City Council member LaWana Mayfield hurdles labels, barriers

Mayfield's election brings focus to potential partner benefits, non-discrimination ordinance

By Steve Harrison
sharrison@charlotteobserver.com
The Charlotte Observer
Posted: Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011

LaWana Mayfield’s election to the Charlotte City Council this fall was unusual in that she knocked off a long-serving incumbent.

LaWana Mayfield

It was historic in that she became the city’s first openly gay council member.

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When she was preparing to run, Mayfield, a community organizer, said she and her friends wondered how her sexual orientation would play with voters.

What would people think? Would it dominate the campaign?

Not so much, as it turned out.

“We focused so much energy on being prepared to discuss my relationship, we were shocked it didn’t come up,” said Mayfield, 41. “I didn’t have one person ask about my sexuality. I stood at doors and said ‘Here is my platform. Do you have any questions?'”

Mayfield defeated Warren Turner in the Democratic primary in September. She then easily defeated Republican Ed Toney in the general election in November.

Mayfield doesn’t discuss her sexuality unless asked. Her answer: She wants to represent everyone in her district.

She said she is mostly focused on two issues for her District 3, which includes low-income areas in west Charlotte: improving access to food for residents by attracting more grocery stores or better access to existing ones, and cracking down on absentee landlords.

Mayfield’s election has also put focus on whether the city should offer benefits to same-sex partners, an issue that has been simmering for several years.

Mayfield said the issue should be studied, but she deferred on taking a lead role to council member Patsy Kinsey, a fellow Democrat.

Kinsey said she has been working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender groups for a year and believes she is close to getting the six votes needed to make the change.

“I want to do this the right way,” Kinsey said.

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Mayfield is a native of Opa-Locka, Fla., a Miami suburb. Both her parents died when she was in high school, and Mayfield said it took her a few years to decide what she wanted to do.

In her mid-twenties, she began volunteering, which was her entry into the world of community organizing.

She moved to Charlotte 12 years ago. She worked for the Red Cross and did disaster-relief work after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Iowa floods in 2008.

She has worked for the Immigrant Solidarity Committee and the Charlotte Community Justice Coalition.

After being sworn in Dec. 5, Mayfield, who lives in the Historic Camp Greene neighborhood, said she has been studying to get up to speed on city issues.

A week after taking office, she was one of nine council members to vote in favor of a controversial incentive package to bring Chiquita Brands International’s headquarters to Charlotte.

“I did my research – the city provided the who, what, when, where and why,” Mayfield said. “At the end of the day I will look at the facts. If I honestly believe it will be beneficial to Charlotte then I will support it.”

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Posted by The Charlotte Observer

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