Gay Mayoral Candidate Could Make History in Texas

Some activist groups are bursting with pride over the fact that Dallas may be on the verge of being the largest city in the United States to elect an openly gay mayor. But at town hall meetings and during fierce debates, his gayness seems a nonissue with voters.

City Councilman Ed Oakley, who has received the endorsement of the Democratic Party, said he has served as an openly gay public official for 15 years here in Dallas. In a debate moderated by ABC affiliate WFAA, Oakley said, "It has never been an issue. It is not going to be an issue. … I am who I am, and people know who I am."

His campaign manager, Craig Murphy, said the fact that the candidate is openly gay "Is totally irrelevant and that is why we are not talking about it."

All candidates running for Dallas mayor have campaigned saying they consider someone's sexual orientation a nonissue.

David Webb, the assistant editor of the Dallas Voice, a newspaper with a circulation of 50,000 that caters to the gay community, said he thinks "it is funny" to watch some of the reaction from people who do not live in Texas.

Webb said, "I am a native Texan. I am accustomed to correcting impressions. In the 1970s, during the TV show 'Dallas,' everybody thought we all lived in mansions. People also had this vision of people riding horses down Main Street. I think for the most part Dallas has become a really progressive city."

It is also a city that offers health insurance to domestic partners of city employees and has nondiscrimination policies covering sexual orientation. The Dallas sheriff, county judge and district clerk all hold office as gay employees.

In a Time magazine article last month, writer John Cloud noted that Dallas is also home to the 3,500-member Cathedral of Hope, the world's largest gay church.

The runoff for Mayor takes place June 16. Oakley's opponent, Tom Leppert, is campaigning on a platform of fighting crime and improving Dallas schools.

Asked whether he felt voters in Dallas were aware that his opponent is openly gay, Leppert told ABC News, "I don't know the answer to that." He is appealing to Dallas' gay community for support and says "at my table, everybody has an equal seat."

Leppert is the former CEO of Turner Construction, one of the largest construction companies in the world. He said he's the candidate in the best position to lead Dallas. "I have led large organizations. My issues are very straightforward. If you look at Dallas today we have the highest crime rate in 10 years. People are moving out because of the education system. We need someone who will be the leader of Dallas. My opponent will do things more to focus on things to manage the city."

Oakley has been elected to three terms as a city councilman, each time running as an openly gay candidate.

Oakley won the support of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance. Patti Fink, the group's vice president, said the gay community has helped rebuild many hard hit areas of the city and moved into neighborhoods that were once crumbling. The Alliance believes it has had a strong hand in helping the city build a new center for the performing arts in the flourishing downtown theater district.

Fink said, "If Oakley were to win, I think we would have a fine mayor, but we would also be very proud of him as an openly gay man for having won the seat."

Currently, the largest U.S. city with an openly gay mayor is Providence, R.I., where David Cicilline was elected in 2002.

Dallas has a population of 1.2 million people, and the gay community is estimated at 120,000.

The Dallas mayoral race has attracted very little attention. Less than 15 percent of voters participated in the initial election. Candidate Oakley made it into the runoff with fewer than 15,000 votes.

Political experts said voter turnout will be the deciding factor June 16, when the city could make history as the largest in the country to elect an openly gay mayor.