Originally published: May 16, 2009, 5:28 p.m.
Updated: June 13, 2009 12:12 a.m.

Owen Sutkowski will face a popular incumbent in a September Democratic primary.
Owen Sutkowski will face a popular incumbent in a September Democratic primary.

CHARLOTTE — For the first time in Charlotte politics, an openly gay man might have a viable chance at winning election to city council. Owen Sutkowski, 26, assistant director of Student Life at Queens University, announced his run for the District 1 seat on the Charlotte City Council at the end of May with an official kickoff party at Dilworth Neighborhood Grille.

Since his announcement, Sutkowski has been making the rounds at community meetings, neighborhood associations and social functions. He’ll have a tough, uphill climb, facing popular District 1 City Councilwoman Patsy Kinsey in a Democratic primary on Sept. 15.

Sutkowski, who is openly gay and who is been in a relationship with his partner for two years, isn’t the first openly gay or lesbian person to run for city election — for days after his initial announcement, community members and media, including Q-Notes reported that he was.

Robert Sheets, a president of the 1980s-era Queen City Quordinators, the former non-profit publisher of Q-Notes, ran unsuccessfully in 1987 and 1989. Openly lesbian Sue Henry ran a write-in campaign in 1995.

Despite the initial inaccuracies, veteran campaign manager Henk Jonker — who has worked on several successful area campaigns — says Sutkowski is the first viable, openly gay candidate in Charlotte’s political scene.

Multimedia

See Q-Notes’ video report from Sutkowski’s campaign kickoff and listen to audio highlights from Sutkowski’s June 12 interview with WBT’s Keith Larson at Q-Notes’ blog, assembloge.

Sutkowski is portraying himself as a fresh change for Charlotte and his district.

“I am excited to begin connecting people and ideas for change in Charlotte,” he said in a press release. “Your voice is more than a vote. With the election of President Barack Obama, communities across the nation, including Charlotte, expressed a hopeful need for a fresh outlook on public service. Whether you have lived here for two months or 20 years, your vision and voice matter to me and our community.”

Sutkowski has never held public office before, but has worked with several city government and private agencies, including serving as a member on the city’s Competition and Privatization Advisory Committee, the programming chair of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee and a mediator with the Charlotte Housing Authority.

{democracy:32}

Sutkowski earned his undergraduate degree from Indiana University. He recently completed a Master’s of Science in Organizational Development degree at Queens University.

His campaign issues focus on openness and transparency in local government, public safety and city planning.

“Today’s economic and social realities call for new and effective public servants,” he said in a press release. “These individuals must proactively work with a variety of communities in the creation of sensible and practical strategies for change.”

In past elections, the LGBT-friendly Kinsey has received endorsements from MeckPAC, the county’s LGBT political action committee. It remains to be seen who the committee will endorse this year.

For more information, visit www.owensutkowski.com.

Ed. Note — This article originally stated that Owen Sutkowski was the first openly gay man to run on a ballot for city office. That information was inaccurate. Robert Sheets ran for city council in 1987 and 1989. Q-Notes has confirmed that information in our archives from news articles at the time.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

10 replies on “Gay candidate embarks on Charlotte council run”

  1. Good for him. We do need some fresh ideas and new faces in all areas of local, state and national government. I wish him well!

  2. This is going to be a very interesting race. Now if only we could raise up a strong candidate to run against AND defeat Bill James!

  3. He ought to channel his energies instead of defeating good Democrats – and take on one of the numerous Repubicans.

  4. In response to MechanicMan. I see nothing wrong with a primary race. If he wins great, its a resounding edict for change. if he doesnt, it may make the current Dem more resiliant and in a better spot to run against her republican counterpart. Look how much Hillary’s race against Obama made him a better candidate. Either way its Democracy at its best. As long as they dont tear eachother down in the process its a win-win for the Democratic party.

  5. Actually Owen will be the second openly gay man to run for City Council. The first was Robert E. Sheets who ran back in ’89. I’m suprised the staff at Q-notes was not aware of this or if they did know, failed to recognize Mr. Sheets. Hopefully the writer will do some research on Mr. Sheets’ run for City Council and correct the error in the article.

  6. Yes, Jeff. Q-Notes is aware of Robert Sheets. We are trying to confirm the election year in which he ran. When we have all the information, we’ll get the article corrected. Thanks.

    Matt Comer, editor

  7. Mr. Comer-Charlotte.com is running an article about Owen making his official annoucement tomorrow night. Any chance your article will be corrected before his annoucement?

  8. Will you support him because he is gay, or because of his qualifications (which are none)?

  9. In response to John’s May 27th 1:24 PM post suggesting that Owen Sutkowski has no qualifications: Owen actually has many qualifications as expressed in the Q-Notes article. They include his work with city government panels, local agencies like the Housing Authority, and his graduate degree in organizational development.

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