Democratic mayoral candidates Vi Lyles and Joel Ford met last week to talk about the race against a backdrop of concern that their contest could split the African-American vote.
Lyles confirmed that the two met at a restaurant near Northlake Mall. She said the meeting came at the request of African-American community leaders, whom she declined to identify.
“There is a concern that we split the vote,” she told the Observer.
Ford declined to talk about what he called a private conversation.
The Observer reported in April that the two talked privately at the time about the possibility that two high-profile black candidates could split the African-American vote to the benefit of incumbent Democratic Mayor Jennifer Roberts.
“We agreed on two things,” Ford said at the time. “One is that Jennifer needs to go, and only one of us needs to run. That’s what we agreed on… We have to decide who that will be.”
Last Friday’s meeting came days before Lyles formally filed for mayor. Roberts filed Thursday. Ford plans to file Tuesday.
In its earliest ever endorsement, Charlotte’s Black Political Caucus has backed Lyles in order to rally black support behind her.
“The African-American community is very concerned about the African-American vote being split,” caucus chair Colette Forrest said Thursday. “So that is why the Black Political Caucus endorsed as early as it did.”
African-Americans are a key to the Sept. 12 Democratic primary. They make up nearly two out of three Democratic voters in the city.
When she first ran in 2015, Roberts drew support in black precincts. In a primary that included two African-Americans, Roberts won eight of the 20 precincts with the largest percentages of black voters. City Council member David Howard, an African-American, won all but one of the rest. In the African-American precincts Roberts won, Howard and then-Council member Michael Barnes often finished second and third.
Roberts won 36 percent of the 2015 primary vote, short of the 40 percent needed to win outright. She went on to defeat incumbent Dan Clodfelter in a runoff.
A poll last month by the Roberts campaign showed her in front with 35 percent, followed by Lyles with 21 percent and Ford with 15 percent. No independent polls have been done.
The race is likely to be expensive. Though reports aren’t due until later this month, Lyles told the Observer that she had raised $215,000 through June; Ford said he has raised $205,000. Roberts has not disclosed her fundraising.
Lyles said the community leaders asked that she and Ford promise to treat each other with respect in a heated campaign. “The conclusion was to play nice,” she said.
Former Mecklenburg Commissioner Wilhelmenia Rembert, who attended the meeting, said the candidates talked about “how we did not want our community divided.”
“We know that when Democrats run, especially highly reputable Democrats run, it obviously divides our community,” Rembert said Thursday.
Democrat Connie Johnson also has filed for mayor. So have Republicans Kenny Smith, a city council member, Gary Dunn and Kimberley Barnette.
Longtime civil rights attorney James Ferguson, who supports Lyles, said voters have to accept the fact that they have more than one candidate to choose from.
“We’ve developed to a point where we can longer expect only one black candidate will run for office,” he said. “That’s just a reality of life these days. I think folks will … vote on the merits of what the candidates bring.”