by Bob Roehr
DALLAS- Hopes for electing the first openly gay, big city mayor, were dashed on June 16 when Ed Oakley lost a nonpartisan run-off election in Dallas. Advance polling had shown the race to be very close but when the votes were counted, Oakley was crushed by Tom Leppert by a margin of 58 to 42 percent. Gay issues did not play a substantial role in the campaign.
Oakley, 55, had built a solid reputation over six years on the Dallas City Council and had finished second in a field of 11 candidates with about 20 percent of the vote on May 12. Leppert got 27 percent.
The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund had supported Oakley. Its president, Chuck Wolfe, said, “Ed embodies the courage and commitment we all want in our public officials,” in announcing the endorsement. About 22 percent of Oakley’s individual contributions came from outside of Texas, primarily from the gay community because of the efforts by the Victory Fund.
The Dallas Morning News, the leading newspaper in the city, endorsed Leppert. They called him “a big-ideas guy,” and Oakley “a manager.” The paper also expressed disappointment that Oakley “resorted to the dirty campaigning he pledged to avoid.”
Leppert played on the fact that he was an outsider and political novice, and poured his own money into the campaign, outspending Oakley significantly in the runoff. He also had the endorsement of Roger Staubach, the mythic form Dallas Cowboys quarterback.
Turnout in the May primary was an anemic 13 percent of registered voters. It slipped below 10 percent in the run off. Getting out one’s base out became the important factor. That was where Oakley lost. Work by antigay groups within the minority and religious communities may have contributed to this.
“They say ‘close’ doesn’t count in politics, but Ed Oakley’s historic campaign may have changed politics forever. That an openly gay man was a serious contender to become mayor of one the largest cities in America, is a testament to the fair-mindedness of this country, and a wake-up call for the political establishment,” said Wolfe.