Charlotte’s District 6 council seat has always gone red. Could a Democrat win?

Voters will decide if a Democrat will replace a Republican stronghold in Charlotte City Council’s District 6.
Voters will decide if a Democrat will replace a Republican stronghold in Charlotte City Council’s District 6. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

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2019 election coverage

Mecklenburg County voters go to the polls Tuesday to elect local officials and school board members — and decide whether to raise their taxes.

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Democrats hope a mounting blue wave could help them pick up a City Council district for the first time in southeast Charlotte. But Republicans there still tip the scale when it comes to registered voters, and the incumbent has a substantial financial lead.

The race in District 6, one of the few contested battles following September primaries, includes the precincts Democrat Dan McCready carried in the 9th Congressional District. McCready lost to Dan Bishop in the September special election.

One-term incumbent Tariq Bokhari faces Democratic challenger Gina Navarrete. Bokhari and Ed Driggs, of District 7, are the only Republicans remaining on the council — with their dwindling numbers echoing the plight of three incumbent Republicans county commissioners last November.

Navarrete, a mental health clinician, said her background as a Latina first-generation immigrant would bring a new type of balance to the council as the District 6 representative.

“Charlotte is going through such a growth spurt that we do need people who have a different perspective,” Navarrete said in a phone interview. “I think we need people who are serious and who will represent everyone in the district — not just a few.”

Bokhari, executive director of the Carolina Fintech Hub, said he’s been willing to work across the aisle on the council.

“Even though we stand by our principles, it’s important we maintain some level of balance,” Bokhari said in a phone interview.

Public safety, Bokhari said, is his top priority as Charlotte’s homicide total reached 91 last weekend. Bokhari is also focused on improving transportation and infrastructure, in addition to bolstering upward mobility among city residents, he said.

Republican political consultant Larry Shaheen emphasized that Bokhari, whose father was born in Pakistan, is the “definition of diversity.”

“He talks with Democrats, he’s friendly with Democrats,” Shaheen said. “He is the exact type of Republican you want to see in urban settings.”

Tariq Bokhari, District 6 council member

In District 6, Republicans still outnumber Democrats among registered voters, though the margin is less than 1,400 people, according to the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections. And the nearly 29,000 unaffiliated voters in District 6 outnumber both their Republican and Democratic counterparts.

Yet with an increasingly diverse population, progressive candidates have managed to sway voters in recent years, said Democratic political consultant Dan McCorkle.

He said that a Democratic victory in District 6 — and soon, perhaps District 7 — would signal a bellwether for south Charlotte.

“The Republicans are fighting demographics, and they need to change their ways,” McCorkle said. “Dan McCready helped us out tremendously.”

A proponent of “smart and sustainable growth,” Navarrete said she wants Charlotte to invest in mass transit to curb heavy traffic and pedestrian fatalities. She’s also passionate about addressing the high crime in Charlotte, particularly among youth, and advocating for mental health care, she said.

Gina Navarrete

“We need to stop working in silos and really think of Charlotte as Charlotte — not just as seven districts,” Navarrete said. “I think it’s less about parties, although obviously the district is becoming much more Democratic.”

Campaign dollars vary dramatically between the District 6 candidates.

Navarrete has raised about $17,775 since the election cycle began in January, according to a disclosure report filed Oct. 23.

Meanwhile, Bokhari’s campaign has raised about $82,370 in the same period — with $31,000 coming in loans from the candidate himself, disclosure reports show. This week, he released 10 billboards urging residents to vote for him and against a referendum that would raise the sales tax by a quarter-cent.

Shaheen, the Republican strategist, urged voters to focus on the hyper-local issues, rather than political parties that they may disagree with on the national level in the City Council election.

“I hope the folks make sure they don’t vote on partisanship,” he said. “You better make darn sure you vote for the person who is going to keep our district prospering.”

Alison Kuznitz is a reporter for The Charlotte Observer covering local government. She previously interned at The Boston Globe, The Hartford Courant and Hearst Connecticut Media Group. She grew up in Connecticut and is a 2019 Penn State graduate.