Originally published: May 12, 2011, 2:31 p.m.
Updated: May 16, 2011, 10:03 a.m.
CHARLOTTE — Democrat LaWana Mayfield, a community leader in local progressive and LGBT political circles, has announced she will seek the District 3 seat on city council.
Mayfield, who is lesbian, held her first campaign fundraiser on May 7.
She has described herself as an “advocate for affordable housing, social justice and the environment.”
She has been active in several local progressive and LGBT organizations, including the Charlotte Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee, the local steering committee for the Human Rights Campaign, Charlotte Community Justice Coalition, League of Women Voters and American Friends and Service Committee/Immigrant Solidarity Committee. She also serves on the board of advisors for the Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund.
“I have been working in the local community on diverse issues such as immigration, access to affordable housing, reducing recidivism and positive opportunities for at risk youth for over 15 years,” she told qnotes via email on Thursday. “My city council race is an extension of my commitment to my local community.”
Mayfield ‘not taking on the incumbent’
Mayfield will face incumbent Democratic Councilmember Warren Turner in a Sept. 13 primary. Turner was first elected to council in 2003 and is currently serving his fourth term. The victor in the Democratic primary will likely face a Republican challenger in the Nov. 8 general election. Turner was accused of anti-gay sexual harassment last year. He has denied those allegations.
Mayfield said the sexual harassment allegations against Turner played no part in her decision to run.
“I have been speaking with members of my community and hear a call for new leadership,” she said. “I am answering the call to add another community voice to the city council table.”
She also declined to characterize her race as a challenge to incumbency.
“I’m not taking on the incumbent,” she said. “I’m running for this seat because I believe I am the best candidate to represent the diversity of District 3. My campaign is not a campaign against an individual but is a campaign for maintaining real estate values, injecting economic development and increasing community safety.”
In his 2009 reelection campaign, Turner failed to return a candidate survey from the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC); the group did not endorse him in that race. Mayfield has previously volunteered with MeckPAC. In the past, the group has endorsed other openly gay and lesbian candidates for office including candidate Owen Sutkowksi in his unsuccessful 2009 primary bid to oust District 1 Democratic Councilmember Patsy Kinsey. MeckPAC leaders won’t announce their endorsements for this year’s slate of candidates until much later in the campaign season.
Representing a diverse district
Mayfield said she hopes to represent the full diversity of District 3 (PDF), which encompasses most of Southwest Charlotte.
According to Spanish-language newspaper Mi Gente, District 3 is home to a growing community of African-American and Latino Charlotteans. At least 12 percent of the districts more than 60,000 residents are Hispanic.
“I care about my community and that there is equity and equality for all people, including my Hispanic brothers and sisters,” Mayfield told the community newspaper.
She says she’ll work hard to see all voices heard and respected. She says discrimination takes place across lines of difference. Protection from anti-LGBT employment discrimination has been a hot button issue since the last city election.
“I support all equal opportunity hiring practices and will be a champion for any programs that support greater equity in the job market,” Mayfield said. “However, I also realize that there are multiple groups within my district that face unfair hiring practices. These groups span across a wide range of racial, socioeconomic, ethnic, immigrant/refugee status, and gender lines. As a member of city council, I will represent all of these groups and work within the limits of my office to expand equity to all.”
Despite initial support by then-Mayor Elect Anthony Foxx, the council has yet to vote on changes to the city’s anti-discrimination policies or ordinances. A policy change protecting employees on the basis of sexual orientation was initiated and approved by City Manager Curt Walton last March.
In addition to equity issues, Mayfield says a wide range of economic and community concerns are shaping her campaign.
“My focus areas are maintaining real estate value especially with the local tax value reassessments, injecting economic development by partnering with local business and identifying new business opportunities and increasing community safety by strengthening local law enforcement and community relationships,” she said.
‘Candidate of choice’
Mayfield, who has been in a committed relationship with her partner for five years, isn’t shying away from her sexual orientation. She’s quick to note, however, that she’s not running as a “lesbian candidate.”
“Yes, I am running as an out candidate but I believe Charlotte is ready for all of us to serve as our authentic selves,” she said. “Over the past 15 years, my work has not been one issue but again a collection of issues of equity and equality for all citizens.”
Mayfield said her personal relationship and sexual orientation “should be the least of concerns” in the face of such important issues as housing, economic development and community safety.
“…[O]ur shared concerns unite us across these differences,” she said. “It is that strength that I believe in and that has opened doors for me to serve in multiple venues.”
Mayfield is the fourth gay or lesbian person to seek office in Charlotte, following Sutkowski’s 2009 bid against Kinsey. The first openly gay person to run for local office was Robert Sheets, a president of the 1980s-era Queen City Quordinators, the former non-profit publisher of qnotes. He ran unsuccessfully in 1987 and 1989. In 1995, lesbian Sue Henry embarked on an unsuccessful write-in campaign for mayor. In 2001 and 2003, Libertarian Chris Cole mounted campaigns for District 4 and at-large seats, respectively.
If successful, Mayfield would become the first openly gay or lesbian person elected to city office and join a growing class of openly LGBT elected officials across the state and country. A total of six gay or lesbian North Carolinians hold public office in the state, according to the national Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute. Most recently, Marcus Brandon became the first openly gay, African-American man elected to the state legislature. He represents Guilford County’s House District 60.
According to campaign manager Billy Kluttz, Mayfield has attended candidate training from the national Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and will be seeking their endorsement. The group endorses openly LGBT candidates in races across the country. In North Carolina, the Fund has been involved with several campaigns including those of former state Sen. Julia Boseman, Brandon and Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, among others. : :