pride parade.

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Thirteen of the 15 Dallas City Council members, including Mayor Mike Rawlings, are expected to ride on the city’s float at gay Pride later this month, according to Michael Doughman, executive director of the Dallas Tavern Guild.

Doughman, chief organizer of the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, said this week that Vonciel Jones Hill and Sandy Greyson are the only councilmembers who didn’t RSVP affirmatively for the 28th annual event set for Sept. 18.

Jones Hill, in her third two-year term representing District 5, has indicated in the past that she won’t attend gay Pride because of her religious beliefs.
Greyson, elected to represent District 12 earlier this year, reportedly has a scheduling conflict.

Rawlings, who also took office this year, will become only the third mayor in Dallas history to appear at gay Pride, after Tom Leppert and Laura Miller.

“The mayor looks forward to being in the gay Pride parade and being part of the festivities,” Rawlings’ chief of staff, Paula Blackmon, said this week.

Greyson, meanwhile, hadn’t responded to a phone message from Dallas Voice by press time.

“It’s a scheduling conflict,” Greyson’s assistant, Lorri Ellis, said when asked why the councilwoman won’t be attending Pride.

Michael Doughman and Sandy Greyson

Greyson, who served on the council from 1997-2005, voted in favor of a city ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2002. And in 1995, as a DART board member, she voted to add sexual orientation to the transit agency’s nondiscrimination policy.

Greyson also signed a letter from the council that appears in this year’s Pride Guide — distributed inside today’s Dallas Voice — congratulating organizers on the event.
The only councilmember who didn’t sign the letter was Jones Hill.

“I won’t be participating [this year], and based on my present beliefs, I won’t be participating in the future,” Jones Hill told Dallas Voice in 2008, when she was the lone councilmember who didn’t RSVP affirmatively for the parade. “There’s no reason I should be castigated for that.”

Asked what those beliefs are that stop her from attending Pride, Hill said: “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.

“It does not mean the person is any less God’s child. I’m entitled to stand for what I believe, and I don’t appreciate anyone castigating me for standing for what I believe,” she said.

For the last several years, Jones Hill’s absence has thwarted a longtime goal of openly gay former Councilman Ed Oakley, who’s sought to have all 15 councilmembers attend the parade. Before that, former Councilman Mitchell Rasansky was often the lone holdout.

Doughman said he thinks having 13 of 15 councilmembers attend Pride is “exceptional for a city of this size.”

But he added that the Tavern Guild doesn’t pay much attention to the subject.

“I’m trying very hard to keep the politics out of this parade,” he said. “People want a celebration.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

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

Tom Leppert now in minority of Republicans who will only tolerate ‘homosexuals’ if they’re single

Tom Leppert fraternizes with the queers in Dallas.

A poll released Wednesday by Public Policy Polling shows that a majority of Republicans nationwide — 51 percent — now support either marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples. As Public Policy Polling notes in a blog post about the results, the percentage of Republicans who support same-sex relationship recognition is higher than the percentage — 45 percent — who approve of DOMA-loving House Speaker John Boehner’s job performance. Unfortunately, in the region identified as the South, which presumably includes Texas, 55 percent of Republicans still oppose any form of relationship recognition. And among self-identified Tea Party voters, 57 percent oppose relationship recognition. Which probably explains two-timin’ Tom Leppert’s decision to come out against both marriage and civil unions on his Senate campaign website. Speaking of that, here’s our latest idea for a Leppert campaign slogan: “I may have had a gay chief of staff as Dallas mayor, but by God he was single!” If that leads to follow-up questions, Leppert can simply say it was before he gained the courage to be open and honest about his tea-bagging.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Texas A&M Senate backs anti-gay measure; pastors come out for Leppert

How do the “Pastors for Leppert” feel about his appearances at gay Pride?

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1.  The Texas A&M Student Senate wants to cut funding in half for the school’s gay resource center, and divert the money to a “center for traditional and family values.” According to GLBT Aggies President Camden Breeding, the Student Senate voted Wednesday night to support a state budget amendment by Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, that would require schools with LGBT resource centers to spend an equal amount on centers for traditional and family values. The measure approved by the Student Senate, which you can read here, opposes any increase in student fees to pay for the new “traditional and family values” center, but says existing revenue should be evenly divided between the two centers. The Student Senate also agreed to advocate on behalf of Christian’s amendment as it moves through the Legislature. Well, it’s no wonder that Texas A&M is consistently ranked among the nation’s most homophobic schools. And it seems as though the notion that young people are less bigoted than their parents doesn’t necessarily hold true in Texas.

2. A bill to prohibit transgender people from marrying people of the opposite sex is yet to come up for a vote in the Texas Senate, but it could come up today, according to Daniel Williams at Legislative Queery. Williams also reports that State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, has agreed to remove enumerated categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, from Asher’s Law, a bill that would prohibit discrimination in Texas public schools.

3. Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert continues to veer sharply to the right as he seeks the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate. A new website called Pastors for Leppert features endorsements from conservative religious leaders, including the virulently anti-gay Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas.

—  John Wright