Gay political activist Lane Lewis hit another bump on the way to his second run for the Houston City Council: Critics suggesting that he quit his job as chair of the Harris County Democratic Party.
Some political operatives are concerned that Lewis will be distracted by the campaign and somehow use his post as party chair to boost his city council campaign.
“What I want is someone who is going to be, at least in the political world, dedicated 100 percent to the mission of advancing the ideals of the Democratic Party,” said John Gorczynski, a local Democratic staffer and head of the Young Democrats of Texas. “If someone's going to be running a campaign, I can't imagine what that would look like.”
Put another way, quit.
Lewis' fundraiser next month will be hosted at the home of Bill Baldwin, the former county Democratic finance chair who resigned a few weeks ago to raise money for Lewis' bid, a move intended to make the line between the party and the campaign clear. Some are calling for Lewis to follow Baldwin's example and resign.
Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said Lewis should consider that, adding there would be a potential conflict of interest between Lewis trying to neutrally advance the Democratic Party – which includes several members running against him for council – while “competing in the trenches” himself.
Lewis dismissed the criticism, arguing that it's common practice, and that elected officials regularly navigate the dilemma without any problems.
The county party chair, unlike most county officials, is not required to resign to run for other elected offices. Lewis called holding an office while running for another a “common practice” and said voters were smart enough to read what is from the party and what is from him personally.
“How do you tell whether you're getting an email from a city councilman's campaign or a city council office?” Lewis said. “All elected officials have campaigns, and they have to differentiate in their contact with the electorate.”
The campaign is Lewis' second effort to win a council seat. He ran in 2009 but lost the District A race in a runoff. This fall, he faces several candidates in the At-Large 1 race, including transgender construction consultant Jenifer Rene Pool. She criticized Lewis for ignoring her campaign and risking a split among LGBT supporters.
“It's not healthy in some ways for the community,” Pool told Project Q Houston in January. “It definitely dilutes our ability to influence City Council. … I had expected better from someone who I have known for many, many years, to not take a moment to express what their intentions were, and especially when there are other seats you could run for.”