Democrat Vi Alexander Lyles may be a first-time candidate, but she’s no stranger to Charlotte city government or public policy.
She spent nearly 30 years with the city, rising from budget analyst to budget director to assistant city manager, and helped lead initiatives on community policing and affordable housing.
Later, in the nonprofit world and at last year’s Democratic National Convention, she worked on projects that have continued to impact the city.
“I just realized there were other ways to influence the community than just working in government,” says Lyles, 62.
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Now Lyles, who has worked with eight mayors, wants to return to government. She’s running for one of four at-large seats on the City Council. She finished second in September’s Democratic primary.
Few candidates can match her network.
The Columbia native has served on community boards including the United Way, the Arts & Science Council and the Charlotte Chamber. She currently chairs the board of Presbyterian Healthcare.
Since leaving city government in 2004, Lyles has worked as a consulting director of the Lee Institute, an organization that helps nonprofits develop leadership and engage in the community.
Through August, she raised more than $92,000, more than any council candidate. She’s been endorsed by two former city managers, eight former council members and two former mayors, including Republican Richard Vinroot.
“She’s knowledgeable, she listens, she doesn’t make snap judgments, she’s a strategic thinker, ” says Cyndee Patterson, president of the Lee Institute. “She can walk in any room, neighborhood (or) group in this community and be comfortable and make those around her feel comfortable.”
Last year, Lyles was director of community outreach for the DNC’s host committee. She designed then-Mayor Anthony Foxx’s Legacy Program, which was intended to leave projects that would endure – in areas such as children’s health and youth employment – when the convention was gone.
After the DNC, she began working on another project.
Working with the Foundation for the Carolinas, she helped launch a public-private program that will offer rent subsidies to low-income people and help them to long-term self-sufficiency.
The Foundation has pledged to raise $10 million. The city agreed to match it over five years. The City Council made its first $2 million installment in March.
Lyles has her own management consulting firm. Clients include the Chamber and the city of Durham.
“I couldn’t stay not busy,” she says.
A breast cancer survivor, Lyles spent much of the year caring for her husband, John, who was diagnosed two years ago with pancreatic cancer. He died in September, on primary day.
If elected, she says she would focus on improving transportation, ensuring an educated workforce, and smoothing relations between the city and the state.
“We’ve got to stop arguing about what we can’t do together,” she says, “and talk about what we can do together.”