After an injection of new members two years ago, Charlotte’s City Council will undergo more change in 2019. Three districts are certain to have new representatives, and the at-large Democratic primary features seven competitive candidates vying for four seats.
Here’s how we see contested primary races.
Seven Democrats, including four at-large incumbents and District 3 incumbent LaWana Mayfield, are running. The top four primary finishers will be heavily favored against Republican newcomer Joshua Richardson in November.
We strongly recommend three candidates. Julie Eiselt, now in her second term, has become one of the council’s most valuable members. The mayor pro tem is a moderate voice with a banking background that’s valuable on budget issues, and she’s a collaborator who’s willing to dive deep into issues the council faces. James Mitchell, the city council’s senior member, provides the council with a strong link to Charlotte’s business community. While we sometimes wish he were a more discerning steward of public money, his economic development background and affable nature serve the council well. First-term member Braxton Winston has been exactly what he promised to be — a strong voice who is willing to make the council and city confront uncomfortable issues and ideas. We hope he continues to learn the value of collaboration and coalition building.
We have reservations about two candidates. LaWana Mayfield is respected by colleagues as principled and a hard worker, but her social media post on the 9-11 attacks was an embarrassment to Charlotte and distraction to the council, and another post comparing police to terrorists was a setback to council-police relations. Jorge Millares would bring non-profit and business experience to the council, and he would be a thoughtful advocate for the Latino community, but we are somewhat troubled by a past that includes state and IRS tax liens and a 2004 worthless check charge. Millares said he set up installment plans, which he has honored, and is in good standing with the state and IRS.
Chad Stachowicz has shown a lack of judgment in a 2008 DWI case and since in online chats. We do believe in second chances, but Stachowicz’s grasp of council and city issues is not as precise as that of other candidates in this race.
Dimple Ajmera has been a strong advocate on environment issues in Charlotte, but multiple sources tell the editorial board that she doesn’t put in the work necessary to be an effective member yet too often takes credit for work she doesn’t do. That’s a troubling combination to her colleagues, and we cannot recommend her for another term.
First-term incumbent Larken Egleston faces newcomer Sean Smith in this district that covers much of uptown and some of Charlotte’s oldest neighborhoods, including Dilworth and Plaza Midwood. There is no Republican running in District 1.
Egleston is a rare first-term council member in that he has made an immediate impact thanks to a deep knowledge of Charlotte issues and the council’s role in tackling them. He’s respected by his council colleagues, and he also acts as a bridge between the council’s younger members and its veteran leadership.
Smith, a digital designer for Wells Fargo, joined the race in part because of Egleston’s vote for Charlotte to host the 2020 Republican National Convention. Smith is open to innovative solutions, but he needs to learn more about the council’s role in specific issues challenging Charlotte.
We strongly recommend Egleston for another term.
Four Democrats are running for the chance to replace departing City Council member Justin Harlow in this west Charlotte district. The winner will face Republican Jacob Robinson in November.
Two candidates stand out. Political newcomer Jessica Davis, a former teacher who works inside Mecklenburg County’s courtrooms to help people with disabilities, would be a forceful advocate for District 2 residents and has a sharp understanding of the dynamics her district faces with affordable housing and equity.
Malcolm Graham is a former council member and state senator who knows his district thoroughly and has been a key player in its revitalization successes. We give Graham a slight nod in this race, but we believe Davis has a bright future in Charlotte politics.
Three Democrats are running to replace Mayfield in this district southwest of I-85 that includes the airport and parts of South End. Voters will choose between three solid candidates - attorney Terry Brown, community organizer Caleb Theodros and engineering veteran Victoria Watlington. No Republican is running.
While we appreciate Brown’s progressive vision and the advocacy of both Brown and Theodros, we feel Watlington is best equipped to join the council. She has immersed herself in learning about the complex challenges facing Charlotte, and she displays a more complete grasp of how the council works.
Six Democrats are running to replace three-term incumbent Greg Phipps, who is not seeking reelection in this district that includes the University area and UNC Charlotte. The winner of this primary will face Republican Brandon Pierce. None of the six Democratic candidates has held public office but several, including Richmond Baker, Sean Thompson, Charles Robinson and Charlene Henderson, have been active in politics, community organizations or service.
We recommend Renee Perkins Johnson, the CEO of Triumph Services, which provides services to survivors of brain injuries and other trauma. Perkins Johnson has lived in Charlotte just four years, but she brings more than 15 years of experience in affordable housing solutions, an issue critical to her district and the city. She also has valuable experience navigating government for her clients, and she displays a thoughtful and direct approach to issues.
Incumbent Matt Newton faces two primary challengers in this east Charlotte district. There is no Republican running.
Newton, a Charlotte attorney and Myers Park graduate, was elected in 2017. His council colleagues appreciate his hard work, and we believe that like many first-term officials, he has the opportunity to learn and grow into an impactful member of the council. We recommend him for a second term.
Voters in this south Charlotte district face a difficult choice between two strong candidates, incumbent Ed Driggs and challenger Victoria Nwasike, a former defense attorney and economic development manager. Both candidates are lifelong Republicans, and both would bring a reliably conservative voice to a council that needs such perspective.
Driggs also brings a financial background and acumen that’s valuable to the council, and he has been responsive to constituents in his district. Nwasike offers economic development and planning expertise, including a current stint on the city’s planning and zoning committee. That experience is especially important to Ballantyne and south Charlotte residents feeling the strain of congestion that comes with growth.
Nwasike says — and we agree — that few in her district would say their lives on the roads have become better under Driggs, who constituents feel sides too often with developers. Certainly, Driggs isn’t to blame for all the consequences of growth, but we give Nwasike the nod in this race for the more thoughtful, expert approach to planning and zoning she would bring.
HOW WE DO OUR ENDORSEMENTS:
Charlotte Observer editorial board members Kevin Siers and Peter St. Onge are conducting interviews of City Council, mayoral and CMS Board of Education candidates in contested primary and general election races. The editorial board also talks with others who know the candidates and have worked with them. When we’ve completed our interviews and research, we discuss each race and, in consultation with Publisher Rodney Mahone, decide on our endorsements.
Clarification: An earlier version of this editorial said there was evidence at-large candidate Chad Stachowicz had driven drunk four years ago. This was in reference to language in an online chat in which Stachowicz said: “I don’t drive if I’m over the limit, which I consider to be 3 the first hour.” The Observer did not intend to say Stachowicz had driven drunk since his 2008 DWI case.