Politics & Government

At-large council candidates talk affordable housing, RNC, homicide rate at forum

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Residents will vote for candidates for mayor, city council at-large and district races in the Sept. 10 primary.

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The Democrats running for four at-large seats on Charlotte City Council have plenty to agree on: All seven said there must be zero tolerance for police officers who don’t wear body cameras. All of them would support a new non-discrimination ordinance, they said.

They care about increasing affordable housing. They want to address Charlotte’s growing homicide rate immediately. They’re open to subsidizing a new Panthers stadium.

Where they seem to diverge most, perhaps, is how to best achieve those goals.

Those strategic differences between the candidates — four at-large incumbents, plus another sitting council member and two would-be newcomers — came into greater light Wednesday evening, at a WFAE forum moderated by “Charlotte Talks” host Mike Collins.

Touching on topics as wide-ranging as community policing and tax breaks for sports teams, Collins pressed the candidates on hot-button issues facing the city and the council.

Jorge Millares, the founder of the advocacy nonprofit Queen City Unity, said that solutions would have to emerge from better data: on the rate of displacement in the city’s affordable housing stock, and on salaries for police officers stack up against other cities.

Millares and at-large council member Julie Eiselt were the only two of seven who said funding violence prevention programs was the most important way to combat crime in Charlotte. The rest of the candidates, when asked by Collins to name a single solution, emphasized creating more jobs.

“Crime is always higher where you have higher levels of poverty,” said Braxton Winston, who is in his first term as an at-large member of the council. “We need to continue to push forward on breaking up that crescent of despair.”

When Collins asked about the police killing of Danquirs Franklin, both he and Dimple Ajmera mentioned the controversy over the release of the body-camera footage — the full version of which was only shown at first to the council — as a sign that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department needed greater oversight from the council.

“We were not transparent,” said Ajmera, an at-large council member who previously represented District 5. “There should be an equal version of what’s shown to us and what’s released to the media.”

That characterized one of the broader themes for the night, which saw most of the incumbents — particularly those with long tenures on the council — pointing more often than not to reupping past efforts and structures within the system.

Both Lawana Mayfield, who has represented District 3 since 2011, and James “Smuggie” Mitchell, an at-large member who was first elected to represent District 2 in 1999, said that they wanted to lobby the state legislature for more control for the city’s housing stock.

Chad Stachowicz, a tech entrepreneur, plugged what he’s dubbed the “Queen New Deal,” which would create a city office on housing advocacy and look to promote home ownership.

The one area where the seven candidates seemed to disagree most sharply was on the Republican National Convention, which is set to come to town in just under one year. The convention was approved following a contentious — and razor-thin — vote from the existing council.

Mayfield, who voted against bringing the RNC to Charlotte, defended that stance. She fears for how the event may affect both small businesses in uptown, she said, as well as residents of color in a majority-minority city — particularly given the sort of remarks that have come from President Donald Trump.

“(The vote) wasn’t regarding the RNC,” she said. “It was regarding this administration and the amount of hatred and misogyny and vitriol we have seen from the administration.”

Most of those alongside her onstage agreed, citing the “toxic values” put forth by Trump and the bigotry, racism and xenophobia they said he espoused as president.

But Eiselt and Mitchell, who were among the six council votes in support of a proposal to host the convention, defended their votes — albeit, for slightly different reasons.

Eiselt said she has regrets about the process — a series of one-on-one meetings with Mayor Vi Lyles — rather than a more public discussion. But she worries about the message that pulling out of an event like the RNC would have sent to major companies like Honeywell, which has moved its headquarters to Charlotte, she said.

Mitchell, meanwhile, said the convention will bring in revenue, benefit city residents who work in hospitality, appeal to Republican CEOs and add Charlotte to a small list of cities that have hosted conventions for both major political parties.

“I saw this a great opportunity to show what Charlotte is all about,” he said.

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