From Staff Reports

With the Dallas mayoral runoff election less than a month away, voters this week have the opportunity this week to ask candidates Mike Rawlings and David Kunkle where they stand on issues important to the LGBT community.

Dallas Voice and 12 partnering organizations present the 2011 Mayoral Runoff LGBT Forum Tuesday night in the main sanctuary of Cathedral of Hope, 5910 Cedar Springs Road, from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. Dallas Voice online editor John Wright and staff writer David Taffet will moderate the forum, which will include questions submitted by partner organizations, followed by questions for the candidates from audience members. The forum is free and open to the public.

“The Dallas LGBT community has never been more engaged in the civic life of the city than now. This forum is one more expression of that,” said Dallas Voice Publisher Robert Moore. “The task of getting these major LGBT groups to agree to partner on this project together instead of doing small, independent events was easy. The leaders of these groups recognized the benefit of this immediately and came on board just as fast. I can assure you the candidates are pleased this has been bundled as well.”

Moore noted that this year marks only the second time in history when all candidates for Dallas mayor have actively courted the LGBT vote.

“The runoff will be no different,” Moore said. “There is still a decision to made on who the next mayor will be. I urge LGBT citizens of Dallas to attend this event and be confident they have the information they need to cast an educated vote.”

Representatives of LGBT political organizations said they, too, feel a responsibility to keep the community informed and involved in the election process.

The Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance’s Political Action Committee screened mayoral candidates before the general election, but the PAC’s endorsed candidate, Ron Natinsky, did not make the runoff. So “this forum will be a source of input” as the PAC considers an endorsement in the runoff, said DGLA President Patti Fink.

“We have already screened the candidates, but we welcome another chance to find out what kind of priority LGBT issues are for the candidates in the runoff,” Fink said. “Our votes in the LGBT community count. Our votes can influence this election. The choice of Dallas mayor impacts the city of Dallas and the LGBT community, and we need to know the candidates as well as we can before we vote.”

Although Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas do not endorse candidates, many of the gay Republican group’s members were also backing Natinsky in the general election and are now faced with making a decision whether to support Kunkle or Rawlings in the runoff.

“I want to make sure both the candidates and the audience understand the role of the mayor, what it is and what skill sets are actually required to do the job,” said LCR-Dallas President Rob Schlein. “I also want to know if the candidates plan to devote themselves full time to the job of mayor.

“Log Cabin members want to make certain that the city remains and economically vibrant place to work and live. That means bringing in new corporations for relocation, enticing businesses to start versus in the suburbs, and rolling back the tax rates,” Schlein added.

Stonewall Democrats of Dallas endorsed Kunkle in the general election, and will continue that endorsement in the runoff. But Stonewall President Omar Narvaez said his organization is glad to have another chance to question the runoff candidates on specific issues.

“The fracking issue [an process used in drilling oil wells] is a big issue, as well as the budget. How will they handle another budget shortfall and where will the cuts come from,” Narvaez said.

But, he said, Stonewall is also concerned about whether the candidates will interact with the LGBT community in the future if they decide to run for higher office.

“The past mayor [Tom Leppert] was our friend [when he first ran for the office] but when he decided to run for higher office, suddenly he wasn’t our friend,” Narvaez said.

Jared Pierce with Young Stonewall Democrats said participating in the runoff forum gives his organization “another chance to hold our elected officials accountable. There are lots of issues that matter to us. There are lots of issues where the Dallas mayor can’t really do anything, like gay marriage, but the question is, will they stand by us and will they support us when there is something they can do?”

Like Stonewall, Young Stonewall members want to know what happens in the next budget crunch, and what services the candidates feel are non-negotiable when it comes to budget cuts. And they want to know what the candidates are willing to do to work with them in “making Oak Lawn a safer area to live and play in,” Pierce said.

Pierce also noted that there are many small business owners in the Young Stonewall ranks and in the Dallas LGBT community as a whole, and so the organization is concerned over what the candidates “can do to make it easier or small businesses to thrive and be productive in this city.”

Tony Vedda, president and CEO of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, also stressed the importance of creating a good business climate in the city.

“Business is the engine that runs the city. We an organization that is keenly aware of that fact, so it’s important to us that the next mayor understand that and understands the integral part the LGBT community plays in the economic and cultural life of the city,” Vedda said.

“Members of the LGBT community need to have the same access to do business with the city as any of the other diverse communities have,” Vedda said. “We want recognition of LGBT certified suppliers. We want to have the LGBT community recognized on contracts just like any other minority community. And we are concerned with how complaints [of violations of the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance] are being handled and with the number of complaints that have been filed.”

Jesse Garcia, president of LULAC 4871 — The Dallas Rainbow Council, noted that 44 percent of the population of Dallas is either foreign born or the children of foreign-born citizens, and that more than 70 languages are spoken within the city.

With that in mind, Garcia said his organization hopes “Rawlings and Kunkle are prepared to work with a new Dallas, an international city that has a lot of potential to increase its standing in the world.”

Garcia added, “Our membership also hopes the future mayor stays clear of any anti-immigrant local ordinances that have been controversial and costly in places like Farmers Branch. LULAC Rainbow Council stands by its immigrant brothers and sisters and hopes the new Dallas City Council concentrates on issues that fall into its authority and not the federal government’s.”

For some of the forum’s partner organizations, how the city will respond to the ongong HIV/AIDS epidemic is a top priority.

“We want to make sure that HIV/AIDS is included when we talk about LGBT issues,” said Travis Gasper with AIDS Interfaith Network. “We want to make sure it’s on their radar. Dallas has one of the highest rates in the state and the country. When we talk about healthy communities, we want to make sure that’s part of the discussion in this city.”

Cece Cox, president and CEO of Resource Center Dallas, said the center chose to partner in presenting the forum “because it directly relates to the center’s goal of providing education and advocacy for the communities we serve.

“Candidates should seek input from the LGBT communities they represent and we applaud these candidates for doing so,” Cox continued. “This forum will allow the Dallas LGBT community to make an informed decision on who is best to be Dallas’ next mayor.

“There are several issues we would like to see addressed by the candidates that directly affect people served by the center, including comprehensive diversity training for city employees, crime reduction in the Oak Lawn area, economic development and monitoring the effectiveness of the city’s nondiscrimination policy.”

Other partnering organizations are AIDS Arms Inc., Cedar Springs Merchants Association and Dallas Tavern Guild.

For more information, contact Dallas Voice at 214-754-8710.

To RSVP for the forum on Facebook, go here.