In 2007, when James Rodriguez asked Nick Hellyar to run his first campaign for City Council District I—an older area that is 77 percent Hispanic—Hellyar responded with, “You want a gay white guy running your campaign?” Rodriguez told Hellyar he did, and it proved to be a wise move for both. Rodriguez won the seat, and Hellyar became one of his staff members at City Hall.
Now Hellyar, 35, is running for Houston City Council’s At Large 4 seat. It will be his first run, but certainly not his first rodeo.
Hellyar was born in London, but was barely six months old when his father’s oil and gas firm transferred the family to Houston.
“Dad got here and said, ‘You can wear shorts all year? I’m never going back!’” laughs Hellyar. The young man went to public schools and graduated from Lamar High School before attending the University of Houston, originally studying engineering before switching to a political-science path. One of his professors was Richard Murray, a well-known figure in local politics.
“I asked him how to get started in politics, and he told me to volunteer at a campaign and don’t leave until they turn the lights off,” says Hellyar. Interestingly, Murray’s son, Keir Murray, a political consultant, is now running Hellyar’s City Council campaign.
Houston municipal elections are nonpartisan. This year’s ballot is crowded, with the mayor, controller, and all 16 Council seats up for grabs. (Before a 2015 vote that changed the rules, opponents might wait for an incumbent to be forced out of office after six years. Challengers are now more eager to jump into a race, even against an incumbent who is limited to two four-year terms.) The election is scheduled for November 5, and the runoff for December 14.
“I just think now is a unique time in our city, with unique problems like flooding and budgeting. I want to leave this city better than I found it. I want to make a difference.”
Hellyar had previously worked on several municipal, state, and federal campaigns, including Annise Parker’s first mayoral run in 2009. When she won, he also worked for Parker at City Hall before leaving to start his own real-estate business, The Hellyar Group.
“When you are in your 20s, you can pay the bills with good deeds,” he says, “but as I got older, I needed to make more money and I wanted to set my own hours. On a campaign, you work 60 to 70 hours a week, and I just needed a break.”
But that didn’t mean he didn’t stay involved. He is a former president and board member of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, and he never gave up his love of municipal politics. Now he’s back in the game, not as a consultant but as a candidate.
“I just think now is a unique time in our city,” he says, “with unique problems like flooding and budgeting. I want to leave this city better than I found it. I want to make a difference.”
So far, he has racked up some impressive endorsements: former City Council members James Rodriguez and Robb Todd; state representative Ana Hernandez; and the LGBTQ Victory Fund and its president, CEO, and former Houston mayor Annise Parker. Many are impressed with Hellyar’s level of municipal knowledge, noting that he can start to work on day one without needing a learning curve.
“Because the joke at City Hall is that it takes you two years [just] to learn where the bathrooms are,” he laughs.
“Seriously, my first priority, when elected, will be flood mitigation with [the state funds dedicated to] Harvey relief. Secondly, I want to make sure there are no more budget shortfalls. And then there is the HERO (the referendum for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance that was defeated in 2015]. We are the only top-twenty American city that does not have a nondiscrimination ordinance. There are major events that will not come to Houston because of that, and it is costing the city money.”
Hellyar has a home in Upper Kirby, and a Galveston beach house that he hasn’t seen since the campaign started. He likes sports and has season tickets to the Astros, but as for a significant other, he claims to be married to the City of Houston, at least for now. Although he would love a dog, he says he doesn’t have the time for one right now. But he does have a white rescue cat with blue eyes called Rhys, in homage to his Welsh roots. His favorite restaurants are any of chef Chris Shepherd’s spots (Georgia James, One/Fifth, The Hay Merchant, and UB Preserv).
“Of course I can’t afford to eat out every night, so I try to cook at home a lot,” he says. “It’s important to eat healthy on a campaign and not succumb to junk food.”
Hellyar knows from experience that he’s in for a long few months of 70-hour work weeks, trying to stay healthy as much as he can by taking care of himself. But he says it will be worth it.
“I would be the first LGBTQ candidate to win a city-wide race since Mayor Parker.”
For more information, visit nickhellyar.com.
This article appears in the October 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.