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Democrats face jammed field for seats on Charlotte City Council

The race for the four Charlotte City Council at-large seats has turned into a free-for-all, with at least 12 candidates – 10 of them Democrats – having declared they will run.

The large field is driven in part by the decision of two sitting at-large council members to run for mayor.

Filing for this fall’s elections began July 6 and ends Friday.

Democrats Michael Barnes and David Howard are giving up their positions to run for mayor, so there will be at least two open seats for the September primary and November general election.

“It’s amazing,” said John Powell, one of two Republicans in the race, about the crowded field. “It’s absolutely amazing.”

Powell, who works in commercial real estate, said he wants to be able to talk to people on both sides of an issue.

“When you go to a conversation, you need to be able to have an open discussion,” he said. “If someone wants to show me facts, I don’t have an ego.”

In 2013, there were seven Democrats running for four seats. This year, there are at least 10 who have either filed or announced they are running.

Two of the candidates are incumbents – Democrats Claire Fallon and Vi Lyles. Billy Maddalon, who is running, had previously served when he was appointed to finish Patsy Kinsey’s term in 2013 after Kinsey became mayor. She replaced Anthony Foxx, who became U.S. secretary of transportation. And James “Smuggie” Mitchell, another Democratic entrant, previously served as a district council member before losing to Patrick Cannon in the mayoral primary two years ago.

But many of the candidates are running for the first time.

Over the next two months, they will work to raise money and have their voices heard above the others running.

“It’s definitely a crowded field, so I got out early,” said Shawn Greeson, a special education teacher and school administrator who is running as a Democrat.

Greeson said his two main issues are poverty and the environment.

“Charlotte is a beautiful city, and I want to make it more beautiful,” said Greeson, who has been campaigning with his infant daughter. “We need more bike lanes, we need to protect trees and to protect creeks. I want everyone to enjoy the same benefits that I have enjoyed.”

City Council currently has a 9-2 Democratic majority, and a Republican has not won an at-large seat since 2009. This appears to have influenced who is running: In addition to Powell, the only other Republican is David Michael Rice, a perennial candidate who once said his goal is to be mayor of “Ricetown,” named for him.

The high interest among candidates for the at-large seats has not yet translated into challenges to incumbents in districts.

Of the five council members who represent single-member districts, only two have drawn opponents so far.

New challengers

Julie Eiselt, a Democrat, is best known for starting Neighbors for a Safer Charlotte, a coalition of community leaders that lobbied for more money for the criminal justice system, in 2007.

Public safety is her top issue. But she said she also wants to focus on education and transportation.

“It’s not part of City Council, but (education) is part of our regional development,” Eiselt said. She added that if a city isn’t considered safe or doesn’t have good schools, it’s extremely difficult to attract new jobs and grow.

Bruce Clark used to work as a campaign consultant but is now a first-time candidate. He helped managed President Barack Obama’s Charlotte campaign in 2009, along with Anthony Foxx’s successful 2009 mayoral campaign.

He now works for a technology start-up.

Clark said one of the most critical issues is economic mobility. He cites a recent study that placed Charlotte last among large U.S. metropolitan areas in terms of economic mobility.

Mo Idlibby, an attorney who specializes in immigration cases, is another Democrat in the field.

“I do pro bono work, but it’s time to give back on a larger scale,” he said.

He said the city isn’t focusing on important issues such as domestic violence. And he said the City Council should have passed changes to its nondiscrimination ordinance to protect gay, lesbian and transgender residents.

“I have always been an ally (of the LGBT community) but more than an ally,” he said. “This is a principled matter for me. It doesn’t matter if it’s based on race, religion or national origin. Everyone deserves equal rights.”

Sean Gautam, a financial adviser, said he is running for the first time because there is “a huge disconnect between the people and what happens at City Council.”

He said the city has had too many projects fail, such as a movie studio planned for Eastland Mall and an amateur sports complex at nearby Bojangles’ Coliseum.

“We need a long-term vision for the city and a long-term financial plan,” he said.

Darrell Bonapart, another Democrat, has run for City Council before, including an attempt for the east Charlotte District 5 seat in 2011. A military veteran, he has been an activist for east Charlotte.

Candidates with experience

Lyles, a former assistant city manager in Charlotte, was elected to an at-large seat two years ago in her first attempt at elected office. She has sometimes been a swing vote on City Council and has tried to be a consensus builder.

Fallon is seeking her third term as an at-large member. She is one of the more conservative Democrats on the council, and she recently voted against City Manager Ron Carlee’s budget for this fiscal year. She has criticized the city’s plans to use general fund dollars on a streetcar.

Maddalon, who owns the Morehead Inn, said poverty and economic mobility are critical issues for the city.

“It will require some courageous and fearless leadership,” he said. “I will fight and take a punch.”

He said his experience as a small-business owner “making hundreds of payrolls” gives him unique experience for the job.

Mitchell, who works at Barton Milo Construction, has been away from City Council for two years, after he lost to Cannon in the 2013 Democratic mayoral primary.

He had previously served District 2. In his last stint on council, he helped lead the city’s effort to fund renovations to Bank of America Stadium.

Harrison: 704-358-5160

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