Meet Stormie Forte: Raleigh’s First Black and Lesbian Councilwoman

Supermajority Education Fund

September 4, 2020

When Stormie Forte was appointed to the Raleigh City Council in July, she not only became the first Black woman to ever serve on the Council, but also the first open lesbian to be appointed to the office.

It is a historic moment in the city of Raleigh,” Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin said shortly after the announcement. Forte was appointed to fill the seat of Saige Martin, who resigned from the post in June.

Forte — a lawyer, small business owner, and lifelong Raleigh resident — told Supermajority News she believes that her background and diverse experiences as an attorney, longtime local radio show host, and certified rehabilitation counselor have helped her understand the city’s needs. 

Supermajority News talked with Forte about her appointment, her priorities for her first term, and her experience being a first-time lawmaker in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What was your reaction when you realized you’d be the first Black woman on Raleigh’s City Council?

It was pretty exciting to be honest with you. I grew up in Raleigh, and I’ve lived here all my life. I went to school at [University of North Carolina] Chapel Hill, which is about 30 minutes away, but I’ve been in the area pretty much the entire time. 

Have you heard from other women and other members of the LGBTQ community about what your appointment means to them in terms of visibility?

I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from folks in different communities and affiliate groups. They are excited about me being in the role and bringing that perspective to the Council. It has really been positive.

What are some of the issues you would like to focus on during your term?

We have a number of challenges here in Raleigh, especially because it is a fairly fast growing community. Before the pandemic, Wayne County was getting about 60 people a day moving here and a little more than half of those people were coming to the city of Raleigh. That’s why one of my top priorities is affordable housing. Like a lot of other municipalities and other areas in the country, there is a housing shortage here. So we’re trying to get a good balance so that folks who are in the lower income brackets are not completely priced out of the market while also doing more to help increase in inventory in terms of what is available.

Another issue that is very important to me is looking at our system of transit. A lot of those new people coming in are in cars and that creates other challenges for us. We have a city infrastructure that was built to accommodate a certain amount of folks … we have to set things in place so that folks can move around pretty freely. One of the big questions is ‘how do we make our transit system more attractive to ridership?’ It is no secret that if you use public transportation to get to one side of the town to the other, it will take you two hours for what would take you 20-25 minutes at the most inside your own vehicle. We have to find a way to make it more appealing to people to our citizens and residents to get out of their cars and get onto public transit.

Another priority is improving our parks system. We have a lot of green spaces and greenways in the city, [and] a lot of our older parks facilities have been in existence for a considerable period of time. It gets pretty warm in Raleigh in the summer and quite a few of [our facilities] don’t have air conditioning in them. In normal summer cycles, you’d have a lot of young kids using the parks system and you see a lot of kids now who come in with asthma and other disabilities, so it could be somewhat prohibitive for parents to enroll them in summer camps if there is no air conditioning. So in terms of expanding our parks, we’re getting new facilities up and running but I would also like to give some attention to some of our older facilities that could use a little TLC in terms of air conditioning and some other things. 

As a small business owner yourself, how are you thinking of using your position to support women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color in particular during this challenging time?

It’s been documented that some of the challenges that minority businesses have is getting access to PPP funding, especially because they tend to use smaller, community banks and maybe don’t have relationships with the larger banks. There are also some cases where they did get some coronavirus relief but it was only for a specific period of time, and the business owner had planned to use it as a cushion to be able to sort of rebound and get back on track and that did not occur.

I think about folks who own hair salons, barber shops, nail salons, or massage therapists a large part of their business requires face-to-face direct contact. As a council, we have to evaluate whether we are going to have the kinds of opportunities to provide that kind of support. The other question is can we advocate on their behalf with state and federal representatives about trying to get some additional packages put together for our small businesses.

Another big question everyone is talking about right now is policing and how police departments can improve relations with the communities they serve. What are some ways the city of Raleigh can address this?

One of the initiatives that the police department is working on now is adding some clinical staff (counselors and social workers and other folks) to the police department. This is in the hopes of establishing an entity within the department that would be able to respond to crisis situations using their clinical background.  

This would take the pressure off of our local law enforcement officers who encounter someone who is going through something like a mental health crisis. That person may respond better to a person with a clinical background who is better equipped to address the issues that person is experiencing. A law enforcement officer will respond from a law enforcement perspective rather than a clinical perspective. But in this way we don’t have someone from the law enforcement community take on the role of a clinician.