Carrboro's Lavelle becomes North Carolina's 1st openly lesbian mayor

CorrespondentDecember 4, 2013 

— Mark Chilton handed his blue ball cap with “Mayor” written in big gold letters on it to Lydia Lavelle during a swearing-in ceremony Tuesday in Carrboro Town Hall.

In doing so, Chilton retired, at least for a little while, from politics, and Lavelle became the 23rd mayor in Carrboro and the first openly lesbian mayor in North Carolina.

Lavelle, who was first elected to the Board of Aldermen in 2007, ran unopposed after Chilton announced he would not seek a fifth term.

Jacquelyn Gist, Randee Haven-O’Donnell and Sammy Slade were also sworn in Tuesday night after they were re-elected last month.

Lavelle, a law professor at N.C. Central University, said Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis talked about how local governments could pass progressive policies, try novel social experiments, and promote meaningful public participation.

Carrboro has followed that model in passing strict watershed-protection rules, encouraging alternative transportation, becoming the first town in the state to offer benefits to domestic partners, and supporting local businesses with a revolving loan fund, among other examples, she said.

“I look forward to more work in our laboratory,” Lavelle said.

Lavelle’s partner, Alicia Stemper, presented Lavelle with a purple T-shirt that said Carrboro on the front and “Openly Carrboro,” on the back.

Later Lavelle spoke about being a lesbian mayor in North Carolina.

“It’s kind of neat, but it’s really not that unusual in Orange County to be an elected official who’s gay,” she said. Former Carrboro Mayor Mike Nelson, also gay, served five terms, from 1995-2005.

“I also recognize that there are parts of North Carolina where it would be really hard for somebody like me to be elected,” Lavelle said. “Here it’s not a big deal.”

‘Thank you, town’

Each of the re-elected aldermen talked about what it meant to be on the board.

Slade, who paused several times overcome with emotion, said Carrboro is a model for the rest of the state.

“This planet we’re on is in real danger, and we need examples of how to be different, so I’m very grateful to this town for being different,” he said. “So thank you, town.”

Gist thanked the town staff for all of its work.

“We can vision until the cows come home, and we frequently do,” she said. “Without our staff, we would just be visioning. Thank you for telling us when our visions need a little tweaking and being there to make them real.”

Haven-O’Donnell thanked her family, friends and the voters.

“I really appreciate the opportunity to serve,” she said. “It is such an honor to serve your hometown that you love so dearly.”

Not the end

In his closing comments, Chilton said it only seems like he’s retiring.

“This isn’t really the end for me being involved in local government,” he said, adding he only lives a block away.

After the meeting, Chilton said he’s not sure what he plans to do next. He would like to run for state office but doesn’t plan to challenge Valerie Foushee, who was recently appointed to fill Ellie Kinnaird’s seat in the N.C. Senate. Chilton had applied to be appointed to that seat when Kinnaird left the Senate, but Foushee, who was a member of the N.C. House of Representatives, was appointed instead.

Velliquette: bavelliquette@gmail.com

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