In a field of perennial candidates, why Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles has an edge this year

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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.

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Charlotte voters have seen five costly and competitive mayoral races over the past decade. But not this year.

Democratic Mayor Vi Lyles appears to have a smooth path to becoming the first mayor to win a second term since Democrat Anthony Foxx in 2011.

Lyles, 67, faces four Democrats in the Sept. 10 primary. Three — Roderick Davis, Tigress McDaniel and Lucille Puckett — have each run for office multiple times. One, 20-year-old student Joel Odom, is a political newcomer. In their latest campaign reports, none reported having any money.

“I don’t call that a competitive primary at all,” said Democratic consultant Sean Grier.

Only one Republican, perennial candidate David Michael Rice, is vying in November.

Some Democratic candidates have criticized Lyles over her support for bringing next year’s Republican National Convention to Charlotte. Responding to claims of the convention’s economic benefit, Odom told a recent forum: “We should have put people first and not money.”

“When you sit in this chair, you have to remember you represent every person in the city,” Lyles told the same forum.

Last month, in response to President Donald Trump’s tweets about four Democratic congresswomen and and rally in Greenville, Lyles said, “Charlotte is no place for racist or xenophobic hate speech, and we simply will not tolerate it.”

Lyles touts her accomplishments on affordable housing and jobs while acknowledging the city needs to do more on public safety and transportation.

The city is close to assembling $50 million in private funds for affordable housing, matching the same amount in public money from a 2018 bond issue. Meanwhile, Honeywell, a Fortune 100 company, is moving its corporate headquarters to Charlotte from New Jersey. And Lowe’s plans to bring 2,000 jobs to a new global tech hub in South End.

Lyles has pledged to work on transportation initiatives including “rebuilding” the bus system and finding money to expand light rail. She said she also wants to improve public safety in a city that already has seen more homicides than it did all of last year.

“I wish I could wave a magic wand,” she told the forum.

Bob Morgan, former president of the Charlotte Chamber, said Lyles has solid support in the business community.

“I hear it almost on a daily basis,” he said. “People tell, whatever their political registration, they tell me they appreciate that she has a pro-Charlotte agenda. She’s not perceived as being overly partisan or in it for her political ambition.”

Lyles is running in a city that has become increasingly Democratic and where Republicans make up less than one in five registered city voters. But it’s the first time in nearly four decades that Republicans failed to mount a serious mayoral challenge.

“I just think she’s been a terrific mayor,” said former Mayor Richard Vinroot, a Republican. “She’s just an admirable person in every way and a good representative of our city.”

Lyles spent three decades in city government, rising from budget analyst to budget director to assistant city manager. She went on to work for a non-profit and as a leadership consultant. She was elected to the first of two city council terms in 2013.

After beating incumbent Mayor Jennifer Roberts and a handful of other Democrats in the 2017 primary, she went on to win 59% of the vote against Republican Kenny Smith, who spent $650,000.

Here’s a look at the other candidates.

Davis mug.JPG

Roderick Davis

Davis, 35, has run for office a handful of times. Though he got just 152 votes in the 2015 mayoral primary, he won nearly 48% of the vote against an incumbent state senator in 2016 despite barely campaigning.

He works in management for an online retailer and is currently pursuing a public administration degree at the Nevada-based Great Basin College.

Davis wants to address the lack of affordable housing and increased gentrification. But he said his biggest issue is homelessness.

“People visit our city and the first thing they see is the homeless,” he said. “Something has to be done about that.”

Tigress McDaniel

McDaniel, who calls herself “the best candidate” for mayor, has run several times. In 2018 she ran for Mecklenburg County commissioner and for Soil and Water District Supervisor. She ran for the Greensboro City Council in 2013.

She’s known for her penchant for lawsuits, having filed more than 160 in North Carolina. Last year a Mecklenburg County judge blocked her from entering new complaints in the county without prior approval. At a recent forum, she said she is not “a frivolous filer” and has gone to court in efforts to help other people.

In 2006, McDaniel, then known as Tosha McDougal, served about 20 months in state prison after being convicted in Cabarrus County on charges of obtaining property under false pretenses and identity theft. She has maintained her innocence.

Joel Odom
Joel Odom is a Democratic candidate running for Mayor of Charlotte. Joel Odom

Joel Odom

Odom, 20, is making his first run for office. Raised by a single mother who died when he was 8, Odom, grew up among relatives.

Odom is running on a platform that includes jobs, education, affordable housing public safety and expanding opportunity for everybody. He told a forum that five of his friends have been murdered in the last six months.

“Not only have I learned the issues, I’ve lived the issues,” he told the forum.


Lucille Puckett

Puckett, 51, lost primaries for mayor in 2013 and 2017. She also has run for school board and the state House.

Puckett has said crime is not just a statistic for her. In 2016 she saw her son, Shawn Harbin, gunned down in front of her at their home off Freedom Drive after an argument.

Puckett has said she later went to city officials and told them the murder rate was out of control. “All they could do was give me condolences,” she said.

A former member of the Charlotte Housing Authority board, she’s a community advocate who focuses on helping low-income families and has directed a non-profit designed to help people in at-risk communities.

Jim Morrill, who grew up near Chicago, covers state and local politics. He’s worked at the Observer since 1981 and taught courses on North Carolina politics at UNC Charlotte and Davidson College.