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OutSmart’s Candidate Q&A

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Political roundup
by Megan Smith

Whether you’re worried about your child’s higher education or frustrated by that nasty pothole down the street, the best place to start is to exercise your right to vote. However, deciding which candidate will best represent you can often be a difficult task. OutSmart’s candidate Q&A is here to help make that decision a little easier before you head to the polls on November 5.

Where the sidewalk cracks end: Jenifer Rene Pool plans to hold the city responsible for the maintenance of sidewalks and bring a nondiscrimination ordinance to a vote.
Where the sidewalk cracks end: Jenifer Rene Pool plans to hold the city responsible for the maintenance of sidewalks and bring a nondiscrimination ordinance to a vote.

Jenifer Rene Pool
Houston City Council At-Large Position 3

OutSmart: How has your background shaped your politics and made you best qualified for this position?
Jenifer Rene Pool: As a child of World War II parents, I was taught responsibility and duty to our country and my neighbors. These concepts have shaped my life and belief in fairness. When I see discrimination or unfairness, I have taken action to redress the situation. My history shows how I will take on [issues that] appear to be impossible, to make Houston better where it matters.

If elected, what do you hope to accomplish in the next two years?
Bring a nondiscrimination ordinance to a vote and make the city responsible for the maintenance of sidewalks.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge currently facing the city of Houston?
Pension insolvency and [the need to expand] economic growth within the city.

You were recently endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. How will you effectively represent the interests of Houston’s LGBT community?
I have been an advocate for equality and nondiscrimination. My actions and accomplishments have shown how I will conduct myself as a councilmember.

How will you ensure that Houston remains one of the most livable urban centers in the country?
By making the City responsible for the maintenance of sidewalks, and by working to stop illegal dumping to clean up neighborhoods.

Is there anything else about yourself that you would like our OutSmart readers to know?
For years I have worked individually and as a member of organizations to promote equality in all aspects of our lives. I will continue to follow my heart until all people can share the blessings of liberty and freedom. I have been endorsed in this race by the Honorable Frances “Sissy” Farenthold, former congressman Chris Bell, Harris County Constable Alan Rosen, the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, and Democracy for Houston.
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Community builder: Zeph Capo wants to create a more transparent Houston Community College that is truly developed and supported by our community.
Community builder: Zeph Capo wants to create a more transparent Houston Community College that is truly developed and supported by our community.

Zeph Capo
Houston Community College District 1

OutSmart: How has your background shaped your politics and made you best qualified for this position?
Zeph Capo: I am the first generation in my family to attend college after high school. I attended community college as a student to reduce tuition costs, as I was required to put myself through college. While in college, I started substitute-teaching at a local elementary school and realized how much I took for granted in what was offered to me in a quality public education. Since that time, I have been a passionate advocate of public education and social justice.

Additionally, I have been impacted on many levels in my life by issues of inequity, and I strive toward building a more just society. My experience as a classroom teacher allowed me the opportunity to view how we develop as young people. Teachers see that the root of inequity and injustice is based on learned behavior—therefore we retain the hope that inequity and injustice can be corrected. It takes so much more than simple platitudes about [a person’s] Zip Code, though. It takes hard work and dedication to make forward strides. My understanding of how much hard work is necessary to make a difference will guide me, should I be given the opportunity to serve as a trustee for my district.

If elected, what do you hope to accomplish in the next two years?
It is unfortunate that at this time the most important issue to tackle at HCC is a stronger board ethics policy and more transparent business practices. Simply put, we must rebuild the trust in our board with the communities we represent. Once that is accomplished, I would like to turn to the really important issues of clear and complete communication with our students about the excellent opportunities available to them through Houston Community College. We need to increase our visibility within the communities we represent and have real conversations with our workers and our students. Expanding dual credit programs in high schools to cover career and technical fields will be a welcome addition that will allow us to impact more students. We can accomplish so much by simply increasing student and family awareness regarding the workforce opportunities that are opened up by having skills training offered at the community college.

What do you feel is the biggest problem currently facing the Houston Community College System?
There is a significant level of concern expressed by stakeholders, including the business community, regarding the level of transparency in our business practices. The public just approved almost a half-billion-dollar public bond that will be spent by our community college. It is imperative that those who pay the bill receive honest and efficient results for their investment. We can’t afford to continue to erode the trust our community has bestowed upon the college without causing significant harm to the workforce training that our economy depends on to remain competitive.

What steps will you take to ensure HCC students have the skills they need to enter the Houston workforce upon graduation?
We must first ensure that the programs we invest in are aligned to the workforce needs in our community. Our programs must focus on the major job-growth industries and ensure that we are graduating students with the most up-to-date skills and information required to hit the ground running upon graduation. It is imperative that we develop a more formal system for gathering industry and community leader input regarding workforce needs and community concerns.

How can HCC better provide an equal opportunity for students to succeed, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity?
First and foremost, sexual orientation and gender identity shouldn’t even be an issue when it comes to equality in a college we say is developed for and supported by our “community.” Everyone deserves the right to reach their full potential and should be treated with the same level of dignity and respect that we would expect for ourselves or our family members. Everyone should have a voice and feel comfortable engaging in all aspects of our society—especially continuing their education and personal development. I hope that all students at HCC feel they have an equal opportunity at success, and if elected I would want to be the first person to know about it if they don’t.

Is there anything else about yourself that you would like our OutSmart readers to know?
I would like every reader to know that I am deeply committed to making our community college a place we can all be proud of and call our own. Too often, public school districts and colleges are the last to be thought about when it comes to electoral politics. I make a promise to all readers to govern with integrity and to be a trustee you can be proud of if you make time to take pride in your college and vote for me on November 5.

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Ready for success: Kevin J. Hoffman plans to build bridges between Houston Community College and local school districts to make sure students have the basic skills they need to succeed in college coursework.
Ready for success: Kevin J. Hoffman plans to build bridges between Houston Community College and local school districts to make sure students have the basic skills they need to succeed in college coursework.

Kevin J. Hoffman
Houston Community College District 1

OutSmart: How has your background shaped your politics and made you best qualified for this position?
Kevin J. Hoffman: My background as a business professional and community activist, coupled with my high levels of ethics, makes me the most qualified person in this race.

In my more than twenty years working in the energy industry in project management, land administration, contract administration, and acquisition and divestiture, I have developed a sound, proven history and ability to handle multiple tasks and make the sound business decisions that are required of an HCC board member.

In my role as a civic and political activist, I have lobbied local, state, and national political leaders for positive change for the benefit of our community. I have worked to help keep blighted lots and buildings clean, to keep bars and cantinas from opening near area schools and churches, and to help keep our young people out of gangs. I have worked with the public through neighborhood meetings, stakeholder groups, and community outreach as a civic club president and board member to various civic, political, and governmental groups. I have also implemented community outreach programs for stakeholder groups. For this work, I have received letters of appreciation from two mayors of the City of Houston and members of Houston City Council.

In my roles in business and as a civic and political activist, I have always acted with high ethical standards, and will continue to do so.

I have the best overall understanding of the needs of the community and how to best engage the community. I am best able to get the message out about how and what HCC can do to help community members move forward by providing job training and higher-education opportunities.

If elected, what do you hope to accomplish in the next two years?
I will call for HCC, HISD, and other school districts to begin a dialogue about what school districts are doing correctly and, most important, what improvement plans are needed in areas that students are lacking the skills and tools they need to succeed. It is a major issue at HCC that so many new students are not ready for the demands of college life, nor do they have the basic skills needed be complete the coursework required.

I will work with my fellow board members to make sure all employees of the college have, as one of their healthcare options in their benefit package, an Employee-Plus-One Health Insurance plan. I will work to make sure this plan covers same- or opposite-sex domestic partners.

I will work to bring back the public’s trust by making HCC’s Code of Conduct and Ethics stronger.

I will also work to cut back on the need for students to travel across Houston to as many as four campuses in order to enroll in basic courses for degrees. Our students should be able to complete all basic courses at one campus.

What do you feel is the biggest problem currently facing the Houston Community College System?
Lack of public trust, transparency, strong ethics, and leadership.

What steps will you take to ensure HCC students have the skills they need to enter the Houston workforce upon graduation?
I will look to restore much-needed funding back to HCC’s student counseling programming. HCC must do a better job at supporting our students with career planning and goal setting.

How can HCC better provide an equal opportunity for students to succeed, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity?

HCC must do a better job at putting an end to bullying in the classroom and on campus. I am hearing reports from students of cases where students are still being bullied by fellow students and faculty members due to their being members of the GLBT community. This must end. As a member of the board, I will take action to help put an end to this once and for all.

Is there anything else about yourself that you would like our OutSmart readers to know?
I have been endorsed in this race by U.S. Congress Member Gene Green, GLBT activist Ray Hill, the American Coalition for Justice, and many precinct chairs of Houston’s north side and Houston Heights.

I have been an active member and officer of many civic groups, which include LULAC 402, Stonewall Democrats, past president of Greater Heights Democratic Club, past president of Super Neighborhood 51, and past president of Lindale Park Civic Club. I have also served as a board member of the Weed & Seed Program for the near-north side for the mayor’s Anti-Gang Office, and as a member of the City of Houston’s Health Department HIV Prevention grant review panel.

A native of Dallas, North Carolina, I hold a BFA from Western Carolina University in Speech & Theatre Arts. I have been a resident of Houston for twenty-six years. My life partner/husband, Jesús Gonzalez, and I are entering our twenty-fourth year together this October. We live in Lindale Park in Houston’s Northside Village with our two dogs, Milo and Trixie.

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A place at the table: incumbent Mike Laster continues to work to ensure that the diverse communities in his district have equal roles in bettering their future together.
A place at the table: incumbent Mike Laster continues to work to ensure that the diverse communities in his district have equal roles in bettering their future together.

Mike Laster
Houston City Council District J

OutSmart: How has your background shaped your politics and made you best qualified for this position?
Mike Laster: I have lived in Houston since 1985 and have been a resident of District J for the past sixteen years. Since moving to the District J area, I have been active in the Sharpstown Civic Association as a board member and past president. I was chairman and board member of the Sharpstown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone and was a founding board member of the Greater Sharpstown Management District. As Council Member for District J, my experience in the community has given me a strong foundation of understanding the district’s challenges, needs, and assets. That experience, coupled with the countless relationships I have been honored to develop during those years, has allowed me to hit the ground running in addressing the needs of the constituents of District J.

If re-elected, what do you hope to accomplish in the next two years?
I and the District J staff have spent the first two-year term focusing on addressing the daily needs of the district’s constituents, on bringing communities together, and on laying a foundation for future growth and development of the area. I plan to use the next two-year term to build upon that foundation. Working with community leaders, I hope to further strengthen our neighborhoods by providing improvements to our parks and city infrastructure, help revitalize the Richmond Avenue business corridor and other business areas, increase single-family housing stock in the area, further the battle against blight and litter, and continue to provide quality constituent services to our residents.

What do you feel is the biggest problem currently facing District J?
As a district council member, I am reminded daily that providing good constituent service—“customer service” if you will—is the primary duty a district council member owes to their residents. To be sure, District J has its ongoing needs and challenges: crime, blight, litter, infrastructure in need of repair, etc. Addressing those tasks is a matter of management and attention. However, one of the biggest challenges facing District J specifically, and southwest Houston generally, lies in addressing the public’s sometimes-negative perception of the area. I take seriously my role in using the “bully pulpit” to tell the real story of this part of town. I use every opportunity to educate the larger community about our unique diversity, our great and affordable housing stock, our good schools and solid neighborhoods, our flourishing social service network, and our business opportunities. Telling that story is an ongoing task that I welcome.

As the incumbent, how will you continue to make District J an “opportunity-for-everyone” district?
By now, many folks know that I coined the phrase “District J is the Ellis Island of Houston.” It is true. Over fifty different language groups call the area home, calling attention to our differences in worldview and life experiences. However, there is one common idea that unites us: we all chose to live in District J. One of the exciting aspects of serving this part of Houston is having the opportunity to work with each of the many different communities. Each of those communities is doing their part to strengthen and better their chosen home. My job is to help those communities be connected in purpose and communications and to provide them with the municipal resources needed for their work. I am committed to making sure that each of these communities has a place at the table as we build our future together.

How do you plan to lower the area’s crime rate and protect all residents of your district?
One of the challenges I am called to address is the public’s perception of crime in southwest Houston. To be sure, we do have criminal activity in District J—as do all districts. Most people do not realize that District J is three times more densely populated than the rest of the city. We have over 9,000 persons per square mile, while the remainder of the city has a density of about 3,100 persons. Yet, District J does not have three times the amount of crime experienced by the rest of the city. Our crime rates are average in comparison [with the rest of Houston]. Toward that end, I have worked hard to assist communications between the city’s Midwest, South Gessner, and Westside HPD command stations and the neighborhoods they serve. By working closely with HPD, we have been able to target crime hot spots, tear down a dilapidated condominium complex, close down sexually oriented nightclubs, and monitor human trafficking locations. Using surplus dollars from the District J operating budget, I was able to recently contribute over $15,000 to each of the Ranchester, Westwood, Gulfton, and Richmond police storefront offices. Those dollars will supplement the operating budgets of those locations. Working with the Greater Sharpstown Management District, the Harris County Attorney, and the City Attorney’s office, we have been able to target lawsuits and additional police resources toward addressing prostitution hot spots. I am pleased with the aggressive approach we have been able to take in fighting crime in District J.

Is there anything else about yourself that you would like our OutSmart readers to know?
I am grateful for the privilege of serving the people of District J and proud to be the first openly gay man to serve on the Houston City Council. Thank you for giving me this privilege to serve you.

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Megan Smith

Megan Smith is the Assistant Editor for OutSmart Magazine.

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