Democratic challengers sweep Republicans in Mecklenburg commissioner races

All three Republican incumbents on the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners were defeated by their opponents Tuesday, in a major shakeup for the board that leaves it with a 9-0 Democratic majority.

Democrats sharply increased their 6-3 majority, and the county will have a board of commissioners with no Republicans. It’s the first time the board has been made up of all one party since the 1964-66 term, when Democrats held all the seats.

Besides the district races, all three Democratic at-large members were set to win re-election, defeating the lone Republican candidate, Jeremy Brasch, in a contest that was an exact repeat of the 2016 election. Pat Cotham was the top vote-getter with almost 29 percent, followed by Trevor Fuller and Ella Scarborough with about 28 percent. Brasch trailed with almost 16 percent

Three Democrats running for district seats didn’t have an opponent, so they automatically won. Longtime commissioners Vilma Leake, who represents District 2, and George Dunlap, of District 3, won new terms unopposed. Newcomer Mark Jerrell will replace Commissioner Dumont Clarke, who’s stepping down in District 4.

The only competitive races were in the three Republican-held districts. For the first time in six years, Democrats fielded challengers to all three Republican commissioners, including District 1 (which covers north Charlotte, Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson), District 5 (most of the southeast Charlotte “wedge” between Independence and South boulevards) and District 6 (much of south Charlotte, Pineville, Matthews and Mint Hill).

The shakeup in those districts was seismic. Three challengers, all women, defeated the three Republican incumbents.

Commissioner Jim Puckett, who represents District 1, lost to Democrat Elaine Powell, a longtime Parks & Recreation commissioner, 44 percent to 56 percent. Matthew Ridenhour, representing District 5, lost a closer race to Democratic challenger Susan Harden, a professor at UNC Charlotte, 49 percent to 51 percent.

And Bill James, a longtime commissioner from District 6 who’s courted controversy with remarks about black people and gay people, trailed Democratic challenger Susan McDowell, 48 percent to 52 percent. James has been on the board of commissioners since 1996, so the next term will be the first time in more than two decades he hasn’t represented south Mecklenburg.

Although the county commissioners races drew far less money and interest than disputed congressional seats and hot-button amendments like voter ID on the ballot this year, voters’ choices will have far-reaching impacts for local residents. The county commissioners set the biggest share of property taxes, and with new home values coming out next year after the revaluation, the property tax rate is likely to be a major issue.

The county commissioners also oversee a $1.7 billion budget, provide a big chunk of the funding for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and oversee more than 5,500 employees in departments ranging from social services to parks.

At large

  • Jeremy Brasch, R 15.89%
  • Patricia (Pat) Cotham, D 28.83%

  • Trevor M. Fuller, D 27.64%

  • Ella Scarborough, D 27.64%

District 1

  • Elaine Powell, D 55.99%

  • Jim Puckett, R 44.01%

District 5

  • Susan B. Harden, D 50.63%

  • Matthew Ridenhour, R 49.37%

District 6

  • Bill James, R 48.24%

  • Susan Rodriguez McDowell, D 51.76%

(All precincts reporting. Results are final but not unofficial.)