Lee Sartain
Lee Sartain

A well-run campaign utilizing new media and promoting technology and development for downtown Raleigh wasn’t enough to secure victory for a young, openly gay candidate in Raleigh Tuesday.

Lee Sartain, running for one of two at-large council positions, came in fourth in a field of five candidates. The two at-large incumbents, Mary-Ann Baldwin and Russ Stephenson, led the contest with 35 and 32 percent of the vote, respectively. Sartain garnered almost 8 percent, or 3,968 votes. Another young candidate, Champ Claris, garnered 19 percent of the vote.

In an email to supporters early Wednesday morning, Sartain congratulated Baldwin and Stephenson and said he was committed to moving forward.

“While ultimately, we did not win in this race, we championed issues of economic development and comprehensive public transportation,” Sartain wrote. “I will continue to work with the city council to advance our position on these issues.”

He urged the city’s Democratic majority to support a half-cent sales tax increase to benefit more comprehensive public transportation.

Sartain’s candidacy marked only the second time in state history an openly gay man has run for the Raleigh City Council. In 1981, Bob Hoy, an openly gay graduate student at N.C. State University, ran and lost in a primary. He garnered only three percent of the vote.

Sartain’s loss comes on the heels of longtime Raleigh activist Willie Pilkington’s refusal to endorse him. In his “Raleigh GLBT Report,” Pilkington said Sartain did not adequately understand LGBT issues.

“Unfortunately the one person, Ricky Lee Sartain, who we thought would help provide some good insight and leadership over the issues brought forward in our Questionnaire, failed in showing that he understood issues that also affect him in his life as a Gay man,” he wrote.

Pilkington instead endorsed Baldwin and Claris.

Candidate advances in Asheville
While the Tar Heel State’s capital city was holding a general election, other municipalities were holding primaries. Races in Asheville, Durham and Greensboro were among some watched by Q-Notes this year.

In Asheville, progressive party activist Gordon Smith, well-known for his blogging and citizen journalism efforts, sailed to a slot on the Nov. 3 general election ballot, garnering almost 19 percent of the vote among a field of 10 candidates.

Smith has been actively supportive of the Asheville LGBT community. In July, he indicated his support for domestic partner benefits for city employees.

“The gay and lesbian citizens of Asheville deserve equal recognition and equal benefits,” Smith wrote. “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.”

Incumbent Asheville City Councilman Carl Mumpower, known for his routine anti-gay remarks and views, also advanced to a place in the general election.

Hughes slips into second place
Young progressive Donald Hughes, a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, garnered nearly 18 percent of the vote in his primary race against Durham Ward 1 Councilwoman Cora Cole-McFadden, who captured 69 percent.

Hughes will appear on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

Recently, Hughes has come under fire from activists in Durham after he seemingly switched his position on marriage equality for same-sex couples.

According to activist Joshua Lee Weaver, Hughes had indicated his full support of a Durham City Council resolution on marriage equality. But at a Young Democrats forum days later, Hughes said “the law as it currently stands is the one we should abide by” until state leaders change it.

Hughes later clarified his remarks and said said the issue of marriage was outside of the authority of the city council. He reiterated his support for LGBT equality.

“I have and will continue to articulate my opposition to changing the NC State Constitution (NC Defense of Marriage Act) to deny any citizens their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he wrote on a local blog and told Q-Notes.

In Greensboro, Jay Ovittore came in third, with almost 13 percent of the vote, in his race for that city’s District 3 seat. Incumbent Zack Matheny and challenger George Hartzman will face off on Nov. 3.

Chapel Hill Town Councilman Mark Kleinschmidt is running for mayor there. The town will hold no primary. Kleinschmidt will face three opponents in the Nov. 3 general election.

Matt Comer

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

One reply on “Gay candidate defeated in Raleigh council election”

  1. Thanks for covering these races, Matt. We’re about to make some civil rights strides in Asheville. I’m looking forward to speaking at Blue Ridge Pride on Saturday at 6.

    Let’s keep at it!

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