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Patsy Kinsey’s 5 busy months as Charlotte mayor ends Dec. 2

Gay Parade
ROBERT LAHSER - rlahser@charlotteobserver.com
Charlotte Mayor Patsy Kinsey waves to the crowd gathered along Tryon Street in uptown Charlotte during the Bank of America Charlotte Pride Parade on Aug. 25.

During Patsy Kinsey’s five-month tenure as Charlotte mayor, much of her time was spent overseeing the city’s efforts to keep control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

But her lasting image as mayor may have come in August, when she rode in the city’s first gay pride parade in 19 years. Riding in an open-air black Volkswagen Beetle, Kinsey, 72, beamed at the thousands of people along Tryon Street.

“When I was asked, it didn’t take me a half-second to say yes,” Kinsey said. “I was honored.”

Kinsey – who is the city’s second female mayor – is expected to give a farewell speech at Monday’s City Council meeting, before mayor-elect Patrick Cannon is sworn in Dec. 2. At that point, Kinsey will move a few seats on the council dais, reclaiming the District 1 seat she has held since 2003.

She landed in the mayor’s office when former Mayor Anthony Foxx resigned in July to become U.S. Secretary of Transportation. The City Council selected Kinsey to fill the remainder of his term.

When council members were considering who to fill Foxx’s term, they decided that his replacement wouldn’t run for the office in the November election. Kinsey agreed to that condition.

People who know her suspect she would like to stay in the job if she could.

When asked if she would ever run for mayor, Kinsey was coy: “I will say I have thoroughly enjoyed being in this office.”

As a council member, Kinsey was not known for being particularly talkative, or long-winded, during meetings.

She did have some issues for which she consistently advocated, however.

She is one of the city’s leading voices for historic preservation. She stood with Foxx in supporting the streetcar, which would run through part of her district. She was hesitant to give financial incentives to lure companies to Charlotte.

‘Part of my upbringing’

When it comes to the gay pride parade, Kinsey said she was moved by the invitation to participate.

“I was just brought up not to discriminate,” she said. “That may sound funny, but it’s just part of my upbringing.”

And even before participating in the gay pride parade – likely a first for a sitting Charlotte mayor – she had quietly worked to extend benefits to same-sex partners of city employees. In fall 2012, she worked with city staff on the project, and lobbied council members to ensure its passage.

In July, she joined 400 other mayors in supporting the Freedom to Marry movement, to legalize gay marriage.

Scott Bishop, chair of MeckPAC, a political group for the area’s LGBT community, said Kinsey and Foxx were mayors “very friendly to the LGBT community.”

He said he wasn’t surprised she participated in the Pride Parade.

“That’s who she is,” he said. “It did make me proud, to have the mayor address 60,000 to 70,000 people. People were thanking her up and down Tryon Street.”

On some issues, Kinsey took a backseat, as her time as mayor was brief. For instance, in September, the City Council approved a controversial city/county plan to give Carowinds amusement park nearly $1 million in tax breaks in exchange for improvements to the park.

When council members first discussed the issue in closed session, Kinsey, then a council member, voted against it. While she was mayor, council members approved the deal by a 7-4 vote.

She did not speak out against it.

“My advice (on incentives) is to look at it on a case-by-case basis,” she said. “I think I have only voted no two or three times when I felt like it was a company that was coming here anyway.”

She added: “When a company is making billions of dollars, what’s the return (for the city)?”

Fighting for airport

In terms of policy, Kinsey has spent most of her time focused on the airport.

When news first broke in January that legislators were considering a bill to remove control of Charlotte Douglas, the city was in flux. Julie Burch was the interim city manager, and as the fight continued into the spring, Foxx’s pending job in the Obama administration handcuffed his ability to speak out against the airport legislation.

Kinsey’s swearing-in as mayor, coupled with the selection of new City Manager Ron Carlee, helped give the city a unified voice on the airport.

Republican City Council member Warren Cooksey said Kinsey helped keep council members in the loop on where they stood with the airport.

“I had more meetings in Mayor Kinsey’s office than I did with Mayor Foxx,” Cooksey said.

Said Carlee: “She played a very strong role. She did a lot of communicating with council members, a lot of phone calls, a lot of small meetings in her office.”

The city’s strategy has so far been successful. The Federal Aviation Administration and a Superior Court Judge have refused to issue a ruling that would place the airport under control of a 13-member commission created by the General Assembly.

“We’re still running the airport,” Kinsey said.

If the city does retain control, Carlee and council members may consider whether to re-hire Jerry Orr, who is now executive director of the commission.

That appears unlikely.

“It would be difficult for staff and disruptive to change back to Jerry,” Kinsey said. “(Interim aviation director Brent Cagle) and his management team have done a wonderful job.”

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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