If you need a reminder why Charlotte’s City Council primaries this month are important, let’s review: In the past two years, the council has helped pay for a Charlotte Knights move uptown, negotiated a deal to assist the Carolina Panthers with stadium renovations, passed an $816 million capital improvement plan that resulted in a tax increase, and fought with state legislators over the future of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. And those are just the big ticket items.
Regardless of where you might come down on any of those issues, the votes you cast have a significant impact on a council that also sets budgets and approves or rejects development proposals, among many other duties.
This year, voters head to the polls for primaries in every council district but District 3. Also, primary voters will choose four at-large candidates from a field of seven Democrats. All four Republican at-large candidates, and one Libertarian, will move on to the general election in November.
Here are the editorial board’s primary recommendations:
At large Democrats
In the at-large race, three Democrats stand out. Two, David Howard and Michael Barnes, currently serve on the council. The third, Vi Alexander Lyles, has a distinguished record of community and public service.
Howard is seeking re-election to his at-large seat. He is a responsible decision-maker with proven leadership on a number of issues.
Barnes, who represents District 4, is a reasoned and thoughtful voice on council. He has been a careful steward of the public’s tax dollars and an asset in helping the council think more deeply about critical issues.
Lyles is making her first bid for public office, but she has a long history of deep public engagement. Her experience as an assistant city manager and the city’s budget director would be of great value to the council in tackling the city’s needs. She is intelligent, thoughtful, visionary and has worked collaboratively with a broad spectrum of people to get things done.
All three have demonstrated integrity, passion and are forward-thinking. We heartily recommend them.
We offer no recommendations for the fourth at-large nomination.
District 1 Democrats
Patsy Kinsey may have surprised some in Charlotte, and perhaps even in her own district, with the strong and steady presence she has provided the city in replacing Mayor Anthony Foxx, who left this summer to lead the U.S. Department of Transportation. Kinsey is hoping to return for a sixth term in District 1, and the winner of this primary will be unopposed in November.
Kinsey is challenged by Art Cardenas, a political newcomer who says he wants to bring financial responsibility to the council. Kinsey has not always had a strong voice on the council, but she’s become a solid advocate for her district. She deserves another term.
District 2 Democrats
District 2 voters will replace long-time representative James “Smuggie” Mitchell, who is running for mayor. The winner of this Democratic primary will face Republican Darryl Broome in the general election.
The district is lucky to have three good-hearted, civically-engaged people – Brenda Stevenson, John H. White and Alvin “Al” Austin – among the five running. We recommend Austin, a major gifts officer for Johnson C. Smith University and former executive director of the McCrorey YMCA. Austin has a deeper grasp of the issues facing Charlotte than the others and provides a clearer roadmap about what is needed to tackle problems. He also brings more wide-ranging skills with his previous leadership roles, his criminal justice background, his fundraising work and his involvement in collaborations and partnerships. He would be an asset to the board.
District 4 Democrats
Democrat Michael Barnes is leaving the District 4 seat after four terms to run at-large. No Republicans are running in the district that covers much of northeast Charlotte and the university area, so the winner Tuesday will join the City Council.
The top two candidates are Greg Phipps and Wil Russell. Phipps, 60, has been involved in Charlotte’s public life since arriving in the city 15 years ago. He is in his second term on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission and served ably on the City Council for 10 months in 2005 to fill the unexpired term of Sen. Malcolm Graham. He has served as president of his homeowners association and held other public roles.
Phipps retired May 1 after 40 years with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, where he checked large banks for compliance with various federal laws.
Russell, 35, is an assistant project manager for Rodgers Builders. This is his first run for elected office, though he has served on a citizens advisory committee on affordable housing. He shows a familiarity with District 4 and a good understanding of the issues facing the city. He would bring energy and a fresh perspective to the council.
Levester Flowers, a former teacher and bank worker, and Leonard Richardson III, a fifth-grade teacher in CMS, are also running.
We believe Phipps or Russell would make the strongest council member. We give a slight nod to Phipps because of his considerable experience, but hope that Russell will stay involved in public affairs.
District 5 Democrats
Democrat John Autry seeks a second term in this east Charlotte district. He faces a challenge from Mitchell “Aerobo Cop” Smith-Bey. No Republican is running.
Autry, chief technology officer and partner for a company that specializes in emergency warning response, has been an adequate representative for District 5. Smith-Bey, who changed his name from Smith in May, is a former police officer who dresses up as “Aerobo Cop” as part of his fitness program for kids. We recommend Autry.
District 6 Republicans
Voters face a difficult choice with a strong primary field in this moderate to conservative south Charlotte district. The winner will run unopposed in November and replace Andy Dulin, who decided not to run for a fifth term on the council.
Attorney Kate Payerle and Kenny Smith, who works in commercial real estate, are first-time candidates. James Peterson, who works in the financial services industry, and Ken Lindholm, a high school teacher, have run for seats on the Mecklenburg Board of Commissioners.
Each candidate holds conservative fiscal philosophies that match their district’s, with Smith being the most stridently against taxes. Each talks about the importance of attending to the infrastructure needs of their constituents, such as streetlights and sidewalks. Payerle, however, stands out with a sophisticated understanding of the issues facing Charlotte, and she would bring a thoughtful, analytical approach to discussions about how the city should spend its money and invest in growth. That’s something the council could use.
On a council in which Democrats will likely have a significant majority, District 6 residents need a representative who can smartly voice their principles but work with colleagues on issues that impact south Charlotte. Payerle is the clear choice.
District 7 Republicans
In this conservative south Charlotte district, three Republicans are competing to replace council member Warren Cooksey, who decided not to run for reelection.
Ed Driggs is back after losing a high-profile primary election last year to Mecklenburg Commissioner Bill James. Driggs, who is retired from the financial industry, is facing newcomer Duncan Wilson and Jay Privette, a far right candidate who supports efforts to break a chunk of South Charlotte off from the city to form its own town. Privette lost to Cooksey in the 2011 District 7 primary.
As with District 6, the representative here should be someone with conservative principles who’s inclined to work with others to meet his constituents’ needs. Driggs has the temperament and understanding of the issues that’s necessary to build council relationships, and he’s already a known commodity to council Democrats. He’s the best choice for District 7 voters.
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