Dallas City Councilman John Loza
counts as a “double minority”–Hispanic and gay–but his career has
proved that he knows how to break down boundaries. Consider, for
example, that Loza managed to get a domestic partners program included
in the $2 billion Dallas budget at a time when nearly every city
employee wants a raise and every agency wants more money. Though Loza
will be forced to leave the council next year because of term limits,
he hopes that one day he will become either the mayor of Dallas or a
Dallas county commissioner. I sat down with Loza to discuss his
accomplishments, his ambitions, and the future of Dallas.
Rowlett: So many articles I’ve read refer to you as “openly gay
City Councilman John Loza.” Is it frustrating to be identified that way?
No. Not at all. We, as gay people, are deeply involved in many things,
and gay leaders are not just concerned about a gay agenda.
We support issues that are important to the entire community:
affordable housing, public safety, and economic development, for
example. Things that impact people from all walks of life. My being gay
really hasn’t been an issue, certainly not for my constituents. I
suppose, from a political standpoint, it does have some effect since we
are in Texas, and an openly gay politician in Texas is still a rarity.
But I think that is going to change with time as well.
Rowlett: Is Dallas becoming more accepting?
Loza: More tolerant of the differences in people, certainly. But not more liberal in a political sense.
Yet you are the first Dallas councilman to sponsor, at least in part, a
gay agenda. How much criticism have you received for that?
Well, I didn’t get a lot of criticism because that hasn’t been the
focus of my service on the city council. But I did think it was
important that I should use my position as a platform to try to advance
the causes of Dallas’ gay and lesbian community. I was glad to do that
with the non-discrimination ordinance and the partner benefits as
Rowlett: Do you see the Dallas gay and lesbian community becoming an important voting bloc?
Oh, I think so. Yes. I think in a number of districts in
Dallas, the gay and lesbian community is a very strong, cohesive, and a
substantial percentage of the overall vote. There is a lot
of involvement in terms of volunteerism and in financial contributions.
So I think the gay and lesbian community–more than many other
communities–is thoroughly engaged in the political process
Rowlett: Is Dallas a city in conflict? Whites, blacks, browns, all with an agenda?
Dallas has this history of ignoring the fact that there is racism in
this city. We have to acknowledge that it is a problem, and
we have to have a heck of a lot of dialogue about it. I mean,
even in this day and age, there isn’t a lot of
opportunity for members of different communities to work together and
to talk to each other. I mean there’s been some effort to get
people together from different racial backgrounds, but it isn’t nearly
enough. We have to get people of different backgrounds and
outlooks to actually talk to one another.
Rowlett: Are you also talking about gay bashing?
That is really a different issue. We don’t really like to acknowledge
in Dallas that there is a certain level of homophobia here. That’s why
I have been a strong advocate for gay people to be open about their
sexuality because people who know someone who is openly gay have less
fear about people who are gay. If your neighbor, your best friend, your
family members openly admit they are gay, then those feelings tend to
change. So, that’s why I think it is important for gay and
lesbian people to be open about who they are.
Rowlett: As you prepare to leave the city council, what kind of shape do you think Dallas is in?
The four of us who entered the council in 1997 are leaving the city
overall–and the council in particular–in much better shape than what
we found. When I took office, there was a lot of infighting, there were
a lot of big egos at City Hall, and there was not a very cordial
atmosphere. I think we’ve been able to change that, and that’s one of
the things of which I am most proud. I think I’ve had quite a lot to do
Rowlett: The recent report “Dallas at the Tipping Point” speaks to a crisis in leadership at City Hall.
Oh, I think we have good leadership. The question is not so much as to
whether we have the right people, but do we have the right structure?
Is our form of government working optimally right now? And I think
that’s a legitimate question. I’m in favor of a “strong mayor” form of
government. I have a real problem with the fact that the CEO here in
Dallas is not elected and is not accountable to the voters.
Rowlett: Speaking of its “CEO,” Dallas is looking for a new city manager right now. Do your comments hinder that search?
I don’t think so. It’s a discussion we need to have. I think the best
and the brightest will be attracted to Dallas, and I don’t think
discussing our form of government will hurt that search.
Rowlett: What are some of the other issues that need airing?
We must clean up our air. We have this long association with our cars
in Dallas, and we have to lean more heavily on mass transit. To attract
jobs, we have to first improve our schools. We have a real
problem with public education in Dallas, and our school system must
improve before we can expect major industry to relocate
here. We are just not measuring up right now. I
can’t tell you how many people have told me they have to leave Dallas
when their kids get old enough to go to school. They simply
don’t want their kids to go to Dallas public schools. And then,
we have to encourage more international trade here in Dallas. We
are in a global economy, and we are not going to be trading just in
Texas or the United States, but we must trade throughout the
Rowlett: You have also told me you are concerned about voter turnout.
Yes. It is a major problem here. Roughly one-tenth of Dallas voters
decide who’ll run the city. And no other office has more direct impact
on us than that of City Council.
You have told me you are interested in running for mayor. But Mayor
Laura Miller told me in a recent interview for this magazine that she
is not interested in running for a higher office and wants to serve
another term as mayor. Do you doubt her sincerity?
Loza: No. I
will take her at face value on that. But I do think it would be natural
for someone of her talents and abilities to want to aspire to a higher
office. But I know she has family responsibilities and a strong
commitment to serve Dallas, so I have to think that’s what she is
interested in. I would like to be mayor someday, but I am 41 right now,
so there is plenty of time. Whether I run in the next cycle or at some
later date is something I will have to evaluate when the time comes.
Rowlett: But you won’t run against Mayor Miller?
I would be inclined not to. No. But if she runs for reelection, I think
she will be vigorously challenged. I just don’t think that’s something
I’d want to get into.
Rowlett: Are you also interested in running for County Commissioner?
Yes. That is a position that impacts on a lot of areas that I feel very
strongly about, such as health care, Parkland Hospital, HIV funding,
criminal justice, social services, all of those issues are very
important to me and are issues that I know very well. So that is a
position I’m strongly considering.
Rowlett: We’ve never had an openly gay member of the Commissioner’s Court. Is it time?
Yes. I think so. If I make a run for that office, I think
people will look at my entire record at City Hall and the issues I have
supported. I think being gay is a very small factor in people
determining who their next county commissioner will be.
Rowlett: It will be at least a couple of years before you run again. What will you be doing in the meantime?
Loza: I’ll practice law. I plan to do more volunteering. But Dallas is my home, and this is where I will stay.
Photos: Rowlett: Tom Hussey; Loza: Lisa Means