Democrat Al Austin is seeking his second term representing Charlotte City Council District 2, which includes fast-growing areas near Northlake Mall and older, less affluent areas near uptown.
Austin won the seat two years ago, after James “Smuggie” Mitchell ran for mayor and lost in the Democratic primary. Mitchell had held the seat for 14 years.
Challenging Austin is Republican Justin Dunn, who works for the North Carolina Community College Student Sponsorship, a nonprofit that seeks donations to help students pay their college bills.
Austin starts the race with an advantage: Besides being the incumbent, nearly 64 percent of the registered voters in District 2 are Democrats.
Dunn said he wants to inform low-income District 2 residents about programs that help them buy homes. He also wants to expand bus routes along Interstate 77 to bring stops closer to people’s homes, and would have the city build more small shelters and benches at bus stops.
“There isn’t adequate seating (at bus stops),” he said. “I don’t want to see people standing around in the dirt. And when it rains, they are standing in dirty water.”
Dunn also said council members are too fast to raise taxes. He said he was particularly bothered by this year’s increase in stormwater fees that affected homes with large impervious surfaces.
“That extra money (from stormwater fees) could be used in a lot of better ways,” he said.
Dunn said the streetcar may be necessary in 25 years, but he doesn’t support it today. He said a proposed expansion of the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance for gay, lesbian and transgender residents has some good components. But Dunn said he’s concerned about a provision that would allow transgender residents to use the bathroom of their choice.
“I would have to ask businesses how it would impact them,” he said.
In his first term, Austin has been a member of the council’s liberal wing.
He has been a consistent supporter of the streetcar, which would run along Beatties Ford Road in the heart of his district. Austin also spoke passionately about expanding the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance to include the LGBT community.
“This is some of the hardest and more rewarding work I have done,” Austin said. “It’s hard – particularly when we are attacking things that have been years in the making.”
Austin said his first two years have been “tactical.”
“I wanted to make sure my constituents could trust me,” Austin said. “Sometimes I am asked to do things that aren’t mine, but I go after them.”
He said he has been lobbying Bank of America after it announced it would close some drive-up tellers, including one on Beatties Ford Road.
“My senior citizens started reaching out to me,” he said. “We will continue to work through that.”
Austin said he’s also focused on building more housing, especially for the homeless. He also is concerned about the recent uptick in crime.
Earlier this year, Austin spoke with former police Chief Rodney Monroe about the police possibly creating “Public Safety Zones,” in which people who have been arrested could be prohibited from entering for a certain time period.
Dunn said he hasn’t studied the issue enough to have an opinion.
Austin said the zones could disperse entrenched crime from his district. Other council members are wary of the idea, and the concept may not advance in the public safety committee.
Education: UNC-Chapel Hill, degrees in criminal justice and sociology.
Occupation: Major gifts officer, Johnson C. Smith University.
Community involvement: Young Democrats of Mecklenburg; board of trustees, Alexander Labyrinth at McCrory YMCA; member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.
Politics: Charlotte City Council member 2013-present.
Education: Attended Central Piedmont Community College, associate’s degree in arts.
Occupation: Works for non-profit that raises money to help students pay community college tuition; also works at Thai Taste on East Boulevard..
Community involvement: Works with community college students to help them pay tuition; also works with prospective homeowners to inform them of government programs for first time homebuyers.
Politics: First time running for elected office.
On the ballot
The general election is Nov. 3. Find more details, including early voting sites, at charlotteobserver.com/election.
Here are key races:
Charlotte mayor: Democrat Jennifer Roberts and Republican Edwin Peacock square off.
Charlotte City Council: Democrats Julie Eiselt, Claire Fallon, Vi Lyles and James Mitchell face Republicans Pablo Carvajal, John Powell and David Rice for four at-large council seats. There also are races in Districts 2, 3, 4 and 7.
School board: Mecklenburg County voters will elect three at-large members.
Commissioners’ terms: Voters will decide in a referendum whether to extend the terms of county commissioners from two to four years.
Mecklenburg County towns, other counties: Voters across the region will decide on a variety of races, including mayors, town boards and school boards.
Early voting: Cast your ballot early through Saturday. Mecklenburg County has 17 sites. CPCC, 1325 E. Seventh St., is open 8 a.m.-7 p.m. through Friday. Other sites are open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. All 17 sites are open 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday. As of Tuesday, 6,849 voters have voted early in Mecklenburg County.