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Our recommendations for City Council seats

Mayoral candidate Edwin Peacock probably made some of his fellow Republicans cringe last week when he told a debate audience that the next Charlotte City Council will again have a 9-2 Democratic majority. That would mean no Republican candidates winning an at-large seat in Tuesday’s election.

We’ll know soon how accurate Peacock is as a political forecaster, but his prediction acknowledges the new normal of a significant Democratic majority on the council. That shouldn’t discourage voters from participating, however, because they still can shape how responsibly the next council behaves.

In the past two years, we’ve frowned at council members for sometimes being undisciplined with public money, including giving unnecessary incentives to Carowinds, offering a tax-friendly plan to help the Charlotte Knights move to an uptown stadium, and proposing a billion dollars in sales tax revenues in order to give the Carolina Panthers $125 million for stadium renovations. With the latter two, the council eventually settled on more reasonable plans.

The next council will have at least five new faces. Voters have the opportunity to elect balanced candidates who understand the need to invest in Charlotte’s future while recognizing their responsibility as stewards of taxpayer money. Our recommendations:

AT-LARGE: MICHAEL BARNES, DAVID HOWARD, VI ALEXANDER LYLES, KEN HARRIS

Four Democrats, four Republicans and a Libertarian are running for four at-large seats. We recommend Democrats Michael Barnes, David Howard and Vi Alexander Lyles, and Republican Ken Harris.

Barnes, who currently represents District 4, brings a sharp, analytical perspective on city issues, and he is willing to make decisions unpopular with his Democratic colleagues. He was one of too few council members to question why negotiations with the Panthers were held in closed session. He would make a thoughtful, independent at-large member.

Howard has earned the respect of both Democrats and Republicans for his willingness to work hard behind the scenes to get things done. He was among the council leaders in the initial stages of the airport fight with Raleigh, and he was a point person in the search to replace mayor Anthony Foxx. He’s earned another two years in an at-large seat.

Lyles is a visionary who brings valuable practical experience as an assistant city manager and city budget director. She’s widely admired for her integrity and ability to work with others.

Harris is the kind of moderate Republican the council and city needs. Son of a former Charlotte mayor, he understands that for his hometown to thrive, it needs to continue investing in the future of all communities. But he also would be a moderating fiscal influence who can work collaboratively with the majority.

DISTRICT 2: ALVIN (AL) AUSTIN

Democrat Alvin (Al) Austin faces Republican Darryl Broome for the District 2 seat, replacing James (Smuggie) Mitchell who ran for mayor and lost in the Democratic primary. We endorsed Austin in the primary and he’s the superior candidate in this general election race too.

A major gifts officer for Johnson C. Smith University and former executive director of the McCrorey YMCA, Austin has done his homework and has a deep grasp of the issues facing Charlotte and the district where he grew up. He brings wide-ranging skills with his previous leadership roles, his criminal justice background and his involvement in collaborations and partnerships.

Darryl Broome, owner of a construction management firm, has run unsuccessfully for county commissioner and city council in the past. A lifelong Mecklenburg County resident, he says his priority would be public safety if he won.

Austin is the clear choice in this heavily Democratic district.

DISTRICT 3: LAWANA MAYFIELD

Incumbent Lawana Mayfield, a Democrat, is running for a second term against Republican Eric Netter and Libertarian Travis Wheat in this heavily Democratic westside district.

Mayfield is the clear choice. Netter has been sentenced to prison four times and has not run an active campaign. Wheat’s libertarian views are out of step with the vast majority in the district.

In her first term, Mayfield has been a quick learner and an active contributor to the City Council’s business. She is an energetic worker, a supporter of former Mayor Anthony Foxx’s agenda and a prominent voice for gay rights.

DISTRICT 4: GREG PHIPPS

Democrat Greg Phipps is being challenged by Michael Zytkow, the first independent in memory to qualify for the City Council ballot.

Both candidates are capable of representing the district well, and Zytkow is an intriguing newcomer, but we give the nod to Phipps for his considerable experience in both the public and private sectors.

A retired bank examiner, Phipps has been engaged in public life since arriving in Charlotte 15 years ago. He is in his second term on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission and served on the City Council for 10 months in 2005 to fill the unexpired term of Sen. Malcolm Graham.

Zytkow, a 2008 Wake Forest University graduate, taught history at Garinger High for two years before becoming a leader in the Occupy movement. He would be a voice independent of either major party but is running on such left-of-center notions as passing a living wage ordinance and ending “employment discrimination” against people with criminal convictions.

Zytkow is the riskier pick but he shows promise. Still, we believe Phipps has the experience necessary to be an effective council member.

DISTRICT 7: ED DRIGGS

Republican Ed Driggs faces Democrat Bakari Burton in the race to replace long-time council member Warren Cooksey, who did not seek reelection. Driggs is the stronger choice in a conservative district that encompasses the southernmost part of the city.

Driggs, a retired analyst for investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, unsuccessfully challenged Mecklenburg commissioner Bill James in a Republican primary last year. He portrayed himself as having James’ fiscal conservatism but not his controversial approach. Driggs espouses conservative principles, understands city issues and has the temperament needed to work productively with fellow council members.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

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