You might call Shelley Kennedy, 61, the Superwoman of District C, the central-Houston district she’s running to represent on City Council this year. Last year, she received a heroism proclamation from the mayor after she pulled a crash victim from a burning car. And after Hurricane Harvey, she helped a nonprofit rebuild a family’s home and life.
She also describes herself as an accidental activist. “I don’t know if it was my church upbringing,” she says, “but I always wanted to help people. As a teen, I dressed up as a clown—before clowns were mass-murderers—and went to a low-income housing project to hand out candy and talk to families about going to church.” But it was in the ’90s when she really became active.
“I lost so many friends to AIDS in the ’80s and ’90s,” Kennedy says. “I witnessed firsthand how homophobia made the crisis worse. I felt like I had to do something.”
She attended the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation in 1993, along with almost one million other protesters. After returning home, she helped put together the first Houston Black Tie Dinner that raised funds for AIDS Foundation Houston and several other LGBTQ nonprofits. She served two terms on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Board of Governors, working to build a coalition of support to convince HRC that transgender individuals should be acknowledged and included under the protective umbrella of the organization.
“After that,” Kennedy says, “people saw I was a fundraiser. Everyone started asking me to be on boards and work on party politics. When you are in that leadership level and you’re out, you can change people’s minds about who we are.”
Shelley is married to Debra Denny. They have four children and six grandchildren that they love spending time with doing outdoor activities. Kennedy is also an avid cyclist who enjoys participating in the annual Texas MS150 event.
Her résumé of activism and work with the local and state Democratic Party (including the state party’s executive committee) is lengthy and well-known. But she surprised even herself when she decided to run for public office.
“I’m running because I couldn’t wait anymore,” Kennedy says. “Some are using Council seats as a stepping-stone to run for higher office. Not me. I want to give back to Houston, to my neighborhood. I want to stop the racism, the transgender murders, and help the homeless and veterans.”
District C is one of 16 Council seats in Houston, and is an open race without an incumbent this year, making it attractive to candidates. At press time, 13 candidates had filed for the seat. The election is November 5, with a likely runoff set for December 14.
But Kennedy isn’t daunted. “I’ve been working in the neighborhood for so long,” she says. “I know so many people and so many organizations, from Democrats to veterans and LGBTQ groups.”
Former mayor Annise Parker is among those who have endorsed Kennedy’s run. “I am proud to endorse Shelley Kennedy for Houston City Council District C. I know firsthand Shelley’s commitment to equality and improving the lives of all Houstonians. She has a long record of service to the city, and has worked for causes and communities throughout the area. Integrity and experience matter on City Council,” Parker notes.
The Victory Fund also endorsed Kennedy’s campaign in September.
A self-described policy and budget geek, Kennedy has a broad and well-researched list of issues for District C—everything from flooding and development to traffic, homelessness, and stray animals. She wants to have a committee of neighborhood ambassadors who can speak to issues facing each area of the district, as well as an open-door policy at her office. (She even lists her personal cell phone on her campaign website, and encourages people to contact her.) She is currently serving a second term on the Independent Police Oversight Board, appointed by Mayor Turner.
“I believe there are two heavy lifts facing our community, and the next council member needs to be able to fight to get them done,” Kennedy says. “HERO 2.0 (the second shot at a Houston equal-rights ordinance) and adding an LGBT Business Enterprise (LGBTBE) designation to the City’s Office of Business Opportunity.” She also wants to add an LGBTQ member to every City advisory board and commission.
She is also concerned with climate change and Houston traffic, two things that can go hand-in-hand.
“We need to do something about flooding and traffic. I am part of the Make I-45 Better Coalition,” Kennedy says, referring to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) plan to expand I-45 through downtown. “I am not really happy about the 387 businesses that will close, or the 4,000 individuals who will lose their homes. Not to mention the poor air quality for schools caused by adding up to 18 lanes of traffic within 500 feet of children and schools. It’s time for more community involvement in the planning process. TxDOT tends to just build concrete. We need better.”
For more information about Shelley Kennedy: www.shelleykennedy.org/