Two years ago, Democrats achieved a Charlotte City Council first: They swept all four at-large seats.
That success has attracted seven candidates for the Sept. 10 Democratic primary, which starts Thursday with the first day of early voting. The top four finishers in the primary will advance to the November general election, where they will face four Republicans and one Libertarian.
The primary includes three incumbents — Claire Fallon, David Howard and Beth Pickering. Another sitting council member, Michael Barnes, is also running. He represents District 4 in northeast Charlotte.
There are also three others in the race: Former Assistant City Manager Vi Lyles, city employee Scott Derek Jenkins, and Nancy Wiggins, a former commercial realtor who also worked on the county’s Planning Commission in the 1990s.
The four who advance to the general election will begin with an advantage against their Republican opponents. Among registered voters in Charlotte, just under 50 percent are Democrats, compared with 23 percent for Republicans.
Sitting council members
Of the three incumbents, Howard, first elected in 2009, has the most tenure. Fallon and Pickering were elected in 2011, part of a Democratic wave led by former mayor Anthony Foxx, who was running for reelection that year.
Howard, an executive with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, has raised $59,070 — the second-largest amount after Lyles.
During his time on council, Howard was closely aligned with Foxx’s agenda. He supported Foxx’s plans to build a streetcar, and was a steadfast backer of the capital improvement program in 2012 and 2013. He also strongly backed giving money to the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Knights for their stadium projects.
One of Howard’s biggest issues has been how to advance the 2030 transit plan, even though there is no more money to build the promised transit lines, including a commuter train to Lake Norman and some form of rapid transit on Independence Boulevard.
He said the council’s biggest challenge will be creating jobs.
“We have to be more aggressive in how we go about it,” Howard said. “It’s not just incentives, it’s strategy. How do we compete globally?”
Howard said he considered running for mayor, but decided to seek a third at-large term.
Pickering and Fallon were closely aligned during their first term on council. As newcomers, they often studied the agenda together and voted the same way. At times, they went against Foxx’s agenda, most notably when they voted against a capital improvement plan in 2012.
But they did differ this year over whether to support a plan to build 2.5 miles of streetcar. Both had voted against the project last year, but Pickering voted in favor of the project after City Manager Ron Carlee created a funding plan that didn’t require the use of property taxes.
Fallon, who is retired, voted no. She said she believes the city will eventually have to use property taxes to finish the line, which is planned from Beatties Ford Road to the site of the old Eastland Mall.
“This one is going to property tax,” Fallon said.
In June, Fallon voted in favor of the capital improvement program, which didn’t include the streetcar.
She said her biggest accomplishment is fixing small problems.
“My biggest accomplishment,” Fallon said. “It’s wonderful to do policy. But it’s much more important for me to help people. I think that’s what I get elected to do.”
Pickering, who works in medical coding for Novant Health Presbyterian Hospital, said her vote for the streetcar this year was “easy.”
“The whole issue for me was property taxes, and not asking taxpayers to pay for a billion dollar transit system,” Pickering said. “I didn’t see where that would end.”
She said her biggest accomplishment was “being a voice for the regular folks of Charlotte,” citing efforts to bring a Super Target store to Beatties Ford Road.
As in 2011, Pickering is running a low-key campaign so far. She has raised only $6,149.
Fallon has raised $19,847.
Barnes, an attorney, has represented northeast Charlotte since 2005. He voted for the capital improvement program in 2013, but voted against Carlee’s new funding plan for the streetcar.
“We still haven’t identified sufficient funding to move it past the two points where it is,” Barnes said. “We also haven’t ID’d the operating costs.”
Barnes said his biggest accomplishment in his most recent term was the city signing an agreement with the federal government to build the Lynx Blue Line extension to UNC-Charlotte, in his district.
Barnes is often one of the more critical voices on council, questioning the city’s practice of giving financial incentives for companies to expand or relocate to Charlotte. During negotiations with the Carolina Panthers over whether to give the team millions of dollars for stadium improvements, Barnes often questioned the plan during closed session meetings. But he voted in favor of giving the team $87.5 million.
He has raised $29,963.
Lyles has raised the most money of any candidate, including the incumbents, with $85,328. She has tapped an extensive network of contacts, built over a long career in the city.
Lyles was a Charlotte assistant city manager from 1996 to 2004. She has worked for the Lee Institute and the Foundation for the Carolinas, and worked last year as the director of community outreach for the Democratic National Convention in 2012.
She said she decided to run after working to develop a rental housing subsidy program that is a partnership with the city and the Foundation for the Carolinas. The City Council backed the program, but Lyles said the drawn-out process made her believe that council members needed someone who could bring them together.
“I was presenting to council, and I started thinking how they were processing information, how they were making their decision,” said Lyles. “I saw there seemed to be dissension.”
She said her skill set is bringing people together. She said that would have been helpful during the debate over the rental subsidy program for low-income residents, as well as the 2012 debate over a capital improvement program.
Jenkins works in the street maintenance division for the Charlotte Department of Transportation, a division of the city. He calls himself a “darkhorse” candidate due to his lack of political experience, but said he would be an advocate for ordinary working people.
“I have served the city for six years,” he said. “I have never called in sick, never been late. I want to bring some common sense (to City Council).”
He said he would have voted against the capital improvement program because it’s too “long-term.” The CIP is designed to meet the city’s capital needs through 2020.
“I’m for a capital improvement plan that’s more short-term and more direct,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins moved to Charlotte in 2006 from California. He said he moved to Charlotte seeking a better way of life, and now “loves” the Queen City.
Wiggins — who worked in finance and commercial real estate — said her previous business and political experience would serve her well on council.
She said she was “really unnerved” by the state’s attempt to transfer operating control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport to a 13-member commission.
“I am against grand theft airport,” Wiggins said. “We deserve the fruits of those labors. If elected I would stay the court to make sure we maintain our assets.”
She said she believed the infighting over the capital improvement program was unnecessary, and said the city needs to focus on attracting more manufacturing jobs. Those jobs, she said, will spin off more support jobs than office or retail positions.
“We need something that we can use to sustain this community,” she said. Wiggins cited a proposal to redevelop Eastland Mall into movie studios as a project she would support.
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