Charlotte City Councilmember LaWana Mayfield, right, receives a hug from campaign supporter Daniel Valdez during an election night gathering at the Wadsworth House. Photo Credit: Robert Lahser/Charlotte Observer.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Voters in North Carolina’s largest city sent a strong and loud message for Democratic support on Tuesday, again electing a 9-2 Democratic super-majority on City Council. The results bode well for local LGBT advocates who plan on seeking expanded non-discrimination protections for citizens and residents.
The overwhelming Democratic majority includes the successful mayoral election of current Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon, who was first elected in 1993 as the city’s youngest-ever elected official. He won 53 percent of the vote on Tuesday night, carrying with him a strong super-majority of several candidates endorsed by the local Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC).
Seven of the total 11 candidates elected to City Council were endorsed by MeckPAC, including Charlotte City Councilmember LaWana Mayfield. Elected in 2011 as the city’s first openly LGBT official, she won 77 percent of the vote in her re-election bid on Tuesday.
Support on Council will prove important as MeckPAC moves forward with plans to pursue a local human rights ordinance that would protect LGBT residents from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. Recently, the group successfully lobbied for a transgender-inclusive addition to Mecklenburg County’s non-discrimination policy for county employees. Commissioners approved the change last month, bringing the county’s public employment policies in line with those at the city.
Charlotte-area residents were quick to react to the LGBT-friendly election results.
“I’m really excited that Charlotte remained blue,” said Sam Spencer, a nearby Davidson resident and president of the Young Democrats of North Carolina, “and I hope that going forward our elected officials join the Young Democrats in supporting full legal equality for everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Most candidates this election cycle were viewed as largely LGBT friendly. MeckPAC issued no warnings for anti-LGBT views, as they’ve done in the past. The group was also able to endorse candidates across the political spectrum — Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and unaffiliated candidates.
Still, the group declined to endorse either Cannon or his challenger Peacock. MeckPAC cited both candidates’ views against full same-sex marriage equality as their reason.
On other issues, Cannon has been supportive. He told qnotes prior to the election that he would consider revisions to the city’s non-discrimination ordinances.
“As long as a person is a person and they’re there to be able to do a job efficiently and effectively there should be nothing in my opinion to allow them to not be able to participate in providing such services,” Cannon said in a pre-election interview.
Lacey Williams, a local grassroots activist who works with the Latin American Coalition, said she had been encouraged by the opportunity to choose between two mayoral candidates both favorable on LGBT equality issues.
“I think that it’s refreshing to have a race where you didn’t have to eliminate people based on who is the anti-gay candidate, and it’s really a sign of how far we’ve come as a community,” Williams said.
Cannon will now lead a City Council with a decisively LGBT-friendly majority. Council incumbent John Autry, a Democrat representing District 5, is among them.
“I’m eager to start building relationships with the new council members while building on relationships already established,” said John Autry.
And, considering the potential challenges ahead, relationships will be key to moving MeckPAC’s agenda forward. Its desired human rights ordinance could hit snags even with a majority in favor of the changes.
Similar human rights ordinance proposals to extend general non-discrimination protections to citizens and residents in other cities across the country have faced intense opposition from anti-LGBT officials and religious organizations. In North Carolina, anti-gay groups have already spoken out against increased anti-discrimination protections on the local level.
Legal questions linger, too. Local advocates hope Charlotte leaders will take up further non-discrimination without having to seek legislative approval.
Despite those questions, Tuesday’s election results are clear, providing local LGBT advocates the support they’ll need to begin having having conversations with elected officials in charge of policy making.
No timeline has been given for MeckPAC’s desired changes.