Elections

In just seven weeks, crowded primaries will determine most Charlotte city races

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles registers for re-election

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles registers for re-election, surrounded by supporters, at the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections. Lyles touted her housing initiatives during her first term and continued plans for her second term.
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Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles registers for re-election, surrounded by supporters, at the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections. Lyles touted her housing initiatives during her first term and continued plans for her second term.

Reflecting a dramatically changed electorate, Charlotte’s next mayor and most City Council members are almost certain to be chosen in the Sept. 10 primaries, not the November general election.

Friday’s end of candidate filing left Democratic Mayor Vi Lyles and most Democratic council candidates with no significant Republican opposition. It’s the first time in more than a decade that a mayor could have a relatively smooth ride to re-election.

That means in just over seven weeks, Democratic primaries likely will choose the next mayor, four at-large council members and new representatives in at least three districts. And the sole Republican primary will choose the next member from southeast District 7.

The final lineup of candidates reflects the city’s continued shift toward Democrats.

“If there are no or few Republicans on the ballot this fall, that means the election is decided by the few people who vote in Democratic primaries, and they’re not representative of the electorate in Charlotte,” said political scientist Eric Heberlig of UNC Charlotte.

Republicans make up just one in five Charlotte voters. No Republican has been elected mayor since 2009, when seven-term incumbent GOP Pat McCrory left office. And aside from southeast Districts 6 and 7, none has been elected to council since 2011.

In 2018, Democrats unseated all three GOP incumbents on the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners and won all but one of the county’s legislative seats.

“I don’t think it’s very surprising that we haven’t seen Republican candidates, given the results of the last several cycles,” said Mike Evans, a Democratic consultant.

Young candidates

With open seats in three districts, the election will guarantee at least three new faces on council. One current district candidate, LaWana Mayfield, is trying for an at-large seat. A former state senator and council member, Malcolm Graham, is attempting a comeback in District 2.

And two years after a handful of Millennials were elected, three post-Millennials 21-and-younger, are running.

“A lot of people see an opportunity to win because so many new candidates have been winning over the last two years in very unlikely races,” said Democratic consultant Aiesha Dew.

Lyles faces five challengers in seeking to become the first mayor since Democrat Anthony Foxx was re-elected in 2011 to serve more than a single term.

Also in the Democratic primary are Roderick Davis, Tigress McDaniel and Lucille Puckett, who’ve each run several times, and Joel Odom, a 20-year-old newcomer. The November ballot will include Republican David Michael Rice, a perennial candidate who once called his political committee the “Ricetown Royal Republic.”

Crowded primaries

The most competitive council races will be in primaries:

The Democratic at-large primary features the four incumbents — Dimple Ajmera, Julie Eiselt, James Mitchell and Braxton Winston — as well as LaWana Mayfield, who now represents District 3. Jorge Millares is trying to become the first Hispanic council member and Chad Stachowicz, who lost a 2018 race for N.C. Senate, is also running.

In central Charlotte District 1, incumbent Larken Egleston faces newcomer Sean Smith in the Democratic primary. No Republican is running.

Incumbent Justin Harlow’s decision not to run opened a seat in northwest District 2 where 60% of voters are Democrats, more than any other district.

Graham is trying to return to council for the first time in 15 years. He faces Democrats Jeremy Arey, Jessica Davis and Antoinette Green. The winner meets Republican Jacob Robinson.

With Mayfield running at-large, southwest Charlotte’s District 3 seat is open. The race in the majority Democratic district has three Democrats: Terry Brown, Caleb Theodros and Victoria Watlington.

In northeast District 4, six Democrats and one Republican are vying to replace Greg Phipps, who is stepping down. Nearly half the district’s voters are African American.

District 5 Democrat Matt Newton faces two primary opponents, Vinroy Reid and Mark Vincent. No Republican is running.

The most competitive general election could be in District 6, where incumbent Republican Tariq Bokhari faces Democrat Gina Navarrete.

The District 7 primary matches Republican incumbent Ed Driggs against Republican Victoria Nwasike. No Democrat is running in the district where unaffiliated voters outnumber Republicans and Democrats make up just one out of four voters.

With African Americans making up more than six in 10 Democratic voters citywide, endorsements from the Black Political Caucus are expected to play an important role in primaries.

New Caucus Chair Khalif Rhodes calls the races “extremely important.” The first caucus event will be a sort of speed dating opportunity for voters to question candidates. Called “Chat and Choose,” it’s scheduled for Aug. 1 at St. Paul Baptist Church.

Who’s running

Mayor

Roderick Davis, D

Vi Lyles, D (i)

Tigress McDaniel, D

Joel Odom, D

Lucille Puckett, D

David Michael Rice, R

Council at-large

Dimple Ajmera, D (i)

Julie Eiselt, D (i)

LaWana Mayfield, D (i District 3)

Jorge Millares, D

James Mitchell, D (i)

Joshua Richardson, R

Chad Stachowicz, D

Braxton Winston, D (i)

District 1

Larken Egleston, D (i)

Sean Smith, D

District 2

Jeremy Arey, D

Jessica Davis, D

Malcolm Graham, D

Antoinette (Toni) Green, D

Jacob Robinson, R

District 3

Terry Brown, D

Caleb Theodros, D

Victoria Watlington, D

District 4

Richmond Baker, D

Gabe Cartagena, D

Charlene Henderson, D

Renee Perkins Johnson, D

Brandon Pierce, R

Charles Robinson, D

Sean Thompson, D

District 5

Mat Newton, D (i)

Vinroy Reid, D

Mark Vincent, D

District 6

Gina Navarrette, D

Tariq Bokhari, R (i)

District 7

Ed Driggs, R (i)

Victoria Nwasike, R

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