Charlotte's mayoral candidates Vi Lyles and Kenny Smith: Who They Are
Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles and at-large council member Kenny Smith, Charlotte’s mayoral candidates, have found themselves on the opposite sides of numerous votes, including LGBT legal protections, the streetcar and toll lanes.
But in the four years they have served together – they were both elected in 2013 – they also have similar votes on expanding light rail, body cameras for police officers and some environmental issues.
Here is how Lyles, a Democrat, and Smith, a Republican, compare on a number of high-profile issues over the past four years.
Smith made public safety and the city’s rising homicide rate a focus of his campaign when he expected to run against Mayor Jennifer Roberts.
Smith and Lyles have a much more similar record on police.
Both voted in favor of the 2016 and 2017 budgets that hired more police officers. They both voted to buy body cameras for police officers, a move that former police chief Rodney Monroe supported. Both backed trying to get subpoena power for the Citizens Review Board, a change the Fraternal Order of Police opposed.
After the Keith Scott protests, Roberts said the city needed to be more transparent in releasing body and dash camera footage from the shooting. Lyles and Smith, however, both gave their full support to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and Chief Kerr Putney and did not say the department needed to be more transparent.
Smith said he and Lyles have a different tone in some of their public statements about police.
In September, Charlotte police shot and killed a man they said was armed in northeast Charlotte.
After the incident, Lyles wrote on Facebook that she was “gathering information about the officer involved shooting in Northeast tonight. My prayers are with the family. I will keep everyone updated as I learn more details.”
She later revised that post to say her prayers “are with the family and everyone impacted by this trauma. I will keep everyone updated as I learn more details.”
Smith said Lyles should have also mentioned the officers and their families.
Lyles supports building the Gold Line streetcar, which Smith opposes. Smith has voted against the streetcar many times.
The city is now building the second phase of the streetcar, which will extend the line to Johnson C. Smith University to the west and to Sunnyside Avenue to the east. It’s possible that during the next mayor’s term, the city may want to spend money studying a third phase of the streetcar.
As mayor, Smith said he would veto any attempt to extend the streetcar further.
Both candidates supported extending the Lynx Blue Line to University City, and both favor building additional transit lines. It’s likely the Charlotte Area Transit System would need a new tax to expand the transit system, but neither Smith nor Lyles said they would support a new tax.
Lyles voted in favor of building the Interstate 77 toll lanes in north Mecklenburg. Smith voted against the project.
Soccer and sports stadiums
The City Council never took a formal vote on whether to help fund a soccer stadium for a professional team. Both Smith and Lyles said they opposed it.
Neither was on City Council when the city approved a deal to renovate Bank of America Stadium for the Carolina Panthers.
In 2014, Lyles voted in favor the city spending $33.5 million in hospitality tax money to upgrade the Spectrum Center, then called Time Warner Cable Arena. Smith voted no. He said he agreed that the city was contractually obligated to make some improvements to the arena, but he believed the city was paying too much money.
In 2015, Lyles voted for the city to spend $5.9 million in taxpayer money to help bring the NBA All Star Game to Charlotte. That money included $600,000 in general fund tax dollars, which could have been used for police or roads.
Smith voted against the $5.9 million. He questioned why the NBA needed incentives when the PGA didn’t receive public money for its championship, which was held this summer in Charlotte.
Lyles voted in favor of spending $16 million on renovations to Bojangles’ Coliseum in 2014, while Smith voted no. Earlier this year, both supported a plan to spend $18 million to build a new building connecting Bojangles’ Coliseum with Ovens Auditorium.
Lyles was a driving force behind the city’s “Letter to the Community,” which pledged to build 5,000 units of affordable housing in three years instead of five years. Smith also signed the letter.
Earlier this year, Lyles voted against a proposal made by council member Ed Driggs to use hotel/motel tax dollars to pay for the Bojangles’ Coliseum/Ovens Auditorium improvements instead of general tax fund dollars. Driggs suggested the $18 million could be used to build affordable housing.
Smith voted in favor of that plan, while Lyles voted against it.
In 2014, the City Council approved a rezoning that would allow an affordable housing complex to be built in south Charlotte on Weddington Road. Neighbors opposed the rezoning, which would have allowed for the first affordable housing complex in the area.
Lyles voted in favor of the rezoning; Smith voted against it. The rezoning was approved, but the apartments haven’t been built.
In September 2016, council members voted for a waiver that would allow low-income apartments to be built off Nations Ford Road. City policy said the area should have been off limits for affordable housing because there was already a large number of subsidized units in the area.
Despite requests from neighbors to vote against the waiver, both Lyles and Smith voted for it.
In 2014, City Council approved a waiver that would allow developers to pay a fee instead of handling storm water on site. Environmentalists opposed the waiver.
Council members approved the change in a 7-4 vote, and both Lyles and Smith supported it.
Both Lyles and Smith support the city’s efforts to build greenways throughout the city. Lyles voted for the city’s plan to build bike lanes throughout the city, while Smith voted against it in committee.
Lyles voted to expand the nondiscrimination ordinance that provided legal protections to LGBT individuals, including the provision that allowed transgender individuals to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.
Smith opposed the ordinance twice, in 2015 and 2016. Smith has usually cited the bathroom provision as a reason to oppose the ordinance, but he also voted against a version of the ordinance in 2015 that did not address bathrooms.
Before the 2015 vote, Smith said he thought the council was trying to “impose the progressive left view of morality on the majority of our citizens.” His position has not changed on the issue, though as a mayoral candidate he has used less combative language. During a recent mayoral debate this year, he said the bathroom provision for transgender individuals is what “some would call overreach.”
There has been one property tax increase since Lyles and Smith have been council members, in 2015. That tax increase was mostly offset by a decrease in the garbage fee paid by homeowners.
Lyles voted for that budget, while Smith was one of four council members who voted no.