It has been a tumultuous two years for Charlotte. From HB2 to Keith Lamont Scott protests to troubling numbers about economic mobility, our city’s leaders have been tested regularly, perhaps as never before.
How has Mayor Jennifer Roberts responded?
The answer can be found on the ballot Thursday as early voting begins for Charlotte’s municipal primaries. In the Democratic race for mayor, the incumbent Roberts faces a strong primary field that includes two formidable candidates in City Council member Vi Lyles and N.C. Sen. Joel Ford.
Even more telling are the endorsements those other candidates, especially Lyles, have received. They come from across the city, across demographics, and most notably from people who supported Roberts two years ago. Already, they are looking for change.
We agree. In these unsteady times for Charlotte, our city needs a steadier hand. We believe that among Democrats, Lyles is best equipped to provide that thoughtful leadership. In the Republican primary, we recommend Kenny Smith, a City Council member who is a clear choice in a race against two candidates who have not mounted legitimate campaigns.
Lyles would bring more than 30 years of municipal experience to the mayor’s office. A former assistant city manager and budget director, she has long been admired at the Government Center and in the community for her strategic mind, integrity and ability to work with others.
The challenge she would face as mayor is simple: She needs to be more of a public leader, a role she has seemed uncomfortable with on the council. That could be, as colleagues suggest, because Lyles works best as a collaborator, bringing people together behind the scenes to get work done. That, too, is a valuable role for the mayor, and Lyles certainly has the respect on council to help move the city toward the vision she has for it.
The same isn’t true for Roberts, who has failed to achieve any semblance of an agenda in her first term. In part that’s because she has shown little inclination to work with the council on issues, and because she’s alienated council members with a thin-skinned temperament and political approach to decision-making. An example: While we agreed with her vocal support for the city’s 2015 non-discrimination ordinance, she made a strategic error in declining to search for ways to work with N.C. lawmakers in advance or after. Instead, she postured from Charlotte, and the city suffered through the strain of the HB2 battle.
Tellingly, the only time Roberts truly brought the City Council together in her first term was when all 11 members wrote a letter last October supporting CMPD Chief Kerr Putney, whom Roberts was implicitly critical of in a blame-shifting Observer op-ed on the city’s stumbles following the Keith Lamont Scott protests.
We have similar concerns about Ford. The N.C. senator has an independent streak on policy that we admire, but his history of questionable LGBT votes and an impulsive, distasteful Twitter response to a critic this year contribute to the concerns we have about his ability to bring the the council, and city as a whole, together.
In the Republican primary, Smith has shown an impressive ability to work with the council’s Democratic majority without sacrificing a more conservative approach to city government. He’s respected by colleagues and has a precise grasp of the issues Charlotte faces. He, along with Lyles, would give voters in November two strong choices to lead the city forward.