Two candidates want to fix northwest council district’s problems, expand opportunities

Pete Givens knows what he’s up against.

He’s running for Charlotte City Council in northwest District 2, a district that’s always elected an African-American Democrat. Givens is neither.

“I’ve got an uphill battle,” says Givens, a 57-year-old Republican.

He faces Justin Harlow, 29, who won the Democratic primary by 16 votes. November’s winner will succeed Carlenia Ivory, who was appointed to the seat after Democrat Al Austin resigned.

Few Charlotte City Council districts are as geographically diverse as District 2, which fans north and west from uptown along Beatties Ford and Sugar Creek roads to the Outer Belt and beyond. It includes prosperous subdivisions like those around Northlake Mall as well as more troubled neighborhoods.

Six in 10 voters are African-American. And 61 percent are Democrats.

Harlow, a dentist making his first run for office, has only been in Charlotte for about four years. But he’s president of the Biddleville-Smallwood Community Organization, a member of an advisory committee for Charlotte Center City Partners and active in the 5 Points area near Johnson C. Smith University.

Givens, a Gaston County native who served a term on the Bessemer City city council in the 1990s, has lived in Charlotte for 18 years, the last eight in the Coulwood area. On his web page, he said the district “lags far behind the progress of the other six.”

“I feel like District 2 has been left behind,” he told the Black Political Caucus this month.

Givens, sales manager for a lighting manufacturer, says that’s a message he carries throughout the district.

“That’s the common thing I hear from the district is they don’t feel they’ve been represented,” he says. “I hear that constantly … I tell people, ‘You will now have a voice’.”

Harlow acknowledges the district’s needs. But he also sees its opportunities.

“We’ve got a very diverse district,” he says. “District 2 is so rich in history and legacy. This is a place where the African-American community has always lived and thrived.”

While jobs are needed, he says, the district has untapped potential for economic development. “We’ve got an extreme amount of opportunity,” he adds, pointing to the redevelopment of an old manufacturing plant and the coming of the streetcar to Beatties Ford Road.

He acknowledges the efforts of west side leaders.

“I want to help build on that,” he says, “and add more value.”

Here’s what the candidates have said about key issues:

▪ Planned toll projects including south Interstate 77:

Harlow: “(T)hese projects should end immediately. I support breaking the 50-year Cintra contract with NCDOT, with full knowledge that it will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars today. We should stop these projects now to save taxpayers millions … later.”

Givens: “(I)t is a good option which can help reduce the slower traffic flow in general purpose lanes. As long as it is an option and not a requirement to pay the toll yes these projects should be continued.”

▪ Affordable housing:

Harlow: “We need a balanced approach to affordable and low income housing relying more on public-private partnerships to help meet our needs. Brightwalk is an example…”

Givens: “Affordable housing provided by the city with taxpayer funds should always be equally constructed throughout the city and not be clustered together.”

▪ Crime:

Harlow: “Reducing crime requires a multifaceted approach from all of our local governing bodies, the public, and CMPD. … We need a strong workforce training program, coupled with strong investment in our schools and social services … (and) better education of children and parents.”

Givens: “The police chief and entire force will always have my full support and I will have their back. More community police visibility and more responsibility from each family to do a better job being involved in their children’s lives is a start I believe to a long term lower crime solution.”