This is pretty cool on several levels. First, Chapel Hill is getting a new mayor, Mark Kleinschmidt.– and he’s gay. Second, the person who interviewed Kleinschmidt for The Advocate is his fellow North Carolinian, Pam Spaulding. Here’s an excerpt:
One of things I find very interesting, as a North Carolina blogger, and I’m sure you receive this as a North Carolina politician, is that many people are confused about the political identity of our state. What do you say to people when they talk about how N.C. is racist, bigoted, the state of Jesse Helms …
When people mention our racist past and present and Jesse Helms, I ask them where is it that they live that’s so different? Where is this Eden that you live in that is absent of all racism or any blowhards that are stoking the fires of racial tension? We just had the misfortune of having a very loud, high-profile senator who just took it upon himself to be the person who threw coal onto the fire every day. To think we’re the only place in the country that suffers from vestiges of Jim Crow and slavery is really shortsighted. All that does is give those people something to pat themselves on the back about.
I talk about how North Carolina is different than what a lot of people believe is true about the South. I don’t defend Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama and South Carolina, but we aren’t any of those places. We never have been. As the South moved into the ’50s, ’60s, and civil rights issues began to dominate the American culture, North Carolina was one of the leading states in helping move it forward. We had leaders that had already come of age with progressive values helping to move the state, like Frank Porter Graham, Terry Sanford. And none of them did everything that we would have liked them to have done, but we made enormous progress in ways the states outside of the South only wish they could have made. While they further segregated themselves, our state has taken up the difficult challenge of true integration. And I think we are constantly self-acknowledging that we have not always been successful; it’s a continuous process — and this is a state that gives birth to that kind of politics, and we should be proud of it. People need to reevaluate what they think of North Carolina. It’s not a surprise to me that North Carolina had the first openly gay elected official [in the South — Joe Herzenberg, elected to the Chapel Hill town council in 1987]. Other states don’t share that with Chapel Hill. There are very few places like this.
Although I have received negative feedback from other parts of the state, it’s been rare. And over time, it’s kind of strange, I’ve actually become a part of the institution of politics in North Carolina. I have a role … it’s a role I was invited into at least by some parts of the institution, particularly the Democratic Party. So I try to give feedback to these people to have them think about where it is they are from that is so different and that how we are not what they think we are.