Was Charlotte’s openly gay council member snubbed in committee assignments?

Editorial

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: December 11, 2013 in Editorial

LaWana Mayfield Photo Credit: City of Charlotte - Corporate Communications & Marketing

LaWana Mayfield
Photo Credit: City of Charlotte – Corporate Communications & Marketing

Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon announced committee assignments for members of Charlotte City Council on Tuesday, with one glaring exclusion. Councilmember LaWana Mayfield, now in her second term representing District 3, was the only Council member not chosen to chair one of nine Council committees.

Council’s committees, which range from budgeting and the environment to housing and economic development, help to oversee various functions of the city. Committees also help shape the direction of local government, deciding whether items considered at a committee level are passed on to the full Council for further review.

The assignments are chosen by the mayor, who appointed newly-minted Mayor Pro Tempore Michael Barnes to chair the Economic Development and Global Competitiveness Committee, a powerful position that will oversee significant redevelopment projects like the Eastland Mall area and future decisions on Bojangles’ Coliseum.

Mayfield, the city’s first openly gay or lesbian elected official, was the only Council member not appointed to a chairmanship.

Is it possible that she was specifically passed over? If so, there’s at least two reasons why it happened.

First, there is Mayfield’s recent outspokenness regarding Barnes’ appointment as mayor pro tem. She caused a stir among Council when she told a constituent that Barnes might not necessarily be voted in as the next “deputy mayor.” Barnes had fired back, asking Mayfield to quit discussing the matter publicly. At Council’s first meeting on Dec. 2, she spoke out again, saying tradition should not exclude new Council members from an opportunity to run for the seat. Her question wasn’t over Barnes, she said, but, rather, over the process.

In that same meeting, she voted against Barnes’ appointment, joined in opposition by District 5 Councilmember John Autry and At-Large Councilmember David Howard. Though Autry and Howard both received chairmanships themselves, neither of them had directly or publicly challenged Barnes.

But, could a perceived snub also be the result of a potential new rift among more and less LGBT-friendly leaders? We explored that potential split in more detail in an article on Dec. 3, asking, “Will new Charlotte leadership retreat on LGBT inclusion?”

A potential split among more and less friendly leadership is already evident enough among astute Council observers, and such a split might very well leave some LGBT constituents asking if Mayfield was snubbed because of her sexuality.

After tremendously progressive and inclusive administrations under former Mayors Anthony Foxx and Patsy Kinsey, Charlotte’s new leadership under Mayor Cannon and Mayor Pro Tem Barnes have a big legacy to fill. So far, it doesn’t seem they’ll be able to do it.

Neither Cannon nor Barnes have the best records on LGBT inclusion. Cannon’s mayoral campaign this year did not receive an endorsement from the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC). This newspaper also chose not to endorse him. Barnes has never received an endorsement from MeckPAC.

And, even though the new Council session has only just begun, leadership has already taken a visible turn toward less LGBT inclusion and visibility.

The contrast between old and new leadership is clear. In her departing remarks, Kinsey specifically included mention of LGBT residents and other diverse communities in the city. Cannon’s post-oath remarks did not. Kinsey invited her pastor from Myers Park Baptist Church, a local LGBT-friendly congregation, to open the Dec. 2 Council meeting. Cannon invited Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church, which has noted anti-LGBT doctrines and is a member of the anti-LGBT North Carolina and Southern Baptist Conventions. Kinsey supports full marriage equality for same-sex couples and even joined Mayors for the Freedom To Marry, a national coalition of like-minded municipal leaders. While Cannon voted against North Carolina’s anti-LGBT marriage amendment in 2012, he doesn’t personally support marriage equality.

These records in combination with Mayfield’s exclusion — if it was, indeed, a purposeful exclusion — have the potential to leave LGBT constituents unhappy with their new mayor.

I don’t know if Mayfield’s exclusion was purposeful, but Mayor Cannon should take steps to reassure LGBT constituents. I hope, as Mayfield does, that Cannon will do more to engage with the LGBT community.

“I would hope that Mayor Cannon would recognize the importance of having a strong, diverse community and recognize the strong voice that the LGBT community has in Charlotte,” Mayfield told qnotes after the new Council was seated. “I would hope to see him at more events when he’s invited, just as Mayor Kinsey was at the Charlotte Pride Parade and showed up at many events at the [LGBT Community Center of Charlotte] and Time Out Youth. I would like to hope and to think that our new mayor, just as Mayor Foxx showed up to the LGBT community, our new mayor will do the same.”

If Cannon takes Mayfield’s advice, he’ll go a long way in assuaging any lingering fears from campaign season that he isn’t the best friend or ally to Charlotte’s LGBT residents and citizens.