It never fails: At the start of every public meeting, when she makes an introduction, Vilma Leake deems hers “the most powerful district in Mecklenburg County.”
Maybe it’s because District 2 is among the county’s largest geographically – encompassing most of west Charlotte, from the Beatties Ford Road area to Steele Creek in the southwest. Or maybe it’s because Leake – raised in the church and the widow of an African Methodist Episcopal Zion bishop – speaks in a kind of prose that commands attention.
A retired Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teacher, Leake has represented the district on the board of county commissioners for eight years. She touts herself as a community advocate who attends funerals, arranges burials and makes hospital visits.
But her opponents in the March 15 primary say it’s time for new leadership and fresh ideas. Political newcomers Angela Edwards and Lula Dualeh both want Leake’s seat. The winner will face no Republican opposition in the general election.
Leake’s reaction to the opposition: What can they do that she’s not?
She lobbies for jobs, presses CMS about student literacy rates and routinely pulls, reads and questions consent items from the board’s meeting agenda.
“I try to respond to the needs of the district,” Leake said. “You find me where no other elected official is.”
Leake on the issues
That’s not to say her tenure has been without controversy. Last year, Leake and fellow Democrat Pat Cotham sparred over the prayer commissioners say at the start of public meetings.
Still, she’s upheld her longstanding influence in District 2.
If re-elected, Leake said she wants to keep pushing for vocational training to bolster job skills among residents in her district. She wants each school principal to teach at least one day a week so they’re closer to the challenges teachers face in the classroom. And she wants to keep building her small- business consortium, where aspiring entrepreneurs can network and get free advice.
“You have to be ready for the position,” Leake said. “I’ve sat on the back of the bus ... I’ve been mistreated because of my stance on issues.”
Edwards: Seeking to unify
Although new to county politics, Edwards, a minister, said she’s ready to bring unity to District 2. She wants to stem gang violence and offer workshops for young mothers and teens to help them further their goals.
“It’s time for us to take back our power that we gave these politicians,” Edwards said. “Whatever our ZIP code is, whatever our income status, we are equal.”
She feels her life story makes her relatable to voters who “need somebody just like them.”
She’s raised six children and has been married twice. She receives Medicaid and food stamp benefits. She lives in Section 8 housing. Her grandmother raised her. She dropped out of school in the 11th grade but earned her GED in 1995. She later became a certified nursing assistant.
Today, she serves on numerous community boards and neighborhood associations. She is the PTO president at Reid Park Academy, where the 9-year-old grandson she’s raising is a student. She said she wants to be an example, showing her neighbors that she overcame adversity and they can too.
“I’m trying to bring ‘wholesome’ back into Charlotte,” Edwards said. “I believe that District 2 is a big neighborhood. We’re in this together.”
Dualeh: Focused on equity
There’s a lot about Dualeh that distinguishes her from her opponents. At 28 years old, she’s a millennial and social media savvy, using Facebook and Twitter to garner support.
“I have a lot of energy,” Dualeh said. “I have a lot of fight and passion behind me.”
She’s accustomed to addressing community issues. She served as a community organizer with activist group Action NC. Until she filed for the commissioners race, she was third vice chair for the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party. Those experiences exposed her to issues in the district, especially economic disparity.
“(Charlotte) is known as the second largest banking city in the country, however, there are ... real tears behind those statistics,” Dualeh said. “People are suffering.”
The daughter of two Somalian immigrants, Dualeh said, “I feel like I’m the promise of the American dream.” She and her parents moved to Charlotte from New York when she was 6. She grew up in west Charlotte.
Along with heritage, Dualeh, who is Muslim, considers her faith a cornerstone of her campaign. And in a presidential election where anti-Muslim rhetoric is pervasive, Dualeh said she has a responsibility to show voters “those things aren’t true.”
“I have a great faith in God and this community. I don’t think it’s a hindrance,” Dualeh said. “I know Charlotte-Mecklenburg is greater than that, and I know District 2 is greater than that.”
Jonathan McFadden: 704-358-6045, @JmcfaddenObsGov
Education: Bachelor’s in psychology and sociology from Livingstone College in Salisbury; master’s in education from University of Buffalo; and completed coursework for doctorate degree in organization and leadership at University of San Francisco.
Professional experience: Retired educator.
Political resume: 11 years on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board; eight years as a county commissioner.
Family: widowed; adopted daughter, Yolanda Leake.
Education: Bachelor’s in English from UNC Charlotte; associate in general education from Central Piedmont Community College.
Professional experience: Community organizer, political activist.
Political resume: former community organizer for Action NC; former third vice chair for the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party.
Professional experience: certified nursing assistant, community volunteer.
Political resume: No prior experience.
Family: Mother of six, currently raising Farrell Alexander Horton, her 9-year-old grandson.