Seven Democrats are running for four at-large seats in a race where turnout is critical

For five Charlotte City Council members, September’s at-large primary is a game of musical chairs. The five incumbents are among seven Democrats running for four seats.
For five Charlotte City Council members, September’s at-large primary is a game of musical chairs. The five incumbents are among seven Democrats running for four seats. AP

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Residents will vote for candidates for mayor, city council at-large and district races in the Sept. 10 primary.

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For five Charlotte City Council members, September’s at-large primary is a game of musical chairs.

The five incumbents are among seven Democrats running for four seats.

At-large races once determined which party controlled council. But no Republican has been elected for a decade as Charlotte has gotten increasingly Democratic. The primary winners will be heavily favored in November against Republican Joshua Richardson, a 21-year-old newcomer.

The race features all four at-large incumbents: Dimple Ajmera, Julie Eiselt, James Mitchell and Braxton Winston. Challenging them is District 3 incumbent LaWana Mayfield, newcomers Jorge Millares and Chad Stachowicz.

Millares, who runs a non-profit, is among three candidates trying to become the council’s first Latino member. Stachowicz, a tech entrepreneur, ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate last year.

The key to the race could be turnout — and where it is.

The Sept. 10 primary falls on the same day as the special election in the 9th Congressional District between Democrat Dan McCready and Republican Dan Bishop. About 20% of the city — the southeastern wedge — falls into the 9th.

In 2017 Charlotte primary turnout was 8%. But Democratic turnout is expected to be higher in the southeastern precincts of the 9th.

“Candidates who traditionally do well in south Charlotte should get an additional boost from the 9th District congressional race,” said UNC Charlotte political scientist Eric Heberlig.

That could benefit Eiselt, who won many southeastern precincts in the 2017 primary. And Stachowicz lives in that part of town.

But Mitchell and Winston also got votes in southeast Charlotte in the last primary and were the top vote-getters in many other parts of the city.

Mitchell, Winston and Mayfield also were endorsed by the Black Political Caucus, traditionally influential in a city where more than six in 10 Democratic voters are African American.

The fourth candidate endorsed by the caucus was Millares. A former businessman who now runs a non-profit, he’s trying to mobilize the city’s Latinos, who make up about 16% of the population.

“The Latin-American community seems more energized than I’ve seen before,” he said. “We’ll have to see if that translates to votes.”

In the Black Political Caucus voting, Mayfield got more support than any at-large candidate. But earlier this year Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper rescinded her appointment to the state Human Relations Commission. All 29 Senate Republicans had opposed Mayfield, who once once compared police to “homegrown terrorists.”

Mayfield did not respond to requests for an interview.

Turnout could be a factor in another way, according to former at-large council member Michael Barnes. A low turnout, he said, could bring out the most active and ideological voters.

“The question is whether Charlotte is moving as far left as some people in the activist community demand it shift,” he said. “My question is whether the low turnout will result in the council tilting even further to the left or (back) to the middle.”

Democratic consultant Dan McCorkle said the primaries “will be determined by white and African American women voters throughout Charlotte, period.”

“Combined they are a massive voting force,” he said. “That’s what 2018 was all about.”

WFAE’s Mike Collins will host an at-large candidate forum Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. at McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square, 345 N. College Street.

Charlotte Council member Dimple Ajmera was criticized by colleagues for a resolution she proposed about the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Dimple Ajmera

The daughter of Indian immigrants, she arrived in America at 16 speaking no English. She went on to the University of Southern California and became a certified public accountant.

First appointed to council in 2017, she was the city’s first Asian American official.

Ajmera, 32, chaired the council’s Environment Committee until this spring when it was combined with two other committees. During her tenure, the city approved a strategic plan that set goals for reducing carbon emissions from city-owned buildings and vehicles as well as from private sources. Recognizing Charlotte’s efforts, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a $2.5 million grant from his foundation toward Charlotte’s efforts to fight climate change.

“We have set the gold standard when it comes to leadership on environmental sustainability,” Ajmera says.

Julie Eiselt

Julie Eiselt

Eiselt, 58, moved to Charlotte in 1998 for a job with the Bank of America. But she traces her community involvement to 2007, when she was threatened at gunpoint in a parking lot. She started Neighbors for a Safer Charlotte, a grassroots group that fought for and won more public funding for the police and courts.

First elected in 2015, she was top vote-getter both times she ran. She’s currently serving as mayor pro tem and chairs the council’s Transportation & Planning Committee.

If elected, she says her priorities will be working toward a sustainable, equitable economy and a more effective transit system that cuts down the average 90-minute length of a typical bus trip.

LaWana Mayfield Observer Archive photo

LaWana Mayfield

First elected in 2011, Mayfield has represented southwest Charlotte District 3 and is now running at-large. She’s also a past president of the National League of Cities LGBT Local Officials.

A former community organizer, Mayfield, 49, has sponsored a series of job fairs in her district and touted her work in bringing more mixed-income housing projects. She has pushed for four-year council terms saying, “This is not a part-time job.” But she voted against a move to put that on a referendum, saying she wanted the council to approve longer terms themselves, not send the issue to voters.

According to Mayor Vi Lyles, Mayfield was the only council member to initially express concerns about going after the 2020 Republican convention. A year ago she said she couldn’t support hosting the convention because of President Donald Trump’s “hostility towards minorities and people of color.”

Jorge Millares
Jorge Millares is a Democratic candidate for at-large member of the Charlotte City Council. The primary is on September 10, 2019. The general election is November 5, 2019. Jorge Millares

Jorge Millares

A native of Miami, Millares, 38, is the son of Cuban immigrants. He’s trying to become the council’s first Latino member.

He’s lived in the Charlotte area for a decade and worked as director of business development and sales for Red Ventures and CPI Security. He calls the civil unrest that followed the 2016 shooting of Keith Lamont Scott a “pivotal moment” in his life.

It prompted him to leave the private sector and found a non-profit called Queen City Unity, whose stated goal is to “drive equity and equality for all.” The group works with students to bridge racial and cultural divides and provides career and financial counseling for low-income adults.

A father of four, Millares is on the city’s Community Relations Committee and is president of the county’s Hispanic American Democrats.

James Mitchell, Charlotte’s At-Large City Councilman

James Mitchell

Mitchell is the council’s senior member. He represented District 2 from 1999 to 2013, when he ran unsuccessfully for mayor. He was elected at-large in 2015 and is running for his third term.

Mitchell, 57, served as president of the National League of Cities in 2011. He’s employed as senior business development manager at JE Dunn Construction Company.

The chair of the council’s economic development committee, he boasts of holding more town hall meetings than anybody on council.

Chad Stachowicz mug
Chad Stachowicz Courtesy Chad Stachowicz

Chad Stachowicz

Stachowicz, 35, runs a telecomunications company called Cloverhound based in South End. After getting 47% of the vote in an unsuccessful 2018 Senate race against Republican Dan Bishop, he making his first run for local office.

Like other candidates, Stachowicz talks about public safety, economic development and economic mobility. But he believes he’s set himself apart by proposing what he calls “The Queen New Deal.” It would add money to the Housing Trust Fund and start an Office of Housing Advocacy in city government with the goal of creating 30,000 new home owners over 20 years.

“You have a lot of people who talk about these issues but don’t come up with a plan to address them,” he says. “People want to see action.”

Braxton Winston Diedra Laird Observer file

Braxton Winston

The 36-year-old Davidson College graduate first came to public attention as a street protester following the 2016 shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by a police officer.

He has pushed for equity, affordable housing and public safety measures. He cautions against the council becoming a “rubber stamp” for city administrators and has encouraged the city to try new solutions. This year, for example, he helped persuade the council to hire a New York-based non-profit to help vet potential deals with potential developers and investors in affordable housing.

“We have a choice here,” he told the council, “trying to do something new or just doing the same thing over and over again. We keep getting stuck.”