Given primary day’s paltry turnout, it’s a stretch to say that Charlotte made a strong declaration Tuesday about the makeup of the next City Council. But the voters who did show up seemed to indicate that they didn’t really want much to change.
How can that be, with five of the 11 council seats guaranteed to have new occupants? It’s a combination of familiar faces, heavily partisan districts and a council that likely will once again be heavily Democratic.
First, the familiar faces. Current council members had a good night, for the most part. Democrats Patsy Kinsey and John Autry won handily in Districts 1 and 5 and will face no opposition in November. At large incumbents David Howard and Claire Fallon moved on to November, as did Michael Barnes, who left his District 4 seat to run for an at-large seat.
The incumbent exception: Democrat Beth Pickering, who was nudged out by Fallon for the fourth at-large spot.
The new faces aren’t much different than the old, policy-wise. We like Al Austin, who faces a likely runoff against Brenda Stevenson in District 2, but Austin’s positions seem to largely mirror predecessor James Mitchell. Greg Phipps, who will be favored in a runoff to replace Barnes in District 4, is more reticent about spending but agrees with Barnes on most issues.
As for the council’s makeup, the at-large seats might again be headed for a Democratic sweep, as happened two years ago. Howard, Barnes, and Fallon have obvious name recognition, and Vi Lyles brings years of public service, including a stint as assistant city manager.
All of which means that Republicans could face the same 9-2 deficit as they have the past two years. That left voters in conservative south Charlotte districts 6 and 7 a choice Tuesday: Would they elect Republicans who will spend the next two years in a principled but somewhat quixotic quest to cut taxes and limit the scope of government, or would they choose representatives with more collaborative approaches?
They did both. In District 6, voters picked Kenny Smith, who campaigned vigorously against raising taxes and for smaller government. In District 7, voters picked Ed Driggs, a more thoughtful voice than far right conservative Jay Privette. Smith will be unopposed in November, and Driggs should coast into office.
Such is the product of a city that has become somewhat resegregated – and increasingly progressive. There’s still sorting out to do, but if Tuesday was any indication, Charlotte seems headed for a council that looks very much the same.
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