CHARLOTTE, N.C. — New members of the Charlotte City Council, along with new Mayor Patrick Cannon, took their oaths of office on Monday night, also electing a new mayor pro tempore in a split vote that could create a power shift from more progressive leaders who have been recently outspoken on their support for LGBT residents.
Michael Barnes, who won the most votes of all at-large Council candidates in November, was elected mayor pro tempore, a largely ceremonial “deputy mayor” role that fills in during the mayor’s absence at City Council meetings. But, Barnes was elected with only eight out of 11 Council votes, with Councilmembers LaWana Mayfield, David Howard and John Autry, all of whom were endorsed by the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC), voting against him. Half of those voting for Barnes were not endorsed by MeckPAC.
The split vote on Barnes, who has not historically been receptive to LGBT-inclusion efforts, dates back to mid-November, when Mayfield told a constituent via email that the mayor pro tempore election should be open to anyone.
Mayfield, in response to a constituent who asked that Barnes be named mayor pro tem, said Council members didn’t have to elect the person with the most at-large votes, as reported by The Charlotte Observer‘s Steve Harrison.
“This position is selected by the council peers in support of the person whom WE feel will BEST represent the city of Charlotte when the mayor is unavailable,” Mayfield wrote.
Mayfield later wrote that she is not a fan of “’well! That’s how we’ve always done it,’ that is MY definition of insanity.”
A day later, Barnes replied to Mayfield and other council members: “Lawana, Please stop sending these e-mails. You’re embarrassing the city and the City Council.”
Mayfield used her time for brief comments after the Council’s swearing-in on Monday night to address the perceived split.
“There was a question that has been floated as to why I challenged the mayor pro tem,” Mayfield said on Monday. “I want to just share that I never challenged an individual. I challenged the process. I believe that the newly-elected members should have a voice and a vote and not be expected to just go along with the process blindly or without conversation. However the vote should go tonight, I want clarity around the process and for the community at large to know that tradition is not necessarily an accurate account of this process.”
Mayfield added that research she was given shows that over the past seven elections since 1999, only four of the mayor pro tems selected had received the highest at-large votes.
Barnes and Mayfield, the city’s first openly gay or elected official, were often on opposing sides of several issues, like a streetcar extension, over the past two years.
A question not explored by other media, however, is Barnes’ seemingly hostile stance toward LGBT equality. Barnes has consistently been opposed to LGBT equality initiatives and has never been endorsed by the local Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC). He’s also indicated that he’s opposed to full recognition of same-sex couples’ marriages, one of several causes which again led MeckPAC not to endorse Barnes this year.
Cannon, who has said he supports city non-discrimination and domestic partner policies, has also expressed some reticence against fully supporting LGBT marriage equality.
In a sit-down interview with qnotes prior to the general election, Cannon said he voted against North Carolina’s anti-LGBT constitutional amendment on marriage in 2012, but stopped short of enthusiastic support for gay couples’ marriage rights while using phrases — like “practicing,” “exploring” or “engaging in” a “lifestyle” when describing LGBT people and their lives — that some LGBT people find offensive.
“I would say my belief has always been to each his or her own, relative to what they want to practice,” Cannon told qnotes. “However, my personal belief is that I don’t subscribe to it. I am not here to be anybody’s judge relative to what they feel they want to explore and/or engage in, but it’s something that personally I don’t subscribe to.”
Marriage has been a key issue for LGBT voters over the past two years, though it’s largely symbolic on the local level. Nonetheless, Cannon did not receive an endorsement from this newspaper or from MeckPAC this year, primarily because of his views on marriage.
Cannon is also a member of a local church whose leader has made outspoken stands against LGBT equality initiatives like marriage equality, and he has been a public supporter of and sometimes attends services at Elevation Church, a congregation with anti-LGBT doctrines and affiliated with the Southern Baptist and North Carolina Baptist conventions, both also known for the outspoken anti-LGBT positions. Elevation’s pastor, Steven Furtick, appeared at Council’s swearing-in ceremony on Monday and delivered a closing prayer, by invitation from Cannon.
Additionally, neither Barnes nor Cannon have ever participated in annual Charlotte Pride festival or parade activities and neither have made significant appearances at other LGBT community events, though Cannon briefly attended a town hall forum hosted this July by Charlotte Black Gay Pride and moderated by Mayfield.
Cannon’s and Barnes’ lack of experience with local LGBT residents and their stated positions on LGBT equality might not bode well for future LGBT progress. Last month, Charlotte’s rating in a national index of municipal efforts toward LGBT inclusion was raised from a previously lower score. A portion of that increase hinged on the support and outspokenness of Charlotte’s political leaders, like former Mayor Kinsey’s diligent outreach to LGBT residents. Kinsey, who stepped back into her District 1 Council seat after a temporary stint as mayor, said outreach to the LGBT and immigrant communities were a part of her legacy in departing remarks she gave to the city on Nov. 25.
Mayfield told qnotes on Monday night that leaders like Kinsey and former Mayor Anthony Foxx, whose term Kinsey completed, have already set an LGBT-inclusive precedent she hopes the new mayor will follow.
“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,” she said. “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.”
Despite any perceptions over a potential rift, Mayfield also said Monday she wants to work with all returning and new Council leaders.
“I do look forward to working with this Council to grow this city we all love so much,” Mayfield said in remarks at the dais. “There will be many spirited debates and opportunities for our amazing City of Charlotte staff to provide us with factual information from which we will use to make decisions, and there’s a great responsibility for us to lead growth for our city and…the ability to compromise and the opportunity to challenge the status quo for the betterment of our community.”
— The Charlotte Observer‘s Steve Harrison contributed. qnotes is a member of The Charlotte Observer‘s Charlotte News Alliance. Portions of Observer coverage reprinted with permission.