Michelle Ganz says she’s not a politician.
In fact, she is a junior transfer student majoring in political science at the University of St. Thomas, but she is also running for Houston City Council District C.
Despite never holding public office, she says she has held many other roles she feels that have prepared her for the job: student, lifeguard, certified pipefitter, wife to Krystal Ganz, working-class citizen; simply herself.
“I feel like I have to,” Ganz said when asked about running for City Council.
Ganz said she feels she isn’t being represented well enough in her community as a self-identified working-class lesbian minority, and wants to be a voice for others.
“My experience as a working-class person, I think, gives me more insight as to what the people of Houston would want,” Ganz said. “The human connection is much more important than education. I can learn anything, but you can’t learn experiences.”
Ganz has lived in Montrose for 22 years. The Houston neighborhood has historically been home to many LGBT people and minorities, and is Houston’s most diverse neighborhood, according to Ganz.
Montrose is a part of District C along with The Heights, Upper Kirby, Meyerland and other neighborhoods on the northwest, central and southwest areas of Houston. Currently, the District is represented by Mayor Pro-Tem Ellen R. Cohen (TX-D) who has served her maximum amount of terms. (Cohen is responsible for passing the Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance in 2015).
Now, however, Ganz says Montrose is rapidly pushing out “lower-income minorities,” some of whom have lived there for more than 50 years, because housing has become too costly.
“I want to create incentives to build middle-class housing,” Ganz said, “so that housing can become more affordable.”
She said she doesn’t want people to get displaced because they can’t afford where they have been living.
Ganz said that the gentrification of Montrose is due to “upper class, rich white people” moving back to the city after the “white flight” of the 50s and 60s.
“It’s pushing [out] everybody that can’t afford cars [or] to sit in traffic further out, so that they’re going to have to ride a bus for two hours to get to their jobs,” Ganz said.
“I feel like as human beings, we should’ve evolved enough to where we can figure out ways not to displace people.”
It’s a daunting task, but Ganz has faced a few adversities before.
One of those adversities, she says, is the ostracism she and her family faced because of her sexuality.
She grew up in Reeves, LA, which Ganz said is conservative town. She said she was the first person to “come out” in Reeves which wasn’t warmly received by some of the citizens; her brother, for example, was bullied and had to change schools, and her sister was “attacked”.
“When I came to Montrose it was a life-saving thing for me, because it was a place where I could feel safe and have a community,” she remembers.
When she briefly moved back to Louisiana in 2004 to help her parents, however, Ganz says she was attacked by four people outside a “gay bar,” resulting in a complete tear in her ACL, and a fractured kneecap. She had to have reconstruction surgery on her knee, leaving her unemployed for two years.
Afterward, she returned to Montrose. She said it wasn’t until then that she really understood the need for inclusivity in a neighborhood. Montrose was her safe place.
She said she hopes to keep it that way for other people who have experienced misfortunes relating to race, sexuality and income, some of whom are involved with her campaign.
“I’m trying to get the young people, the working-class people, and the people who don’t feel represented, to band together and make a real movement in Houston,” Ganz said.
Ganz’s says her campaign is mostly run by volunteers who are students and working-class people. She says they don’t have money to give to her campaign, but they have time to help her.
UST alumnus (‘14) Evan Friske is one of her campaign volunteers. Friske was Ganz’s philosophy professor when she attended Houston Community College, but he now helps Ganz by attending political events with her and preparing her for debates, according to an email to the Independent
“Michelle Ganz is a true patriot for the city of Houston. Her campaign run is not for fame, and she’s not using this as a stepping stone for greater aspirations,” Friske wrote.
“She cares about Houston.”
Ganz also cares about student voter turnout. She said she encourages every student to vote on election day, which is Nov. 5.
As she looks forward to the day, Ganz says her courage and integrity will allow her to “be an asset” on City Council.
“I think anybody that goes out to openly be who they are without worrying about what the rest of the world is going to say–that is courage, no matter who you are.”