Election ’09: Races to watch

Openly gay candidates in Raleigh, Chapel Hill and progressive candidates elsewhere

Originally published: Sept. 29, 2009
Updated: Oct. 3, 2009

Mark Kleinschmidt, Chapel Hill Mayor

markkleinschmidtFor eight years, Mark Kleinschmidt has served on the Chapel Hill Town Council. An attorney by day, Kleinschmidt has stepped up as an advocate for local citizens and constituents across the state.

Running for mayor wasn’t on the top of Kleinschmidt’s agenda until longtime Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy decided to step down after this term.

“I’ve been very pleased to have worked with our soon to be former Mayor Kevin Foy,” Kleinschmidt said. “He’s been a wonderful leader for our community. I was surprised he wasn’t running again. I would have been happy to continue serving with him on the council.”

Foy’s departure leaves a void in local leadership.

“We’ve come to a crossroads and we have to determine what kind of leadership we want in our community,” he said.

Kleinschmidt believes he’s got what it takes to fill Foy’s big shoes. “With my experience as both an advocate for employee rights and social justice and the financial health of our community, and my experience being considered a bridge builder and intermediary on the council, I believe I’m the best candidate to replace Kevin.”

If elected, Kleinschmidt would become the state’s third openly gay mayor. Chapel Hill would become the state’s largest local municipality with an openly gay executive. The candidate doesn’t think his sexual orientation will have any impact on his campaign.

“It hasn’t been an issue,” he said. “I don’t think it has made a difference. My community values diversity and understands the contributions I bring to the table.”

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Recently, one of Kleinschmidt’s opponents, Kevin Wolff, was accused of asking constituents if they’d vote for him if they knew he was the only “moral” candidate. Wolff has denied the accusations and “mayoral,” not “moral,” was the word used in his campaign’s over-the-telephone poll.

Races for Chapel Hill Town Council and mayoral position are non-partisan. Kleinschmidt faces three opponents and believes his chances are looking good.

“It will be quite a fight and we still have five or six weeks to convince people that I’m the best choice,” he said.

Kleinschmidt is the only mayoral candidate who has applied for and qualified as a “voter owned candidate.” He was able to solicit a total of 150 individual small contributions from registered voters in Chapel Hill. He’ll receive public campaign funding.

He said the public campaign finance program is a great way to involve all voters in local elections.

“This program has invited support from a lot of people who generally don’t see themselves as very important to the electoral process,” he said. “Under any other financing scheme, they wouldn’t be able to participate at an amount that was significant enough, but even a $5 check was significant enough for me to be able to qualify for public financing.”

Kleinschmidt hopes he’ll get a chance to lead his town through tough financial times. He said he has the experience to get his fellow townspeople through “what will be a challenging year ahead.”

Born in Belleville, Ill., Kleinschmidt moved to Goldsboro, N.C., when he was 10 years old. He has served on several non-profit boards including the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the International Network of Lesbian and Gay Officials, the state Democratic Party and Equality North Carolina. He received his bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. In the 1990s, he was a social studies teacher at Charlotte’s West Mecklenburg High School.

Chapel Hill voters head to the polls on Nov. 3.

Lee Sartain, Raleigh City Council

leesartainIt is an unfortunate reality, but off-year elections rarely see high turnouts. At most, 10 percent of registered voters will make it out to the polls. Charlotte’s recent primary only garnered a mere 4.3 percent of registered voters — less than the 5-6 percent election officials had expected. It is a reality that makes local politicking challenging for candidates, their campaigns, political observers and astute citizens.

Lee Sartain, an openly gay city council candidate in Raleigh, wishes more coverage would be devoted to local elections by TV news stations.

“It is always a frustration we have,” he said. “We would all sort of like it better if news channels would wise up and start covering us.”

Sartain, 28, has gotten plenty of attention in the local press, especially for his idea for a downtown “Raleigh Innovation and Technology Zone.” And he is reaching out to neighborhoods with traditionally high turnout.

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He told Q-Notes he thinks his chances are good.

“We’re getting a lot of traction based on the ideas of the campaign,” he said. “We’ve got something that resonates with the voters we reach out to.”

At a candidates forum on Sept. 10, Sartain said he was kept an hour-and-a-half after its close by citizens and possible future constituents. Despite interest from citizens, one incumbent city council person didn’t even bother to show up.

“That says a lot to the people in Raleigh,” Sartain said.

In Charlotte, LGBT issues have been extremely important to local community members. The Queen City does not offer domestic partner benefits and has yet to add sexual orientation or gender-identity to its non-discrimination policies. Raleigh, however, added sexual orientation to their policies years ago. Partner benefits remains uncompleted.

“It is an issue that is brought up every election year,” Sartain said. “Nothing ever seems to get done. I don’t really have that on my radar at the moment. I think we want to see what the Obama administration can get done nationally with healthcare and then look at the costs and considerations.”

Sartain, a N.C. State University alumnus, has not spent much time discussing his sexual orientation, although he isn’t hiding it.

“I’m not particularly keen on being called the ‘gay candidate,’” Sartain said in a Q-Notes interview in June. In 2009, he said, a gay person can be “just a candidate” and focus on issues that impact the lives of all citizens.

Sartain has been endorsed by the Raleigh Police Benevolence Association and is waiting on further endorsement decisions from other local groups, The Independent Weekly, and The News & Observer.

Raleigh citizens head to the polls on Oct. 6. Click on to Q-Notes.com for updates.

Other progressive candidates

Donald HughesDurham — Only 22 years old, Hughes is likely the youngest candidate for any local office across North Carolina this year. Although he’s never held public office before, he has plenty of political experience. He served as the University of North Carolina-Greensboro’s student body president, was a pledged delegate for Barack Obama and interned for Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC). His mother is a former Durham City Council member and former school board member. He is favorable on LGBT issues. www.hughes4durham.com. [Ed. Note — See this update regarding Donald Hughes and the recently passed marriage equality resolution in Durham: “Durham Council candidate on marriage resolution”]

Jay OvittoreGreensboro — A one-time U.S. House candidate, Ovittore is running for the District 3 seat on the Greensboro City Council. He has been supportive of every major LGBT-inclusive advance in the city, including non-discrimination policies and domestic partner benefits. www.jayovittore.org.

Gordon SmithAsheville — A blogger/citizen journalist and progressive Democratic activist, Smith is running for a seat on the Asheville City Council. He has been vocal about his support for LGBT equality. In July, addressing the issue of domestic partnerships, Smith wrote, “The gay and lesbian citizens of Asheville deserve equal recognition and equal benefits. To deny these benefits is to relegate gay and lesbian couples to second-class status. We all know that Asheville is a gay-friendly city, and our city government ought to reflect our commitment to honoring the civil rights of all our citizens.” Smith faces a primary on Oct. 6. Watch Q-Notes.com for updates. www.gordonforasheville.com.

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Posted by Matt Comer

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