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Less than two months before the Democratic mayoral primary, Mayor Jennifer Roberts and Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles were the main participants in a forum Tuesday night. State Sen. Joel Ford, another prominent candidate, did not attend because he was in Raleigh to vote on the state budget.
While Roberts and Ford have attacked each other, Roberts and Lyles did not criticize each other’s positions.
In fact, at the end of the debate, the candidates were given an opportunity to ask another candidate a question. When it was Roberts’ turn, she declined to ask Lyles a question. She instead asked a lesser-known Democratic candidate, Constance Partee-Johnson, a softball question: “Why do you love Charlotte so much?”
The candidates discussed issues such as charter schools, economic opportunity and House Bill 2. They were also asked questions about issues that aren’t part of the mayor’s job, such as teacher pay.
The forum at Trinity Episcopal School was sponsored by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP, St. Paul Baptist Church and the Charlotte National Pan Hellenic Council.
In a discussion about the social protests locally and nationwide, Roberts said she has “stood with communities.” She said that when a local business owner in east Charlotte was the victim of a hate crime, she visited that store owner.
She said she also was active during the Keith Scott protests and riots in September.
“I was in uptown every night in September,” she said. “I will continue to fight to bring people together.”
Lyles said she was in Marshall Park during the Scott protests.
“I have the record of reaching out,” she said. “I have learned and listened.”
She said one of her strengths was creating a seven-point plan after the Scott shooting, some of which was eventually approved by City Council as part of its response to the protests.
Roberts and Lyles differed somewhat on a question about House Bill 2 and LGBT rights.
Both said they support legal protections for the LGBT community, and both supported the ordinance that gave legal protections to the LGBT community.
Lyles said she would work with other North Carolina cities in the future to negotiate with the General Assembly in a group.
“We will go back with other cities,” she said.
Roberts spoke about how it was important for the city to stand up for LGBT rights, even if the legislature nullified the city ordinance with HB2.
“People know that Charlotte did stand up,” she said.
The candidates were asked whether they support charter schools. The city of Charlotte and the mayor don’t vote on charter schools or fund them, and Roberts and Lyles did not give detailed answers.
Lyles said “it’s a shame and disgrace that (some parts of the community) don’t have great schools.”
Roberts said “charter schools, like public schools, vary in quality,” and said they need to be held to high standards.
Partee-Johnson said she supports them. “Charlotte schools are important,” she said.
Lucille Puckett, another Democratic candidate, said she is running to bring change to Charlotte.