Marc Katz revels in doing things a little differently. He’s best known for owning a New York-style deli in downtown Austin. Though he’s never held an elected position, he decided this fall to run for lieutenant governor of Texas, perhaps the state’s most powerful office. He began his campaign by mockingly naming deli sandwiches after his opponents. He will face two Democrats in the March primary, and if he pulls off the upset, will take on two-term Republican incumbent David Dewhurst, whom Katz deemed “baloney on white bread.”
Katz held his first big campaign event on Saturday night, Jan. 9, at Oilcan Harry’s, a gay bar in the middle of Austin’s thumping Warehouse District. There were some of the usual political trappings: balloons, bumper stickers, and a buffet well stocked with—what else?—deli meats. But the greeting table, where you could sign up for Katz’s e-mail list, was staffed by two shirtless, buff young men who had adorned their chests with Marc Katz stickers.
In a few hours, the club would be packed from mirrored wall to mirrored wall. But at 9 p.m., the place was still mostly empty. Katz and three or four dozen people milled about the marble-topped bar while techno and Top 40 blared. After Sean Kingston’s hit “Fire Burning” (“Somebody call 9-1-1/Shawty fire burning on the dance floor”), the music was cut, and Katz was introduced—first by his press aide and then by his friend Jennifer Justin. At that moment, Katz likely became the first major-party candidate for lieutenant governor to be introduced by a transgendered person.
Katz tossed aside his notes and spoke off the cuff for about 20 minutes. He talked about the need to improve education and expand access to health care. But he returned again and again to same-sex rights and gay marriage. “It says nowhere in [the Texas Constitution] … that we can’t have the rights of anybody else,” Katz said. “[The right to get married] is not something we should have to fight for … . Our sexual preference or what we do in bed or what we lust for has nothing to do with our health insurance. It has nothing to do with our benefits. It has nothing to do with nobody else’s business but our own!”
It seemed for a moment that Katz—a wealthy businessman who has promised to pour millions into the race—was about to launch a single-issue campaign based around gay rights, which few politicians in Texas have had the courage to defend in recent years. In an interview after his talk, Katz wouldn’t quite go that far. He said the central theme of this campaign would be “human” rights, which includes gay rights, but also those of all minorities in Texas.
Asked which minorities he belongs to, Katz paused for a long moment and said, “I’m a religious minority.” (He’s Jewish.) Asked more specifically if he’s gay, Katz responded, “My sexual preference is nobody’s business. Let’s talk about the issues, not about whether Dewhurst wears makeup.” Then he laughed and added, “If you print that, I’ll love you forever.”