CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A slate of gay-friendly candidates endorsed by a local LGBT political action committee fared well in Tuesday’s primary elections for Charlotte City Council, but some non-endorsed winners in the mayoral and at-large primaries may present challenges on future LGBT-inclusion efforts.
Several candidates endorsed by the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC) easily won election in their respective primaries. Patsy Kinsey, who is currently serving a temporary term as mayor, won easily in her District 1 primary, taking 92 percent of the vote against challenger Art Cardenas. District 5’s John Autry also won a super-majority of votes, with 67 percent of voters choosing him over challenger Mitchell “Aerobo Cob” Smith-Bay. Council’s LaWana Mayfield, the city’s first openly LGBT elected official, did not face a challenger in her District 3 primary.
Cannon takes mayoral primary
MeckPAC, which since 1998 has reviewed and endorsed local candidates for their LGBT friendliness and inclusion, had endorsed current District 2 City Councilmember James “Smuggie” Mitchell over current Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon in the Democratic mayoral primary. Despite the committee’s support for Mitchell, Cannon won 55 percent of the primary vote on Tuesday.
MeckPAC Chair Scott Bishop had said several items put Mitchell ahead of Cannon.
“James Mitchell was working to ensure that the rest of his colleagues on Council voted to keep [domestic partner benefits] in the budget and not to remove it as a line item,” Bishop said in an earlier interview of last year’s budget vote. “We spoke to James Mitchell early on in planning to request domestic partner benefits and he was very support of it at that time.”
Cannon supported the domestic partner benefits addition, too, but Bishop said there “were other things that made James Mitchell the stronger candidate.”
MeckPAC did not endorse the leading Republican candidate in that party’s primary. Edwin Peacock, who previously served as an at-large council member and ran unsuccessfully for Congress last year, had been endorsed by MeckPAC in the past. A change in the committee’s candidate questionnaire led to a more stringent endorsement process, said Bishop. In the past, non-endorsed candidates might have also received a “receptive” or friendly category, which was not included in endorsement releases this year.
“If we had decided to use the receptive category this year, [Peacock] would have received that, as would have Patrick Cannon,” Bishop said. “We decided to endorse only the number of candidates we felt comfortable were very supportive on all our issues.”
The at-large Democratic primary saw the addition of a newcomer to the general election slate. One incumbent will not advance to re-election.
Michael Barnes, who currently represents District 4, ran at-large this year. He took the highest number of votes, with 23 percent of returns. Barnes had not received a MeckPAC endorsement.
Newcomer and MeckPAC endorsee Vi Lyles garnered 19 percent of the vote, as did incumbent David Howard. MeckPAC had endorsed Howard in the past, but did not give him their stamp of approval in this year’s primary.
MeckPAC endorsee and incumbent Claire Green Fallon came in last in the four-way race, with 12 percent of the vote.
Despite receiving a MeckPAC endorsement, Pickering was unable to capture enough votes to advance to the general election. She came in fifth, with 11 percent of votes.
Two districts head to runoff
Two district primaries will likely head to runoffs on Oct. 8.
MeckPAC endorsee Al Austin led in his District 2 primary with 34 percent of votes, but failed to reach the 40 percent threshold for avoiding the run-off. He’ll face the second-place vote-getter Brenda Stevenson in the runoff.
In District 4, Greg Phipps led with 39.99 percent of the vote. That race may also lead to a runoff, with Phipps challenging Wil Russell, who received 20.77 percent of the vote, in October. MeckPAC endorsee Leonard Richardson received 19.8 percent of vote.
Future advances at stake
MeckPAC congratulated their endorsed winners on Wednesday morning, along with other winning candidates who had not received their endorsement.
“We would also like to congratulate Mayoral Primary winners Patrick Cannon and Edwin Peacock, At Large winners Michael Barnes and David Howard all of whom have worked with MeckPAC in the past to advance positive change for LGBT employees of the city,” the group said in a short statement posted online.
On Tuesday, MeckPAC Chair Bishop this year’s city elections would affect their ability to pass further LGBT-inclusive ordinances and policies at the city level.
“Very soon, MeckPAC will begin working on asking Charlotte City Council to update non-discrimination ordinances in Charlotte to include sexual orientation and gender identity,” Bishop said to voters in a MeckPAC statement on Facebook yesterday. “There are several candidates for Mayor and City Council who indicated they would be willing to work with us and even vote for this. More so, while marriage equality is not an issue addressed by City Council, there are several candidates who indicated that they are for same-sex marriage. Don’t you want these people in office representing your best interests?”
Most candidates the group interviewed this year were friendly and receptive to LGBT issues, Bishop has said, calling this year’s slate of candidates “probably one of the strongest LGBT-friendly slate of candidates we’ve had…across party lines.”
Still, MeckPAC will have to navigate passing the city’s most far-reaching inclusion measures with candidates who didn’t meet their endorsement criteria.
For activists outside of MeckPAC and members of the public, determining which candidates are supportive will be a challenge. MeckPAC has not released candidate questionnaires. And, because City Council has never voted on a stand-alone LGBT-inclusion measure, there are no voting records by which to determine how incumbents have voted and may likely vote on LGBT issues.
Incumbents like Cannon and Barnes have often been soft-spoken or silent on their stances on LGBT equality. Neither Cannon nor Barnes returned candidate questionnaires issued by qnotes for the general election in 2011. Though Cannon has been supportive of his openly lesbian Council colleague, LaWana Mayfield, he has also given high-profile support to his church, University Park Baptist, and local Baptist mega-church Elevation. Both churches have held public, anti-gay positions.