Politics & Government

Mayor Jennifer Roberts breaks with governor, blasts ‘false repeal’ of HB2

Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, left, blasted what she called a “false repeal” of House Bill 2 Thursday.
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, left, blasted what she called a “false repeal” of House Bill 2 Thursday. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts broke with Roy Cooper, a fellow Democrat, criticizing the General Assembly’s “false repeal” of House Bill 2 and calling it a “rejection of Charlotte’s and North Carolina’s progressive, inclusive values.”

Roberts has been a staunch defender of the city’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance, passed in February 2016, that extended legal protections to the LGBT community. That ordinance was nullified a month later by HB2.

Roberts made her statement by Twitter Thursday.

“I am deeply disappointed that the Republican leaders in the General Assembly continue to see LGBT people as unequal and refuse to let cities like Charlotte govern themselves,” she wrote.

In an unusual twist, the city of Charlotte released a statement Thursday that differed sharply from the mayor’s. The city said it’s “pleased” the legislature “took this important step by repealing House Bill 2.”

This legislation has impacted economic development, tourism, businesses and more over the last year, and we look forward to moving beyond this matter,” the city said.

The city’s statement was not made on behalf of the City Council or the mayor. It was made by the city’s corporate communications department, which reports to City Manager Marcus Jones.

Sandy D’Elosua, the city’s director of corporate communications, said city staff consulted with council members about the statement.

For much of 2016, Roberts declined to consider repealing the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, pushing back against assertions that such a move could lead to a deal with Raleigh. In December, however, she agreed to hold a vote on a repeal of the city’s nullified ordinance. That vote passed, and Roberts was angered when legislators declined to repeal HB2 that same week.

Cooper didn’t support the repeal compromise in December. But he signed Thursday’s repeal vote.

Roberts is running for reelection as mayor, and her two Democratic primary opponents also weighed in Thursday.

State Sen. Joel Ford, who is challenging her, voted for the repeal. In a statement, he said the “compromise...allows us to hit the restart button.”

He said he committed to working with “all citizens of this great state, including the LGBTQ community, to ensure everyone has equal protection under the law.”

Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles was more supportive of the decision. She said in a statement that “the people of Charlotte and the state of North Carolina are ready to get back to work. The repeal of HB2 will bring back businesses and jobs. Our city is a great place to work! I want businesses to grow here, and I want them to bring good paying jobs for our people. Repealing HB2 allows us to create more opportunities.”

Lyles later criticized the three-year ban on new nondiscrimination ordinances.

“By placing a moratorium on cities from passing non-discrimination ordinances like my colleagues and I did for three years, those in Raleigh are using their power to override our city, our values and our growth,” she said.

City Council member Kenny Smith is the only Republican running so far.

In the past, Smith has supported efforts to reach a compromise with Raleigh. He asked council members in May to rescind the nondiscrimination ordinance, but the Democratic-led council refused.

In a statement, Smith criticized Roberts.

“The Mayor's decision to drag us into this mess cost our working families thousands of jobs and countless opportunities,” he said. “It is time to focus on Charlotte. It is time to get back to working on important issues that can improve Charlottean's daily lives.”

In an interview with the Observer later Thursday about the vote, Mayor Roberts said: “I think there was a sense that we've got to try to take some kind of a step that would get us somewhere in restoring jobs...I think the jury is out on what the public will think."

Roberts said she hasn't thought about whether the repeal vote will hurt her politically.

“What I think about are the parents of trans youth and the members of the trans community who are going to go four more years trying to figure out how they're going to get through it and not be bullied and mistreated every day,” she said.

Thursday’s repeal nullifies HB2. However, it prohibits cities and towns from passing their own nondiscrimination ordinances until 2020.

It also prohibits them from permanently passing ordinances or regulations that would impact the use of multi-stall bathrooms in places of public accommodation.

Businesses are free to set their own bathroom policies, and can allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. But Charlotte and other cities and towns can’t force the businesses to do so.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs