Lesbian candidates seek return to city councils in Austin and San Antonio

Posted on 27 May 2011 at 9:53am
Elena Guajardo

Two out lesbians are in runoffs for City Council seats in Texas. They are Elena Guajardo in San Antonio and Randi Shade in Austin.

Elena Guajardo

Elena Guajardo faces a runoff for the District 7 seat on the San Antonio City Council. When she was first elected in 2005, she was the first openly gay person to be elected to the council in the Alamo City.

San Antonio has the most restrictive term limits in the country. A council member or mayor can only serve two two-year terms.

In 2007, Guajardo was defeated, and this year she is one of five seeking the open seat.

When Guajardo was elected in 2005, San Antonio’s daily newspaper published the headline, “Lesbian wins council seat.” This time, the newspaper endorsed her.

Guajardo retired from Southwestern Bell after 30 years of service in 2000. She came out in 2004.

She said the first person she told was her bishop.

“There are two things I need to tell you,” she said to him. “First, I’m running for city council. Second, I’m gay.”

She said the bishop was concerned only she continued to worship in his church and gave her a hug. Council members rotate inviting someone to give the invocation before meetings. She was proud to invite her bishop for her first opening prayer.

Guajardo said that while in office, many people would quietly tell her that they had friends or relatives who were gay. But she said her sexual orientation had little to do with her job at City Hall.

“It’s about the issues,” she said. “My district knows. The city knows. Now we have work to do.”

And the issues are public safety and the budget.

“How do you make the city better?” she said.

While the City Council in San Antonio is a part-time position that pays just $20 per meeting, Guajardo said that since she was retired she treated it as a full-time job.

When she came into office, she asked for a list of proposed projects.

“I want to know every project promised, voted on and in queue,” she said. “I want to get dirt moved.”

She said that was her biggest success. She had more projects put in place during her two years than anyone else on the council, including $40 million in development.

She said that District 1 is where the gay clubs are situated, but her district probably has the second-largest gay population in the city.

Her campaign manager, Jeri Brooks, said winning will be a “shoe-leather game. We’ll hit more doors. Get people to come back out.”

Brooks was communications director for the successful Annise Parker campaign in Houston two years ago.

Guajardo appealed to people from around the state to donate.

“Come down and work with the campaign,” she said. She said she needs volunteers to come to San Antonio and block-walk for a weekend.

“And if you know someone in my district, tell them to get out and vote,” she said.

Randi Shade

Randi Shade

Austin City Councilwoman Randi Shade, an incumbent first elected in 2007, finished second in the May 15 election. She faces a runoff despite having raised more money than her opponent.

She is the first gay member of the Austin City Council, but her sexual orientation has not played a part in the election. A scandal and a perception that Shade is unfriendly to neighborhood groups may unseat the incumbent.

Shade, another council member and the mayor were emailing during council meetings. In one released email, Shade called a speaker at the meet “bridezilla.” She called a local environmentalist “crazy” and “two-faced.”

Although Shade and the mayor apologized after the emails were released, the comments added to her pro-developer image.

Shade voted to allow a building along Barton Springs Road that will be 26 feet taller than current zoning allows. She also voted for a needed water treatment plant that critics say will harm the environment.

In 2008, when she was elected, Shade beat an incumbent. She is endorsed by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.

The San Antonio runoff is on June 11. The Austin election is June 18.

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