Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts will finish her two-year term Monday, when fellow Democrat Vi Lyles is sworn in as the city’s first American-American female mayor.
Roberts’ term was punctuated by a series of high-profile controversies, such as House Bill 2, the Keith Lamont Scott shooting and protests by the city’s Latino community over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
Protesters often called for her resignation. Republicans blasted her as an out-of-touch liberal. In an interview Friday, Roberts said she believed her opponents often misconstrued her positions, and that she felt she did the right thing for the city.
Q: What is your legacy?
A: There is a lot that we have worked on, and there are a lot of things that will continue to grow, from affordable housing to transit to youth initiatives. We have created an after-school program, with CharlotteNext. The city is in very good shape after two – well more than two challenging events. The other thing that Charlotte will be remembered for, and that I will be remembered for, is the stand on equality. We saw in the elections in the past month that transgender delegates (nationwide) were being elected. These were folks who were once afraid to be who they are. Charlotte is thriving because people knew that Charlotte stood up for equality and inclusion.
Q: Will House Bill 2 and Charlotte’s non-discrimination ordinance be remembered as a major historical event for LGBTQ rights?
A: Well some have said that. Some people have called me the Harvey Milk of the East Coast. That’s interesting. I have a hard time judging things in the heat of time. I did that because it’s the right thing to do.
Q: Would anything have changed the result of the election? Or was the die cast because of Keith Scott and HB2?
A: No other mayor has had to deal with as many crises. We started with the toll road controversy. After HB2 was partially repealed, and after the protests, we had the deportations with Trump coming in and scaring people in the community. I have talked to several former mayors who said no one has had to deal with the crises that you have had to deal with.
Q: Do you wish you had done anything differently strategically during the campaign?
A: That’s really for the strategists to look at these things. I think I ran a great campaign. People still wave at me, they still shout out, ‘Mayor Roberts we love you.’ Who knows. There were challenges when you are the head of an organization, and there are challenges within that organization. Sometimes you take a fall, even when you are on the right side.
Q: After the Keith Scott protests, you said the city and Charlotte police needed to be more transparent and release video footage of shootings earlier. Your opponents in the election criticized you for that. Was that fair?
A: It was misconstrued by opponents. A lot of things were misconstrued by my opponents, including the Observer, which said I made vindictive committee opponents. That’s pretty inaccurate. I never criticized the police chief personally. I always said, ‘We, the city.’ My opponents just jumped onto that. But I think I did the right thing. We have a video release policy now. We have so much more interaction (with the public).
Q: What will be the biggest challenge for the new council?
A: The new folks will run into bureaucracy. And that’s OK, we need their energy.
Q: What do you mean by bureaucracy?
A: I mean that bureaucracy moves more slow. Millennials who are used to 140 characters may not be used to that. When you have a public government, you have to have a public process. You have to a have a public discussion. That will be a learning experience.
Q: Do you believe City Manager Marcus Jones is effective leading the city?
A: Yes. We gave him a 6 percent raise. We saw him manage through a couple of crises. He is reorganizing. He has done a lot of community outreach. he is being well received there.
Q: What do you plan to do next?
A: I plan to take a couple of months to catch up with my life before I say yes to anything. I have some offers and some requests. I am speaking at a couple conferences. I will wait to get some perspective before I say yes to a full-time commitment.
Q: Could you run for office again?
A: I don’t have plans at this point. I also know you never say never when it comes to politics and when it comes to jobs. Right now I have no plans.