Tom Leppert has made financial contributions to the campaigns of people like President Bush and U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas.
And despite repeated inquiries, Leppert declined to participate in a survey and interview with the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance prior to the May 12 election.
All this has supporters of openly gay City Councilman Ed Oakley who faces Leppert in a runoff for Dallas mayor June 16 painting the opponent as a political conservative whose support for the LGBT community is questionable at best.
“This is someone who’s a Republican who wants to run for mayor in a Democratic city,” Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Jesse Garcia said, adding that the city’s last two mayors have been Democrats. “People are saying don’t make this a partisan thing, but I’m sorry.”
Shannon Bailey, president of Texas Stonewall Democrats, referred to Leppert this week as a “vile right-winger.”
Leppert, meanwhile, refused to divulge any party affiliation, and he stressed that the mayor’s race is nonpartisan. Oakley is a Democrat.
Records from the Federal Elections Commission show Leppert gave the Bush campaign $1,000 in 2000 and $2,000 in 2004. He also gave Sessions $2,000 in 2004. Widely known as anti-gay, Sessions scored a 0 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s latest Congressional Scorecard.
But, Leppert noted, he’s also contributed to the campaigns of Democrats, including former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk’s run for U.S. Senate.
“The city level is nonpartisan,” Leppert said. “It should focus on how we run a good, efficient, effective city. I have given money to both sides.”
Oakley, however, said he believes partisanship is an issue in the runoff. He said he thinks a recorded phone message sent out on election day accusing him of having a “radical gay agenda” was generated by the local Republican Party.
“They’re making it an issue,” Oakley said. “I don’t understand how he can say that it’s not an issue.”
Oakley and others also criticized Leppert for failing to participate in the DGLA endorsement process.
Patti Fink, chair of the DGLA’s Political Action Committee, said after she sent out a letter to all candidates and followed up with e-mails, she received a voicemail and an e-mail from Leppert’s campaign.
However, when Fink tried to follow up “multiple, multiple times,” she got nowhere.
“They sort of initiated interest, but then it fell apart,” Fink said. “They weren’t interested in seeking our endorsement. That was really the gist of what I got from it.
“For folks who are not typically LGBT supportive, they see it as a risky move.”
Leppert said he is unsure why his campaign staff did not respond to Fink.
“We have had more questionnaires than you can dream of,” he said. “Part of it may be a time issue. It was either that or maybe the judgment was made that we didn’t have a chance at an endorsement.”
Oakley, on the other hand, said he filled out every endorsement survey sent to him.
“I think that sends a message, that he [Leppert] didn’t think it was important enough to take the time,” Oakley said.
Asked about his stance on LGBT issues, Leppert downplayed the importance of the subject.
“I want to focus on the issues that make a difference for every member of this community, gay or not,” he said. “I’m going to be supportive of everybody. My focus is going to be on uniting the city.”
Oakley’s supporters aren’t so sure. And they fear that with the mayor’s agenda-setting powers for the City Council, Leppert could help repeal policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in Dallas government and granting employees same-sex benefits.
“Positive gains that we’ve made over the years could easily be undone if a mayor who wanted to undo them applied themselves,” Fink said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 18, 2007