Kunkle, Rawlings pledge to stay on message; advocates say LGBT vote could have significant impact
TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
Turnout. That’s the key for Dallas mayoral candidates who wrangled their way into runoffs after the May 14 general elections.
Mike Rawlings and David Kunkle are facing off in the June 18 runoff, and both said this week that turnout and support in the LGBT community will play key roles.
Gay former Dallas City Councilman Ed Oakley knows something about runoff strategies. Four years ago, he lost his bid for mayor in a runoff with Tom Leppert. Oakley said this week that Rawlings and Kunkle “have about five weeks now to get their voters re-energized to go back to the polls” on June 18. It won’t be an easy task.
“They have to raise about the same amount of money they raised for the general election [to pay for] advertising on TV, mailers — all the same things they paid for before,” Oakley said. “On top of that, the candidates will end up having to do all the debates all over again.
“It’s totally different in a runoff. Messages get refined,” he added. “In my race, we ran a great ground campaign and we raised the money, but we got off message. The media started targeting the gay issue” — Oakley was in a position to become the first openly gay mayor of a large U.S. city, which became a focus in the media — “and that became such a big issue that our message got lost.”
Oakley also predicted that Kunkle, who got 32 percent of the general election vote, faces an uphill battle against Rawlings, who ended the general election with 41 percent. Rawlings outspent all three of his general election opponents, while Kunkle relied on a strong grassroots effort.
“You have to hand it to [Kunkle] and his staff. They ran a great grassroots campaign to get into the runoff. But while the grassroots campaign is great, in a runoff he has to be able to spend the money to reach out to different voters, and I think he is going to be a little handicapped,” Oakley said.
Kunkle himself said this week that “in the most simple terms, I have to get my voters out a second time and try to get as many of [third-place finisher] Ron Natinsky’s supporters over to my side as possible.”
Kunkle said he will focus on his vision for the city, and will work to differentiate himself from Rawlings and his approach to governing Dallas.
“We are two different people with different backgrounds, different values and different decision-making processes,” Kunkle said. “I know this city, its neighborhoods and its people, and my priority is creating strong, livable neighborhoods, and building a good future for the city by driving sustainable economic development.”
Rawlings said his efforts leading up to the runoff will be to “do what I always do, which is look at what has worked and keep doing that.”
Rawlings said he will focus on “improving in areas where I did well [in getting votes], but also looking at those areas where I didn’t knock it over the fence and try to improve there, like in Angela Hunt’s district, District 14.”
Rawlings said he believes his message in the general election “resonated well with the voters,” considering that he garnered 41 percent of the vote, and he believes that those who supported Natinsky before will be drawn to his campaign now.
“I think my message as far as economic development and focusing on growth as a city matches up very nicely with what Natinsky’s supporters are looking for.”
Both Rawlings and Kunkle said they believe support in the LGBT community is essential for a runoff victory.
“I have always appreciated so much the friendships I have had for a long time in the LGBT community and the new friendships I have made during this campaign,” Rawlings said. “I think the LGBT community is a great example of what makes Dallas strong, and that is inclusion, rather than exclusion.
“More than that, I think it comes down to how we treat each other and the degree of civility involved. That should go beyond group to group; it’s about individual to individual. Government should do a better job in that area, and I have decided I will make a difference in that” if elected.
Kunkle pointed to his long-standing relationship with the LGBT community dating back to his days as Dallas police chief.
“I have the support of Stonewall Democrats, and I won all the precincts that are identified as strong GLBT precincts,” Kunkle said. “One of the things that makes Dallas successful as a city is that it is a cool place to live, and it has a growing economy, and I think people in the GLBT community can feel comfortable coming to Dallas, given the equal opportunity here in employment and the strong community that exists here.
“And the reason [LGBT people] come to Dallas is not because it has this giant downtown where you can go work in some corporate headquarters, but because it has strong neighborhoods and a strong community. That’s what I want to help to grow and improve.”
Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance President Patti Fink and DGLA PAC Chair Damien Duckett this week agreed that the LGBT community could have a significant impact on the outcome of the mayoral runoff.
DGLA endorsed Natinsky in the general election, and Duckett said the PAC is meeting Friday, May 20, to “determine whether we want to recommend a new slate of candidates for the runoff, and that include the mayor’s race, since our endorsed candidate didn’t make it through.”
But, Duckett said, DGLA isn’t considering new endorsements just because the organization’s original candidate didn’t make the runoff.
“It’s our responsibility to make a recommendation to our community, based on the candidates who are available,” he said. “We have a responsibility to make sure our community hears from us.”
In issuing endorsements for the general election DGLA not only backed Natinsky, the organization also issued a “warning” against Rawlings, saying his strong focus on business and economic development might override his commitment on civil rights issues.
Duckett said one issue that concerns him in the runoff is “whether the candidates are keeping honest. This is the runoff; this is sudden death. And this is where candidates can get desperate and start slinging mud, where they start making promises they don’t intend to keep and showing false sincerity in paying attention to issues presented to them.
“I hope our mayoral candidates are being honest instead of just saying something that is politically expedient,” he added. “I hope the voters and the media will really pay attention to what is said in the coming weeks and how that measures up to what was said in the general election.”
Fink pointed out that especially in elections where turnout is low — as was the case with the May 14 general election in Dallas and is likely to be the case in the June 18 runoff — the LGBT community, if it turns out in force, “has a real opportunity to have our votes become more inflated in terms of influence.”
She pointed to the District 6 council race where Monica Alonza, endorsed by Stonewall Democrats, defeated Luis Sepulveda, endorsed by DGLA. Only 1,035 people voted in that race, with Alonzo getting 634 votes to Sepulveda’s 401.
“If we [DGLA] had just mobilized 200 people in our community in District 6 to get out in vote on Election Day, that would have been huge in that race. That would have been one-fifth of the total electorate in that race,” Fink said.
“Turnout is, historically, much lower in runoffs, and the smaller the number of total votes in an election, the more impact each vote has,” she added.
“Our community, if we will turn out and vote, could have tremendous impact on who is the next mayor of Dallas.”
Watch the May 27 issue of Dallas Voice for coverage of the mayoral runoff in Fort Worth’ and in Chris Hightower’s runoff effort to become the first openly gay member of the Arlington City Council.