Three LGBT advocacy groups will launch a new electoral campaign in Charlotte at a joint press conference on Wednesday morning. Leaders with the effort say they’re confident they’ll be able to turn out the support and votes to sway this year’s Charlotte City Council election — all in the aftermath of March’s failed LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance vote.
Photo by Ryan Pitkin
Mayor Dan Clodfelter, pictured with other Democratic mayoral candidates, addresses the crowd at the LGBT Community Candidate Forum in early August.
“Charlotte is the second-biggest city in the entire country without the necessary protections for the LGBT community,” said Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, one of the partnering coalition organizations in the new campaign, “TurnOut! Charlotte.” Other partners include the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC) and the Human Rights Campaign.
“With the failure of the ordinance, it’s incumbent upon the LGBT community and our allies to stand up and say we are a sizable and vital part of the city of Charlotte and these municipal elections in 2015 are the most critical in quite a while for our community,” Sgro added.
He said TurnOut! Charlotte will bring together the resources and “vast network of members” of the three coalition partners and “make strategic investments in this [election] cycle.”
Up for grabs in the coming election are several at-large Council seats and several contested district seats. The mayoral election is also highly contested, with six Democrats and two Republicans aiming for their shot in the general election. TurnOut! Charlotte will announce their mutual slate of endorsed candidates for at-large seats at the Wednesday press conference. Endorsements for mayor are expected to follow.
“MeckPAC in the past has done an incredible job of endorsing on the local level and Equality NC will also be endorsing municipally in key communities across the state,” Sgro said. “The Human Rights Campaign has come together with us to make sure we’re talking about the same slate of candidates in these vital elections and make sure the full power and weight of the LGBT community and our allies are felt in this at-large seats and in some district seats.”
Sgro said the campaign will also focus on returning the city’s two openly gay officials — District 3’s LaWana Mayfield and District 2’s Al Austin — to their seats on City Council.
MeckPAC and the other organizations will also be making cash investments and endorsements. In 2013, MeckPAC doled out $7,000 to candidates for at-large and district seats. Sgro and other leaders declined to say exactly how much money would be invested in local races this year, but Jamie Hildreth, vice chair of MeckPAC, said his group hoped to spend more in this election cycle.
Hildreth also said MeckPAC and others will focus on engaging volunteers in phone banking and canvassing for their chosen slate of candidates, as well as sending out mailers and organizing a field campaign.
Hildreth called it a “concerted effort” and said he’s confident the community can pull together the strength to effect the outcome of the election.
Sgro is also confident LGBT groups will make an impact, pointing to traditionally low voter turnout in municipal primary and general elections.
“I have a high degree of confidence in success for this campaign and we’re going to make sure we turn out folks to the polls,” Sgro said.
The jointly-organized TurnOut! Charlotte campaign is the first time LGBT groups have come together to have such a broad impact on local elections since MeckPAC’s founding in 1998. At that time, local LGBT leaders came together to push out the “Gang of Five,” five Mecklenburg County Commissioners who had voted to strip public funding from local arts groups after controversy erupted around the AIDS- and gay-themed “Angels in America” performance in Charlotte. Four of those five were pushed out of office; Commissioner Bill James has remained a fixture on the Mecklenburg County Commission since then.
— Matt Comer is the former editor of QNotes, the Charlotte-based LGBT community newspaper of North Carolina. He now freelances and blogs at mattcomer.net.