Originally published: May 16, 2009, 5:28 p.m.
Updated: June 13, 2009 12:12 a.m.
CHARLOTTE — For the first time in Charlotte politics, an openly gay man might have a viable chance at winning election to city council. Owen Sutkowski, 26, assistant director of Student Life at Queens University, announced his run for the District 1 seat on the Charlotte City Council at the end of May with an official kickoff party at Dilworth Neighborhood Grille.
Since his announcement, Sutkowski has been making the rounds at community meetings, neighborhood associations and social functions. He’ll have a tough, uphill climb, facing popular District 1 City Councilwoman Patsy Kinsey in a Democratic primary on Sept. 15.
Sutkowski, who is openly gay and who is been in a relationship with his partner for two years, isn’t the first openly gay or lesbian person to run for city election — for days after his initial announcement, community members and media, including Q-Notes reported that he was.
Robert Sheets, a president of the 1980s-era Queen City Quordinators, the former non-profit publisher of Q-Notes, ran unsuccessfully in 1987 and 1989. Openly lesbian Sue Henry ran a write-in campaign in 1995.
Despite the initial inaccuracies, veteran campaign manager Henk Jonker — who has worked on several successful area campaigns — says Sutkowski is the first viable, openly gay candidate in Charlotte’s political scene.
See Q-Notes’ video report from Sutkowski’s campaign kickoff and listen to audio highlights from Sutkowski’s June 12 interview with WBT’s Keith Larson at Q-Notes’ blog, assembloge.
Sutkowski is portraying himself as a fresh change for Charlotte and his district.
“I am excited to begin connecting people and ideas for change in Charlotte,” he said in a press release. “Your voice is more than a vote. With the election of President Barack Obama, communities across the nation, including Charlotte, expressed a hopeful need for a fresh outlook on public service. Whether you have lived here for two months or 20 years, your vision and voice matter to me and our community.”
Sutkowski has never held public office before, but has worked with several city government and private agencies, including serving as a member on the city’s Competition and Privatization Advisory Committee, the programming chair of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee and a mediator with the Charlotte Housing Authority.
Sutkowski earned his undergraduate degree from Indiana University. He recently completed a Master’s of Science in Organizational Development degree at Queens University.
His campaign issues focus on openness and transparency in local government, public safety and city planning.
“Today’s economic and social realities call for new and effective public servants,” he said in a press release. “These individuals must proactively work with a variety of communities in the creation of sensible and practical strategies for change.”
In past elections, the LGBT-friendly Kinsey has received endorsements from MeckPAC, the county’s LGBT political action committee. It remains to be seen who the committee will endorse this year.
For more information, visit www.owensutkowski.com.
Ed. Note — This article originally stated that Owen Sutkowski was the first openly gay man to run on a ballot for city office. That information was inaccurate. Robert Sheets ran for city council in 1987 and 1989. Q-Notes has confirmed that information in our archives from news articles at the time.