Jamie Hildreth says he has been considering a run for office for a long time. After all, he studied political science in college, and has been active in the community for years.
His decision to run for the Meckleburg County Commission, as an at-large candidate, is the culmination of that service, and is inspired by what he learned from watching behind the scenes. If he wins, he will be the first openly gay person to land an at-large seat of any kind in Mecklenburg County, or the city of Charlotte.
He recently stepped down from his position as the chair of the LGBTQ political advocacy group MeckPAC, which he held since 2016, in order to run for office.
Hildreth, who works as a financial crimes specialist for Wells Fargo, wasn’t sure what form his entry into candidate territory would take until recently.
His decision to focus on county commission resulted, he told qnotes, from the fact that he felt the county commission was being ignored in comparison with “all of the attention in 2017 (that) was put on the Charlotte City Council election.”
“It had just been 2016, and county commission candidates, the majority of them, didn’t have any primary opponents. And if they did have a primary opponent, it was folks who weren’t as out there, as involved; you didn’t see them in the community,” Hildreth reflected.
That didn’t sit right with him.
“You have county commission candidates who haven’t been to community events in the districts they represent in years,” he said. “So, there’s this incumbency that keeps going on in county commission, it seems.”
“I began to see firsthand how that was leading to our county commission to really not have the ear of the people they represent anymore. They’re not listening anymore,” he continued. “And you see that in a whole host of ways.”
Meanwhile, some of the biggest issues facing the city of Charlotte, N.C. and its surrounding areas, run right through the Mecklenburg County Commission.
“Whenever I look at the issues that I am most passionate about, which is school funding, which is ending 287g, which is our environment and our parks, all of those areas, public health with the health department, all of that is under the County Commission,” Hildreth noted. “And people just keep overlooking it, year after year, election after election.”
287g is a voluntary federal program the county participates in, to flag and hold inmates who might be in the country illegally, then turn them over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Protesters of the controversial program first showed up to a Charlotte City Council meeting before becoming aware that their efforts should be directed instead at the county commission, further illustrating Hildreth’s point concerning it getting overlooked as an important governing body.
A history of service in Mecklenburg County
Hildreth was born in Wadesboro but spent a lot of time in Charlotte as a child, as it is where his mother was raised. The 28-year-old has been living in the city since moving in 2008, to attend the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
His first experience with post-collegiate, direct community involvement came in 2013, when he joined the Charlotte Pride board, serving as development co-chair, working to bring in sponsorships. It was that same year that he joined the board of MeckPAC, as well as began serving as the executive assistant at the Latin America Coalition, a position he held into 2014.
Hildreth also worked as a deputy field organizer for Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012, and as a field organizer two years later for Kay Hagan’s Senate re-election campaign.
Hildreth went on to serve as secretary of the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party, stepping down in 2016 to take the chair position with MeckPAC.
He hopes a successful entry into politics as a candidate will help him make an even larger impact in Mecklenburg County.
“Visibility and interacting with someone is key,” he said. “If you have — whether it’s in the state legislature, city council, county government, Congress, wherever it is — if you know someone that is LGBT, you are less likely to want to pass policies, or pass restrictions, that are going to have negative impacts on the LGBT community. Because you’re going to have somebody that’s at the table.”
He noted Mecklenburg County’s alarmingly high rate of those living with HIV/AIDS, one of the highest in the nation, in fact, and how little has been done to stop the epidemic.
The county only recently announced it would be launching a limited pilot program to get PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, a once-daily pill that helps prevent someone who is HIV-negative from contracting the virus, following pressure from MeckPAC and the North Carolina AIDS Action Network.
“Truthfully, the only reason that a lot of work was able to be done for our county to pass the small PrEP initiative that it is doing now, is because we had a health director who made some disparaging comments about people who have HIV and AIDS,” Hildreth noted. “If that hadn’t happened, they could have potentially kept dragging their feet on all these other issues that are important to people.”
“It took them over, like, 18 months to put money aside for PrEP, or some kind of HIV/AIDS transition funding program to try to bring down the rates. It took them 18 months to act on it,” he added.
Coming full circle
The notable timing of his run for office has not escaped Hildreth.
MeckPAC, the group he until recently chaired, was formed 20 years ago, in 1998, in response to a vote from county commission to defund the Arts & Science Council over its support of a Charlotte Repertory Theatre presentation of the play “Angels in America,” an exploration of gay life and HIV/AIDS in the country in the 1980s.
“So, it’s kind of coming full circle,” Hildreth said, reflecting on his decision to run, as an openly gay man, all these years later. “While it’s not the main reason I’m running, it shouldn’t be lost.”
He is also encouraging other LGBTQ people across the country to run for office, saying, “it will help combat anti-discriminatory legislation or policies at all levels.”
“(We need to make sure) we have a voice, we have a seat at the table, so that we can provide that presence of saying, ‘Hey, do you realize that what you’re proposing (if it is discriminatory), you’re going to be doing that to me. Not some person that you don’t know, have never heard of, have never interacted with, it’s going to affect me,’” he said. “And having someone who can say that is powerful.”
Hildreth will face off against six fellow Democrats in the May 8 primary, including incumbents Pat Cotham, Trevor Fuller, Ella Scarborough, as well as Gerenda Davis, Tigress Sydney Acute McDaniel and Ray McKinnon.
Jeremy Brasch is running as the lone Republican for an at-large seat.
The general election will take place on Nov. 6, with a total of three at-large seats up for grabs.