Tomorrow, voters head to the polls for local elections in Charlotte. On the ballot are candidates for mayor, City Council and school board. The Council races have been filled with discussion on important, but hot-button issues for months. As I discussed in my Creative Loafing column last week, our new slate of chosen leaders will face a dizzying array of important decisions on matters like affordable housing, residential growth and development, municipal IDs and the integration of local immigrants, transit infrastructure, crime, taxes and more.
For Charlotte’s LGBT residents, the results of Tuesday’s election will prove themselves a decisive, landmark moment in our community’s history.
Earlier this year, we campaigned heavily for the passage of LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances and lost that effort when City Council voted the proposals down. In response, our community mobilized to engage in community outreach, education, lobbying and get-out-the-vote efforts. Local, state and national groups came together like never before, creating their Turn Out! Charlotte coalition, to put the entire weight of their membership and resources behind a mutually endorsed slate of City Council candidates.
The primary election in September looked promising, with the LGBT coalition securing victories for all but one of their endorsed candidates. I wrote at the time that Charlotte had, indeed, “secure[d] a pro-LGBT City Council.”
All the evidence and signs so far point to victories for at least a majority of those successful Democratic primary winners.
If the results tomorrow bear out this prediction, Charlotte’s LGBT community will have proven itself an effective, politically influential voting bloc. We’d previously proven our ability to wield influence behind the scenes and inside the walls of city hall. This year’s get-out-the-vote campaign may very well prove our electoral power as well, especially considering our increasing population numbers. No doubt, we should take the time to be proud and to absorb the important meaning behind our local community’s political rise over these past few decades from a vilified minority often arrested and oppressed, our art and history repressed and reviled.
But we’ll soon have to turn to a different kind of campaign. Getting friendly candidates elected is but one step in several needed to provide the kind of solid victory we need to finally secure local LGBT-inclusive protections. We’ll have to turn from our months-long electoral focus back to more fully engaged community education and, most importantly, lobbying. Our focus will shift from get-out-the-vote efforts to holding our new elected officials accountable.
As I noted in last week’s column: “A few short weeks after [Tuesday’s] election, our new leaders will be sworn into office. They should immediately bring Charlotte’s LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances back up for a vote and pass them without reservation and without delay. It’s an easy, common sense opportunity our new leaders can tackle, making way for the time and energy they’ll need to lead our city on other more pressing and complicated issues.”
So far, there’s no reason to distrust Turn Out!’s endorsed candidates. I have every hope they’ll keep their word and bring these proposals back up for a vote and pass them. But it’s dangerous to simply bank on elected leaders’ promises without any comprehensive plan to hold them accountable. We’ll have to rely on the same strength of local, state and national groups’ efforts combined with the power of individual voters and constituents during the election cycle to continue pushing leaders to make good on their word.
Though tomorrow will be decisive, our full victory — and a vindication of our community’s efforts over the course of more than a year’s worth of lobbying work — won’t come until City Council puts these proposals on the agenda and our leaders raise their hands in “yes” votes to pass them.
It’s easy to think of Tuesday’s general election as a finish line. For candidates, that might be true. For us, it’s merely a baton-passing, from one campaign to another.
After the primary election in September, I typed out what I thought was likely to be the next City Council make-up after the general election and what that meant for the passage of the ordinance proposals. They’re reprinted below with updates, along with one slight addition/revision re: at-large candidates Claire Fallon (D) and John Powell (R).
Predicted Mayor: Jennifer Roberts (D)
Predicted district victors with pro-ordinance positions:
Patsy Kinsey (D-Dist. 1), Al Austin (D-Dist. 2), LaWana Mayfield (D-Dist. 3), John Autry (D-Dist. 5)
Predicted at-large victors with pro-ordinance positions:
Vi Lyles (D), Julie Eiselt (D)
Predicted district victors with unknown, unclear and/or hostile ordinance positions:
Gregg Phipps (D-Dist. 4), Kenny Smith (R-Dist. 6), Ed Driggs (R-Dist. 7)
Predicted at-large victors with unknown, unclear and/or hostile ordinance positions:
Claire Fallon (D), John Powell (R) (see note below)
Total solid pro-ordinance votes above (excluding mayor): 6 votes
Total possible pro-ordinance votes (excluding mayor): 8 votes
Minimum vote count needed to pass: 6 votes
Note: I think it’s entirely possible that John Powell wins an at-large seat this year. It’s been several election cycles now since a Republican has won an at-large race. But early-vote totals this year show Republicans outpacing Democratic early-vote ballots. Additionally, the Charlotte Observer reports, African-American voter turnout (along with general Democratic interest, it seems) has so far been lower than usual. There’s clearly a mobilized GOP voter base this year. If it’s not enough for Powell to sneak in a win, then I’d predict the fourth at-large seat would go to Democrat James “Smuggie” Mitchell.