CHARLOTTE — Voters here head to the polls for their primary election on Sept. 15. This year’s municipal elections mark an historic change in local politics and a local LGBT political action committee has weighed in with their choices for city council candidates.
The Mecklenburg Gay and Lesbian Political Action Committee (MeckPAC) held its pre-election party at the Morehead Inn on Aug. 27, endorsing seven candidates for the Charlotte City Council, and contributing to two other campaigns.
The City Council District 1 primary will pit incumbent Patsy Kinsey against openly gay Owen Sutkowski. Both received MeckPAC’s endorsement. The double endorsement marks the first time MeckPAC has chosen two opposing candidates in the same race.
Chair Phil Hargett said the group was presented with a unique challenge.
“It was a long meeting that night. There was a lot of passion about both candidates,” he told Q-Notes. “We had a lot of sponsors and contributors who have a long history with Patsy and I think all of us, no matter who we support, are proud that Owen is out there being open about his sexual orientation in his campaign.”
Sutkowski is an assistant director of student life at Queens University. If successful, the city council post would be his first elected position. He has worked with several city government and private agencies, including serving as a member of 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.
In addition to his MeckPAC endorsement, Sutkowski has also been endorsed by the Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg and the Eastside Political Action Committee. He did not receive an endorsement from the national Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.
Kinsey, born and raised in Charlotte, was first elected to the city council in 2003. She chairs the council’s Government Affairs Committee and is vice-chair of the Community Safety Committee. She works as director of community relations at Pease and Associates, an architectural, engineering and construction services firm. She is a member of the LGBT-friendly Myers Park Baptist Church. Kinsey also received an endorsement from the North Carolina Women’s Political Caucus.
For the first time in almost 15 years, the city’s longest-serving mayor, Republican Pat McCrory, will not be on the ballot. McCrory first assumed office in 1995 and was re-elected to a seventh term in 2007. After a 2008 run for governor, McCrory announced he would not seek re-election to his mayoral seat.
Although the city’s only Democratic candidate for mayor, Anthony Foxx, does not face a primary, he also received a MeckPAC endorsement and campaign contribution. None of the three Republican candidates received an endorsement. GOP frontrunner John W. Lassiter, an incumbent city council member, failed to return a MeckPAC candidate questionnaire.
In the past, Foxx has spoken out in favor of LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies and domestic partner benefits. When a resolution supporting marriage equality was presented to the council in June, Foxx and Mayor Pro Tempore Susan Burgess, who also received a MeckPAC endorsement, urged community members against working for such a resolution, arguing that explicit policies and benefits would be a better step forward for Charlotte.
The issue of LGBT employment protection and partner benefits has been on the city council’s agenda for years. No action has ever been taken on extending non-discrimination polices or domestic partner benefits to municipal employees.
Chief Republican mayoral candidate and current city councilman John Lassiter faces a primary battle against arch-conservative and anti-choice, anti-LGBT activist Martin Davis. Two decades ago, Davis was arrested several times while protesting abortion clinics. He became known as “The Dirty Book Guy” for attending city council meetings and reading excerpts from what he believed were inappropriate books housed in county libraries. Davis has been an opponent of LGBT equality and once attended a council meeting to complain about the Pride festival held in the city. A third man, Jack Shelton Stratton, III is also running in the GOP mayoral primary.
MeckPAC also endorsed two Republican candidates running for at-large seats on the city council. Those endorsements went to Georgia Belk and Edwin B. Peacock, III. It is the first time the group has ever endorsed more than one Republican.
Hargett said the endorsement of two GOP candidates shows the city’s local politics are changing for the better. The group also endorsed several African-American candidates.
The group discouraged voting against only two candidates: Republican mayoral candidate Martin Davis and Republican at-large city council candidate Tariq Bokhari.
MeckPAC anticipates spending about $8,000 in campaign contributions through the primary and general elections. About half of those funds were distributed for the primary election endorsements.
MeckPAC is one of only two active local political action committees in Mecklenburg County. Other area committees are registered with the state and are able to make endorsements on candidates running for state office. MeckPAC’s endorsements are limited to city council, county commission and board of education races.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ Board of Education candidates do not face primary. MeckPAC will release general election endorsements, including choices for school board candidates, at a joint Charlotte Business Guild-MeckPAC candidates’ forum at the Lesbian & Gay Community Center on Oct. 14.
The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners is not up for election this year. The Charlotte primary will be held Sept. 15. Most other municipalities will hold their primary on Oct. 6. The general election is on Nov. 3.
— Download a voter guide at meckpac.org.