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Charlotte mayoral, council election coverage
Residents will vote for candidates for mayor, city council at-large and district races in the Sept. 10 primary.
Four Democrats and one Republican are running for Charlotte City Council from District 2, an area thriving in many corners but also wrestling with longstanding needs for affordable housing, accessible grocery stores and effective public transit.
The district’s current council member, Democrat Justin Harlow, announced earlier this summer he would not seek re-election as he focuses on growing his dental practice. Harlow told the Observer he does not plan to endorse a candidate ahead of the Sept. 10 primary.
District 2 is home to more than 100,000 people and includes many historically-black west Charlotte neighborhoods where rapid residential and commercial development have led to gentrification and an overall rise in the cost of property.
Where it is
The district extends west from North Tryon Street in the center city, down Brookshire Boulevard to Interstate 485 and Mountain Island Lake. Some northwest Charlotte neighborhoods near Interstate 77 are also in District 2, including the areas of West Sugar Creek Road, Old Statesville Road, Northlake, and W.T. Harris Boulevard (west of Interstate 85). The district also includes part of Innovation Park, on IBM Drive in University City.
More than half — close to 51,000 — of the district’s registered voters are Democrats. The next largest bloc are unaffiliated voters. About 11% of registered voters in District 2 are Republicans. Sixty-percent of registered voters are black, 28% percent are white.
BEHIND OUR REPORTING
How we did this story
We asked each candidate running for Charlotte City Council to complete a questionnaire about themselves and their position on three important issues facing residents and the city. Every candidate received the same opportunity to answer via written statement a uniform set of questions. Some answers were minimally-edited for clarity and brevity. In most cases, those running for office also participated in interviews with reporters.
Additional elections coverage is available on the Charlotte Observer’s politics and government news page.
Of the four Democrats running, all but one are making their first bid for elected office. The sole Republican contender, Jacob Robinson, is also running his first political campaign.
About the candidates
Arey, 34, a real estate investor, moved to Charlotte less than two years ago from Georgia. In Georgia, he worked in a non-partisan legal advisory role for state elected leaders in the General Assembly. He says he’s running to offer “sustainable and socially equitable policies that effectively tackle multiple problems at once in a cost-efficient manner.”
Davis, 38, who has lived in Charlotte since 1998, is a former teacher and trained lawyer who now works inside Mecklenburg County’s courtrooms to help people with disabilities. She recently has been leading efforts to save the historic Excelsior Club. She says she sees people in her neighborhood displaced by gentrification and believes city leaders can do more to help.
Graham, 56, is a former state senator and past Charlotte City Council member who twice ran for Congress and who also briefly entertained a run for N.C. lieutenant governor earlier this year. Graham has lived in Charlotte for 38 years. He runs a firm that facilitates contracts between large corporations and small businesses. He wants city leaders to use their influence with state and federal lawmakers to pass stricter gun controls.
Antoinette (Toni) Green
Green, 32, is a Charlotte native and teacher who also works two part-time jobs. She says the City Council needs a representative who personally understands what it means to sometimes choose between paying for groceries or buying gas. Green previously worked in a “corporate” job making more money than her teacher’s salary but quit five years ago, saying she wanted to be in a classroom to help steer teenagers toward making better life choices.
Robinson, 29, a marketing strategist who grew up in Charlotte, has lived in all four quadrants of the city. He sees both opportunity and disparity between west Charlotte and the rest of the city. Last year, he purchased a home off Beatties Ford Road and was inspired to run for City Council after getting to know families in his neighborhood who struggle to pay bills and access healthy, affordable groceries.
With homicide and other violent crime on the rise, what steps would you take to try to reduce crime?
Arey: “The city must do more than simply allocate additional funds for judges, prosecutors, and police officers. Rather, we must embrace an approach that prioritizes prevention and rehabilitation over punishment.”
“Targeted community engagement by police officers has proven effective in reducing crime in problematic areas without shifting criminal activity elsewhere. Furthermore, leveraging smart technology, such as highway speed cameras, can free up officers to engage communities personally and reduce overall crime rates.”
Davis: “I would work (with) the existing officers stationed in our communities and neighborhood leaders to form and strengthen community watch programs. I would also work with the schools and recreation centers in the community to provide safe spaces and outlets so our young people have positive and productive places to go after school and on weekends. “
Graham: “As someone who has lost my sister to senseless gun violence four years ago, I am committed to stricter laws and policies regarding guns and gun safety. When Cynthia was killed in the Emanuel AME shooting in Charleston, I vowed to honor the way she lived, not the way she died — part of that legacy is to work to prevent gun violence from happening in Charlotte.
“We need to build up our communities to keep people from feeling that turning to a life of crime is the only way for them.”
Green: “My goal is to work with organizations that are already on the ground and doing the work (such as Charlotte Area Peacekeepers and United Neighborhoods of Charlotte).”
“Visibility is the key to achieving this goal. As a child, Charlotte had a sense of community and everyone looked out for each other. I plan to provide and renew that sense of community. As someone who teaches seniors in high school, I know that to truly reach young people, we need to talk to them and not at them.”
Robinson: “The rise in homicide and violent crimes within Charlotte is unacceptable ... First, we must facilitate a more trusting relationship between police and the community. This requires hard work from all parties involved, including our elected officials on the City Council. The catastrophic murder of Alysha Johnson happened only miles from my home. The community’s response is the reason that her killers were brought to justice. Secondarily, we must stop releasing individuals accused of a violent crime back onto the street with ankle monitoring.”
What should the city do that it is not doing already to increase the amount of affordable housing and offset the pressures of gentrification?
Arey: “At the outset, we need to understand that housing policies interact with and influence other aspects of concern for residents ... Unwise housing decisions are not easily or cheaply reversed once infrastructure is in place.”
“The city should facilitate the design and development of high-density, energy-efficient, livable neighborhoods that are strategically connected to public transportation and other basic amenities such as grocery stores, parks and medical facilities. With regard to gentrification, I would propose new homestead exemptions on property taxes for low-income individuals who have lived in their home for a certain number of years. ... The biggest obstacle to any such proposal would be that the General Assembly would have to establish a new classification of property before it could be implemented. That may not be likely but change starts with discussion of an idea.
Davis: “The city should collaborate with the county and CMS to develop affordable housing units for rent and purchase on land that we already own. In developing these units we must be cognizant of the effects of gentrification on the average median income of the community and the effects of the doubling of code enforcement fines on vulnerable populations.”
Davis suggests amending city policy to limit accumulation of daily code enforcement fines for homeowners actively making repairs or engaged with contractors. “By recognizing the impact of existing policies and providing resources to mitigate their negative effects, we can begin to offset the pressures of gentrification.”
Graham: “Our district is one that’s gentrifying quickly, and I want to make sure that the growth and change we’re experiencing is something our families can be a part of — not victims of.
“Seniors living in our district should have the ability to age in place and I’ll fight to make sure they can stay in their homes. The city should create a stronger relationship with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Authority and create more partnership opportunities that results in more units being built. An aggressive land banking strategy should be implemented to purchase land to work with developers to reduce the cost of housing and to spread affordable housing throughout the city ... Build city funded housing along transit lines to reduce travel time between homes and transit stops.”
Green: “The best way to fight gentrification is ownership. People in my district are receiving letters and phone calls from developers (buying homes) at an alarming rate. I would love to see the city put just as much effort into making people aware of their options. There should be more oversight when it comes to developers being given incentives.”
Green suggests the city require that developers who receive taxpayer-funded housing incentives be willing to rent to populations typically disqualified in the leasing process, either due to negative credit reports or past arrests. “There seems to be a disconnect between (the city’s) definition of affordable housing and the average citizen of Charlotte.”
Robinson: “We must solicit the private sector for contributions (of both funding and land). Many large companies call Charlotte home. They benefit from its workforce and should be invested in the community. Mixed use development should be encouraged as commercial occupancy provides a more steady and long term income stream which can reduce the burden of residential tenants.
“NIMBY” or “Not in my backyard,” Robinson says, “is not OK ... Most individuals are behind affordable housing, as long as it’s not in their neighborhood. The lack of community support can stymie investment from developers because it reduces the amount of available land to be developed into housing.” Robinson also supports new approaches to re-zoning requests, to speed up development and make way for niche housing options, such as “micro apartments.”