By David Webb Special Contributor

Sexual orientation not a factor as residents of small town on Cedar Creek Lake elect gay men as mayor, City Council member

Voters in tiny Kemp, Texas, last month elected two openly gay men to city government. Matt Ganssle won the mayoral race, while Jerry Hazelip, below, was elected to the City Council. DAVID WEBB/Special to Dallas Voice

CEDAR CREEK LAKE — The 1,200 residents of sleepy Kemp, Texas, had something to snap them more awake than usual on May 10, the Sunday morning after municipal elections were held.

Voters the previous day had sent packing two incumbent members of the six-member City Council, including the two-term mayor. In their place were elected two openly gay men who live in long-term relationships with other men.

"That was really something," said Rick Foster, a native of Kemp and general manager of the Cedar Creek Lake LGBT nightclub Friends, where the results were announced to a cheering crowd on election night.

"I’m elated by the results."

New Mayor Matt Ganssle, an audio engineer who works for radio stations and networks nationwide helping enhance their brands, and new City Council member Jerry Hazelip, a retired real estate agent and retail merchandiser, gained office by wide margins of the vote in the conservative, 123-year-old town.

Ganssle, who was already serving as a City Council member, took 65 percent of the 147 votes cast for mayor, compared to only 25 percent going to the incumbent mayor.

Hazelip took 32 percent of the 262 votes, compared to only 15 percent for the incumbent councilwoman who was routed from office.

Two council places were open on the ballot. Incumbent Mayor Pro Tem Barbara McFaul, who received 25 percent of the vote, won the second council place on the ballot.

Clearly, Ganssle and Hazelip had outperformed all of the other eight candidates on the ballot, respectively taking the first- and second- highest number of votes cast.

And it happened despite a small whisper campaign just prior to the election about their sexual orientations.

Ganssle, who has lived with his partner in Kemp for three years, said the small number of people who tried to make an issue of his sexual orientation never gained any ground.

The new mayor notes that he never volunteers information about his sexual orientation, but that he answers honestly when asked.

"I really haven’t had any problems here at all," said Ganssle, who was born in Pennsylvania and grew up in California before moving to Texas six years ago. "Obviously, the election results show that it was a non-issue."

Ganssle said he respects other people’s views and asks them to respect his. "We agree to disagree," he said.

Hazelip, who is an avid supporter of the Humane Society of Cedar Creek Lake, said he also was aware of some attempts to discredit him because of his sexual orientation, but they apparently also failed to do him any harm.

The new councilman is a native of the area, who lived in Dallas for about 25 years before returning to Kemp in 2001. His partner has lived with him in Kemp for three years.

"I’ve always enjoyed this little town, and I always planned to return to the area to retire," Hazelip said.

Ganssle said he moved to Kemp because he fell in love with the house he purchased, and a trip through the town afterwards further encouraged him and his partner to relocate here.

"We instantly fell in love with the town," Ganssle said. "You could just see the potential that was not being tapped into yet."

Ganssle said that is why he ran successfully for the City Council in 2008, and why he challenged the incumbent mayor this year.

"I saw a void in leadership," Ganssle said. "I saw problems that weren’t being addressed as actively as they should be. The concerns of many people in the town weren’t being heard."

Ganssle said there’s a lot of work to be done to take Kemp where it needs to go. Just 45 minutes out of downtown Dallas, sitting just next to Highway 175 and located adjacent to Cedar Creek Lake, the town has the potential to be restored and to prosper, he said.

"It’s no secret the town has a lot of issues," Ganssle said. "The way to solve them is not to ignore them but to go after them and fix them. It takes a leader to pull it all together and make it happen."

Those issues include the unusually high cost for building and improvement permits, deteriorating infrastructure that includes outdated water pipes and bad streets with potholes.

Ganssle said the branding and marketing of the city need to be improved, and strategic planning for growth will require improvements in law enforcement and public works.

Hazelip’s view of Kemp seems similar to Ganssle’s, and the new councilman noted that he is looking forward to working with the new mayor on their mutual goals for the city’s improvement.

"We needed new blood on the City Council for new growth," Hazelip said. "I remember when Kemp was a nice little town, and that’s not the way it is now. I want it to be that way again."

Foster, who works in the bar owned by his partner Leo Bartlett, said he believes the men deserved election and will accomplish their goals.

"They have already contributed enormously to the area, he said. "They are both wonderful men who have given much back to the community in many ways," Foster said.


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