Politics & Government

Democratic candidates hammer Mayor Jennifer Roberts’ response to September protests

Mayoral debate covers array of issues

The Black Political Caucus hosted a mayoral debate in May at Reeder Memorial Baptist Church. Mayor Jennifer Roberts, Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles and state Sen. Joel Ford spoke about several topics to a full house of voters.
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The Black Political Caucus hosted a mayoral debate in May at Reeder Memorial Baptist Church. Mayor Jennifer Roberts, Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles and state Sen. Joel Ford spoke about several topics to a full house of voters.

Democratic mayoral candidates Tuesday joined in criticizing incumbent Jennifer Roberts over her handling of the unrest that followed last fall’s police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.

“I would give it an ‘F+’,” candidate Lucille Puckett said of the city’s response.

Their comments came during the taping of a debate as Charlotte nears the anniversary of the September shooting that prompted then-Gov. Pat McCrory to declare a state of emergency and call out the National Guard.

The debate, sponsored by the League of Women Voters and WTVI, came two days before the start of early voting for the Sept. 12 primary.

Democrat Vi Lyles, the mayor pro tem, alluded to Roberts’ national media appearances.

“We had the opportunity to stay off national television and work in the community,” she said.

Constance Partee Johnson said she didn’t see “a leader that brought both sides together.”

State Sen. Joel Ford called Roberts’ response “an absolute failure.” He said she tried to “roll our police chief under the bus.” After initially supporting Chief Kerr Putney’s decision not to release body- and dash-cam video, she wrote an op-ed in which she said the city needed to be more transparent.

“We could have been more transparent,” Roberts said during the debate, adding that “I was the first city official to call for the release of the body-cam footage.”

“I think everybody recognizes that we can improve,” she told reporters later. But she said the city has since made progress addressing some of the underlying causes of discontent. “We face our challenges,” she said. “We come up with a positive plan and we bring everybody along.”

As he has been, Ford was the mayor’s most consistent critic. He cited her “failed leadership” on everything from toll roads to her statements on national issues to her failure to directly answer a question about taxes.

“When I hear Joel Ford talk about the city of Charlotte, I wonder if we’re living in the same city,” an exasperated Roberts said at one point.

The only candidate who didn’t criticize the mayor was Kimberley Paige Barnette, the only Republican who took part in the debate. She criticized the September protesters.

“Protests are confrontational,” she said. “I believe there are better ways to express yourself.” They were, she added, “an expression of Democratic behavior.”

Asked how the city could help its lower-income residents, Barnette said, “I don’t think we should encourage more lower-income people to (come to) Charlotte.”

“We should attract higher-income people.”

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill

Watch the debate

WTVI will broadcast the League of Women Voters’ mayoral debate Aug. 29 at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.

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