Charlotte City Council at-large member Beth Pickering lost her bid for re-election Tuesday night, finishing fifth in a field of seven Democrats and not advancing to the November general election.
While Pickering lost, council member Michael Barnes, who represents District 4, was the surprise winner of the at-large primary. He received 23 percent of the vote, winning a majority of precincts across the city.
Barnes finished ahead of former assistant city manager Vi Lyles and incumbent David Howard, who each received about 19 percent. Incumbent Claire Fallon was the last Democrat to advance, with 12 percent.
The top four Democrats advance to November’s general election, where they will face four Republicans and a Libertarian candidate.
For local Democrats, a pall was cast over Tuesday’s results when candidates learned that Lyles’s husband, John Lyles died Tuesday evening. He had been in hospice care at home.
Pickering and Fallon were elected in 2011 in a Democratic wave led by former mayor Anthony Foxx, who was running for re-election.
In preparing for re-election, Pickering ran her second campaign as she had her first: With little money and a small campaign presence. She raised only $9,399, which included $6,000 she loaned her campaign.
Earlier this year, she voted for two projects that are important to some Democratic voters: The $816 million Capital Improvement Program and a 2.5-mile streetcar extension. She had voted against them in 2012.
Pickering also received the endorsement of the Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, which is seen as a boost in a city where more than 60 percent of Democratic voters are African-American.
But in the battle for the fourth and final spot, Fallon had a more aggressive and well-funded campaign. She also had a strong base of supporters in the University City area, where she had previously worked with the Northeast Coalition, a collection of homeowner association groups.
“They threw everything they could at me,” Fallon said Tuesday night.
She was referring to supporters of Foxx, whom she said a year ago was trying to get her off the City Council because of her opposition to the streetcar. Foxx, who is now U.S. Secretary of Transportation, denied that at the time.
Barnes, who has represented District 4 in northeast Charlotte since 2005, is one of the more fiscally conservative Democrats. He has questioned city spending on projects such as an $8 million subsidy for the Charlotte Knights baseball stadium.
Barnes’ strength was in African-American precincts in the crescent surrounding uptown. On the council, he is an ally of Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon, who defeated James “Smuggie” Mitchell in the Democratic mayoral primary.
This was Barnes’s first citywide race, though he had made an unsuccessful run for Mecklenburg District Attorney in 2010.
Howard, an executive with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, was first elected citywide in 2009.
“I’m excited about moving on,” Howard said. “We still have the general election. I’m looking forward to taking my issues to the full city.”
Lyles became a quick frontrunner in the summer due her to ability to raise money, based on her previous work with the city, for the Democratic National Convention and for the Foundation for the Carolinas. Lyles raised $92,133, according to the most recent campaign finance report. That is more than any other Democratic at-large candidate.
She had a vast network of friends and business leaders willing to give to her campaign.
Kim Blanding, a dentist, said Tuesday that she was drawn to Lyles by her track record as a city employee and her work during the DNC, where she was director of community outreach.
“Her energy, her enthusiasm,” said Blanding, describing what she likes about Lyles. She also voted for Lyles in part because of her gender, Blanding said. “I think it’s rare to see a woman in positions of higher power.”
The shift now focuses to the general election. The main question: Will any of the Republicans — Vanessa Faura, Mark Frietch, Ken Harris and Dennis Peterson — be able to break the Democrat’s two-year monopoly on the four at-large seats?
Sweeping the at-large seats gave Democrats a 9-2 council majority.
So far, the four Republicans running at-large have struggled to raise money. The four at-large candidates have raised about $23,000 combined, as much of the Republican donors have been giving to mayoral nominee Edwin Peacock as well as District 6 candidates Kate Payerle and Kenny Smith.
Eric Cable, the Libertarian, has raised $993. Ely Portillo contributed to this story.