Originally published: Nov. 8, 2011, 9:30 p.m.
Updated: Nov. 9, 2011, 9:05 a.m.
CHARLOTTE — Democratic candidate LaWana Mayfield made history on Tuesday, soundly defeating Republican opponent Ed Toney in their race for the District 3 city council seat and becoming Charlotte’s first openly gay or lesbian elected official.
Mayfield garnered 78 percent of the vote against Toney’s 22 percent.
“Thank you community,” Mayfield said. “I am so excited about all the support I received from District 3, from all of who you volunteered and phone banked and called and sent me postive messages, who came out to early voting and who voted today. Thank you for your support.”
Mayfield’s supporters say her victory marks a turning point for Charlotte, a city not necessarily known for its LGBT inclusion.
“It’s historic, the first time anyone LGBT out on the city council,” said Scott Bishop, a volunteer with Equality North Carolina and the Human Rights Campaign. “At least now we have someone [on council] all the time who can give a counter-balance to whatever is said in a meeting where we might not always be present.”
Charlotte is the last major city in North Carolina to offer protections to gay and lesbian employees, though the city council has yet to vote on a fully-LGBT-inclusive employment policy or domestic partner benefits.
Connie Vetter, a local attorney with a long history of LGBT advocacy work, agreed that Mayfield’s election will change the political debate.
“By having her on the dais, we’re at the table more than we’ve ever been before,” she said.
Mayfield will replace outgoing Democratic incumbent Warren Turner, who was accused of anti-gay sexual harassment of several female city employees last year. Mayfield garnered 51 percent of the vote in her primary race against Turner in September.
A first-time candidate for public office, Mayfiled has said she sought to take the high road during her primary campaign against him. She later had to distance herself from attack ads mailed to District 3 voters by the Raleigh-based group Common Sense Matters. The group, headed by openly gay Raleigh businessman Alan King, paid $14,227 for the fliers.
Despite the short-lived controversy over King’s attack ads, Mayfield led an otherwise strong campaign focused solely in issues she said her constituents cared about. Foremost on their minds, she said, was property values, economic growth and public safety.
Mayfield had won endorsements from the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee, Mecklenburg County Black Political Caucus, this newspaper,The Charlotte Post and The Charlotte Observer.
In July, she received a national endorsement from the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.
“This is a big step forward. We’re thrilled for LaWana and the Charlotte LGBT community, and really proud to have played a part in this history-making night,” said Denis Dison, the Victory Fund’s vice president for communications. “Electing out local officials makes cities like Charlotte more welcoming to LGBT families, and it sends a message that voters are fair-minded.”
Mayfield also received national financial support, far outpacing her opponent in campaign fundraising. As of her pre-election campaign finance report, filed on Oct. 27, Mayfield had raised a total of $42,881.87. Toney’s pre-election report, filed on Oct. 28, showed total fundraising at $5,190.99.
The Tuesday-night victory for Mayfield comes as North Carolina voters find themselves facing an anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment that would ban marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. The measure will be considered on the state’s May 8, 2012, primary ballot.
Other openly gay and lesbian candidates across North Carolina experienced big wins on Tuesday, including Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and newcomer Lee Storrow, the youngest person to be elected to the Chapel Hill Town Council in 20 years.