You could find balloons, cheerleaders, signs galore and a horde of sweaty bodies at the Mecklenburg Board of Elections office when filing opened at noon Friday.
What you couldn’t find were the three Democratic candidates for Charlotte mayor – incumbent Jennifer Roberts and challengers Joel Ford and Vi Lyles – who have spent months campaigning and raising big money. The fourth big-name mayoral candidate, Republican Kenny Smith, was there but working hard to stay in the background.
That’s because the opening bell for local elections is a time for candidates who struggle for attention to get their moment in the spotlight, said Smith. He should know; he’s leaving the District 6 City Council post that two people lined up to fill.
“Down-ticket people, I want to make sure they have a chance to shine,” Smith said after being reluctantly pulled into a group photo with other Republicans, who held a news conference before filing opened. When you’re not seeking the top job, “you’re fighting for air,” he said.
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Filing is open for two weeks, and the four mayoral candidates will hold their own filing rallies in the coming days. But the opening day did draw two new Republican candidates for Charlotte mayor: Perennial candidate Gary Mitchell Dunn and the little-known Kimberley Paige Barnette. Dunn has run for governor as both a Democrat and a Republican, and ran for Charlotte mayor as a Democrat in 2013. He’s currently registered as a Republican.
“Whichever works,” Dunn said Friday. “Sometimes parties don’t put their best foot forward. Then you change.”
Neither Barnette nor Dunn appears to have a campaign website, and Barnette could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon. Their chances are slim in a race that’s breaking records for campaign interest and spending.
Even before filing opened, Lyles, Ford and Smith all reported they’ve raised more than $200,000. Roberts’ campaign has not released any totals, and the first disclosure report isn’t due until July 28.
While voter interest in off-year elections tends to be low, this year’s lands after a tumultuous year when local elected officials have made national news. Roberts and Charlotte City Council faced scrutiny and criticism after a local ordinance sparked a yearlong struggle over LGBT rights and a September police shooting led to mass protests and violence in the streets.
And the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board, which has six of nine seats up for election, grappled with strategies to counteract resegregation. That too drew national reporting, in part because of the city’s historic role in pioneering issues related to race and education.
By the end of the day Friday, seven people had filed for school board, 18 for Charlotte City Council and 13 for municipal offices in the six smaller towns.
Charlotte’s primary is Sept. 12. The other races are nonpartisan, with no primary. Election day is Nov. 7, and will include a vote on $922 million in school bonds.