CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The race for mayor is heating up, with eight candidates set to duke it out in their respective primaries on Sept. 15. The biggest action will be among Democrats, where six candidates will hope to win the nomination and make it to the general election.
Four of those mayoral candidates took their campaign messaging directly to the LGBT community this past weekend. Leading contenders Jennifer Roberts, David Howard and Dan Clodfelter were among thousands marching in the Charlotte Pride Parade. They were joined by lesser-known political newcomer and openly gay candidate Roderick Davis as well as several other candidates for other offices and other elected officials.
The four candidates’ appearance at the event — which organizers said this week attracted 115,000-120,000 visitors over two days — doesn’t come necessarily as a surprise to campaign watchers.
“I think that Democrats running for local office realize the importance of the LGBT community, because, generally, we are more politically active and have been motivated by the recent non-discrimination ordinance,” said Cameron Joyce, president of the LGBT Democrats of Mecklenburg County. “I think it also shows that in an effort to look progressive and be progressive in a city that hopes to have a progressive image that it’s necessary for them to be present.”
Clodfelter, Howard and Roberts have been among the most LGBT-friendly mayoral candidates. Along with Davis, they were the only mayoral candidates to show up to a recent LGBT community candidate forum and each has spent considerable time outreaching to LGBT voters.
Clodfelter has relied on his history of LGBT support over his decades of public service. As incumbent, he supported efforts in March this year to expand local non-discrimination ordinances to protect LGBT residents, a move similarly taken — and rejected — two decades ago when Clodfelter served on City Council.
“I heard a lot of ugliness and hatred [in March], but I was proud of you,” Clodfelter told the forum audience last week. “You spoke about your experiences. That wasn’t the case in 1992.”
Howard wasn’t entirely supportive of a comprehensive public accommodations ordinance, citing concerns over the use of restrooms by transgender people. He offered an alternative to create single-stall gender neutral restrooms in building codes instead.
Leaders point out, however, that Howard has made an effort to show up at LGBT events like Pride and speak to LGBT voters.
“I think that David Howard makes an effort to be inclusive,” said Joyce. “While he has some need for personal education around the full spectrum of the LGBT community, I think he has good intentions for our community and being present shows that he has an interest in LGBT people knowing who he is but also he would like to build that relationship, as well.”
Roberts has long been a supporter of LGBT causes and issues.
Republican candidates for mayor, Edwin Peacock and Scott Stone, didn’t participate in the parade and didn’t attend last week’s community forum. Stone has been a staunch opponent of LGBT equality, though Peacock has previously been a supporter of several initiatives, including coming out against North Carolina’s anti-LGBT constitutional amendment and, in a 2013 campaign interview with qnotes, saying he was open to expanded, LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination measures. Democratic candidate Michael Barnes, currently the mayor pro tempore, and a second newcomer, DeJawon Joseph, also did not attend the forum.
Joyce was disappointed other candidates didn’t find it important to attend the event or to reach out to LGBT voters.
“Pride is the largest and one of the most important events to the LGBT community in Charlotte,” he said. “It brings millions of dollars to the local economy and demonstrates that the city embraces full equality for LGBT people.”
Joyce added, “For candidates not to attend and not to express their support for our community, for whatever reason, I think it shows a lack of interest in being allied to our cause.”
Candidates for other elected offices also participated in the event, including school board candidate Elyse Dashew and City Council candidates Julie Eiselt, Billy Maddalon, Sean Gautam and incumbents LaWana Mayfield and Al Austin. State Rep. Tricia Cotham also marched, as did her mother, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham.
City Councilmember John Autry also participated as the recipient of Charlotte Pride’s annual Champion of Pride Outstanding Ally Award. Councilmember Patsy Kinsey served as a parade judge.