Out businessman wasn’t well known in LGBT community before  he launched bid to represent 1 of city’s most conservative districts


Leland Burk, left, Jennifer Staubach Gates, right


DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Screen shot 2013-04-26 at 9.46.56 AMIn an area where LGBT issues are rarely at the forefront, the candidacy of Leland Burk has placed the gay community squarely into the District 13 race.

Burk, 50, who is openly gay, touts his business experience as a real estate and oil and gas investor, founder of a bank and volunteer experience on boards such as UT Southwestern’s Medical Foundation. Most of the anti-gay campaigning in the race has come from Rich Sheridan, who is not considered a serious candidate.

“I do not object to Burk being gay and a candidate, I object to Burks candidacy as being part of Dallas’ GAY AGENDA,” Sheridan wrote in an email to media and elected officials.

Jennifer Staubach Gates, 46, Burk’s main opponent in the race, has made her stance on the issue clear.

“Sexual orientation is not an issue in this race,” Gates said.

In April, Gates spoke to the LGBT group Metroplex Republicans and said it was important to address anti-gay bigotry.

“I thought she did fine,” said Rob Schlein, president of Metroplex Republicans.

Gates was asked about an incident at a tea party campaign event, in which copies of a Dallas Voice article about

Burk were placed at every seat. Gates told the group she was as offended by that as they were.

Mark Shekter has worked with Burk on the Oak Lawn Committee, which deals with zoning issues.

“He’s professional, intelligent, open-minded and knowledgeable,” Shekter said. “He’s concerned with the whole city.”

Attorney Bob Stoller said he thinks Burk will pull the council toward a focus on serious issues. Stoller said he had retired from participating in political campaigns.

“Leland gave me a reason to return,” he said.

The District 13 race has become the most expensive council race in Dallas with the top two candidates each raising more than twice as much as the next highest fundraiser in the city.

The district includes Preston Hollow, one of the wealthiest areas of the city, but also Five Points, one of the poorest and most crime-ridden. With redistricting, the district includes a small neighborhood in Oak Lawn near Love Field.

Although many former and current gay elected officials have endorsed Burk, none said they knew him before he announced his candidacy. Neither did leaders of gay organizations.

But Burk is openly gay and introduces his partner, Thomas Feulmer, an artist and director of educational programming at The Rachofsky House, when he attends campaign events. But he hasn’t been active in the LGBT community.

Among the issues of concern throughout the district are roads. Despite being one of the wealthiest neighborhoods, Preston Hollow has no curbs and many streets have ditches rather than storm sewers.

Both Gates and Burk generally oppose fracking.

“I oppose fracking anywhere in the city of Dallas,” Burk said. “Signing a lease doesn’t give a company the right to drill.”

He said as an oil and gas investor himself, there can be big rewards, but no guarantees.

Gates said the city needs to adopt stricter ordinances. She pointed to regulations proposed by former City Councilwoman Lois Finkelman.

“There are limited areas in the city that we should look at on a case-by-case basis,” she said.

A big issue in the district has been putting lights on the Ursuline Academy field. Immediate neighbors are concerned with late night traffic and lights in their homes.

Margolin asked Burk to remain neutral on the issue as she decides what’s best for the district.

Gates said there’s been some false information circulated about the issue.

“I support the girls having a field,” Gates said.

The fourth candidate in the race is 18-year-old Jacob King, who described himself as “a nerdy kid doing something cool.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 26, 2013.