After narrowly missing a runoff for Houston City Council in 2013, Jenifer Rene Pool hoped 2015 would be her year.
Pool, who's vying to make history as Texas' first transgender elected official, decided in early 2014 to run for the At-Large Position 1 seat, which will be open in November because incumbent Stephen Costello is term-limited.
“Anybody who knew me knew that I was running for At-large Position 1,” Pool said. “I'd always hoped that this year the community would rally behind my campaign – to win this time.”
But those hopes were dampened during a holiday party for Houston Democratic clubs in December, Pool said. That's when Lane Lewis, a gay man who serves as chair of the county party, announced he'll also seek the At-Large Position 1 seat.
Pool said Lewis' announcement was both a shock and a slap in the face. She fears it will split the LGBT and progressive votes, hurting both of their chances of winning.
Pool, who attended the holiday party, said rather than arranging a meeting in advance to discuss his decision, Lewis pulled her aside just minutes before he announced it.
“It was totally a surprise to me because there had been no indication that he was even thinking about running for City Council,” Pool said. “It's been disconcerting. It felt like there was no respect, which is something as a trans person I've had to face ever since I came out.”
Lewis declined to be interviewed for this story.
Pool said that with lesbian Mayor Annise Parker leaving office at the end of the year –and with the possibility that the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) will be on the ballot in November – it's a time for unity.
“It's not healthy in some ways for the community,” she said of having two LGBT candidates for At Large Position 1. “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.”
Pool said she’s supported Lewis during his tenure as chair of the Democratic Party. She also supported his previous council campaign, in 2009, as a member of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus.
“There are a lot of people who are now sitting on the fence who were going to come out and endorse me,” Pool said. “He's the chair of the Democratic Party, and these are elected Democrats, so this is putting the whole situation in a quandary.”
It's not the first time Pool has felt snubbed from within the LGBT community. In her first council race in 2011, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund was criticized for declining to endorse her — despite her extensive qualifications and record of LGBT advocacy.
Pool, 66, who owns a construction consulting business, currently serves on the Public Safety Advisory Committee and the Building Standards Commission.
In addition to three terms as president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, she’s co-hosted the Queer Voices radio show for 11 years, and was selected as a grand marshal of the city’s Pride parade in 2012. She also helped lobby the Houston Independent School District to add workplace protections for LGBT employees in 2011.
During the HERO debate last year, Pool said she attended every council meeting – and spoke at all but one. She played a key role in responding to attacks against the ordinance over transgender bathroom use.
“I've been called brave, courageous,” Pool said. “I believe that what I'm doing is what needs to be done, and if not me, who? No matter what happens with HERO, I will go into this campaign knowing that there's a target on my back, both real and imaginary, but there always has been.”