All seven district seats on Charlotte’s City Council are on the ballot this fall. Three incumbents – Democrats Patsy Kinsey and John Autry and Republican Kenny Smith – face no opposition. Here’s how we see the four contested races.
Incumbent Democrat Al Austin faces a challenge from Republican newcomer Justin Dunn. Austin is the better choice for this district that covers Beatties Ford Road and other areas in north and west Charlotte.
A major gifts officer at Johnson C. Smith University and former YMCA branch director, Austin has been a quiet but attentive representative in his first term. Representing a district with higher crime than some other parts of the city, he has supported body cameras for police officers and pursued efforts to reduce crime. He also focuses on economic development and redeveloping struggling neighborhoods. He has supported the streetcar and voted for the city’s proposed LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance.
Dunn, his opponent, is the personable jack-of-all-trades at a Thai restaurant who also works at a nonprofit that provides tuition grants to community college students. He says he wants to get District 2 residents more involved with their community.
In 2008 he pleaded guilty to a Level 4 charge of driving while impaired. And at age 31, he has never voted in a local or national election. “Now my thoughts have changed,” he says.
This district is 13 percent registered Republicans and 60 percent African-American. Austin is the better choice for this district.
Democrat LaWana Mayfield seeks a third term against Republican Eric Netter. Mayfield is the clear choice in this district that covers most of west and southwest Charlotte.
Mayfield became Charlotte’s first openly gay council member when she was elected in 2011. But her interests run much broader than LGBT equality. She has also fought for more economic opportunities for westside residents. She has been an energetic representative for her constituents.
She voted against the city’s LGBT non-discrimination ordinance because she didn’t think it went far enough. The ordinance is likely to reemerge early next year.
Netter, who lost badly to Mayfield in 2013, has not run a serious campaign. He has also been to prison four times for DWIs, other driving convictions and probation violations.
District 3 is only 15 percent registered Republican. Mayfield is the more serious candidate, and more representative of the district’s views.
First-term Democrat Greg Phipps is running for re-election against Republican Mike O’Hara in a district that covers much of the University City area in northeast Charlotte. This should be a difficult choice for many District 4 voters.
A retired bank examiner, Phipps took office two years ago with considerable public- and private-sector experience. He had served an interim stint on the City Council, and had served for many years on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission.
His performance in his first term, however, has been underwhelming. He has been a follower, not a leader, even on issues emanating from his district. While he is generally visible to his constituents, he hesitates to take stands on a wide range of issues and advocates in his district don’t feel like they can routinely count on him to fight for the area’s interests.
O’Hara is a vice president at Wells Fargo and a longtime banker. A Six Sigma Greenbelt, he says he has the expertise on process improvement, the work ethic and the eye for detail to make the city work more efficiently. He is conversant in many aspects of city business, and portrays himself as someone who would be an energetic voice questioning certain city spending and looking out for taxpayers.
This district is heavily Democratic (only 17 percent Republican) and O’Hara’s fiscal conservatism might be out-of-step with many District 4 voters. Voters should see this as a choice between a Democrat who might better share their views but who has not been a leader against a fairly conservative Republican who would serve in a more energetic and outspoken way.
First-term Republican Ed Driggs seeks reelection and is challenged by Democrat Chris Turner in a conservative district that covers much of south Charlotte. Driggs is the better choice for this district.
Driggs, retired from the financial services industry, has effectively represented District 7, fighting toll roads and for an extra HOV lane on I-485, and listening to concerns about rapid development on Providence Road and elsewhere. He has been a fiscal and social conservative, opposing the streetcar and voting against the LGBT ordinance and against money to host the NBA All-Star game.
Turner has said she finds Driggs “intelligent and willing to listen,” but criticizes him for his vote against the LGBT ordinance and other matters.
While Turner would be a capable public servant, Driggs’ views are more aligned with this safe-Republican district than Turner’s.