Our picks for City Council primaries

The Observer editorial board

Early voting started Thursday in Charlotte City Council primaries.
Early voting started Thursday in Charlotte City Council primaries. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Will Charlotte’s municipal primary elections finally get the turnout they deserve? With Mayor Jennifer Roberts in a tough Democratic primary that includes City Council member Vi Lyles and N.C. Sen. Joel Ford, perhaps.

We’ve interviewed candidates and community leaders in each contested council primary. Our recommendations:


Democrats will choose four of eight candidates for a spot on the fall ballot. Republicans do not have a primary.

We recommend Julie Eiselt, Ryan McGill, Braxton Winston and James (Smuggie) Mitchell.

Eiselt, the top vote-getter in 2015, has been an effective council member in her first term. She is passionate about council work, asks smart questions and is attuned to the needs and concerns of voters from all parts of the city. She has earned a second term.

Julie Eiselt

Ryan McGill

Braxton Winston

McGill is a promising newcomer. A Navy diver, a Marine helicopter pilot and the captain of a unit that saw combat in Iraq, McGill earned a bachelor’s in international affairs and a masters in nonprofit management. He created Outvets to support gay veterans as well as a foundation that sends children of service members killed in action to camp. He sees himself as a bridge builder and names economic mobility as the city’s most urgent issue.

Winston is a Davidson graduate who won recognition for his peaceful but forceful role in the Keith Scott demonstrations and works in the entertainment production field. He says he wants to help the city act on the Opportunity Task Force report, including better public transportation and getting high-speed internet into more homes.

James Mitchell HO

Mitchell, the most experienced candidate on the ballot, has served on the council for 16 years. He knows the city well and is a consistent cheerleader for it.

District 1

Voters in this district, which includes Myers Park, Dilworth and some of east Charlotte, have two good choices. Longtime incumbent Patsy Kinsey faces a challenge from Larken Egleston and Robert Mitchell.

Kinsey has served on the council (and in an interim stint as mayor) for 14 years. She is an able public servant with valuable experience and institutional knowledge. She says she wants to work on affordable housing, transportation and neighborhood preservation in another term.

Larken Egleston Gambol Photography

Egleston, 34, is making his first run for office but has been deeply involved in politics and civic affairs. He is vice chair of the Historic Landmarks Commission and was twice chair of the Charlotte International Cabinet. A delegate to last year’s Democratic National Convention, he is the immediate past president of the Mecklenburg Young Democrats. He has a sophisticated understanding of the issues facing the city.

Both candidates are good choices. We give a slight edge to Larken Egleston and his new eyes and energy.

District 2

Voters in this north and west Charlotte district have strong options to consider for this vacant seat, which Democrat Al Austin left to take a job with the state. His appointed replacement, Carlenia Ivory, is not running.

Democrats J’Tanya Adams, Eric Erickson and Justin Harlow would each be very capable representatives on the council. The primary winner will face Republican Pete Givens.

Two candidates stand out. Adams, 54, has a long history of community leadership and service, including founding West End Partners, which advocates for residents and business. She has led or participated in several initiatives to help people and neighborhoods in her district, and she works for a national non-profit that puts internet connections in low-income neighborhoods. That service has helped her gain an important familiarity with city government and staff, as well as how the council governs.

J’Tanya Adams David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Harlow, 29, has been active in Charlotte politics and community organizations since moving here almost four years ago. The Steele Creek dentist is president of the Biddleville-Smallwood Community Organization and serves on a West End advisory committee for Charlotte Center City Partners. He would bring fresh vision and ideas to the council, including ways to help long-time residents stay in their homes in suddenly popular neighborhoods.

We give a slight nod to Adams for her intimate knowledge of city government and the challenges her community faces.

District 4

Incumbent Democrat Gregg Phipps faces a solid field of challengers in this northeast Charlotte district.

Greg Phipps

Construction project manager Wil Russell, 39, stands out among the challengers for his grasp of the council’s role in local issues, especially the zoning and growth challenges facing his district.

Phipps, however, has shown encouraging signs in his second term on the council. He’s more responsive to constituents, and while his style is understated, colleagues consider him to be thoughtful and active behind the scenes. He also has worked to find an appropriate balance of encouraging growth while protecting his district’s neighborhoods.

We hope Russell continues to pursue opportunities for public service, but we recommend another term for Phipps.

District 5

Six Democrats (and no Republicans) are competing for the seat that Dimple Ajmera is vacating to run at-large. Two – Gary Young II and Matt Newton – are best equipped to serve. We recommend Gary Young II.

Young is the chairman of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce. He attends City Council meetings and committee meetings and says he has established relationships with council members. He has spent much of his life in east Charlotte and knows it well. He says he would advocate for workforce training programs and other efforts to improve employment on the east side.

Gary Young

Newton is a lawyer who helped lead a successful effort to reform the Citizens Review Board and chaired the Mecklenburg Democratic Party. He says there’s a long list of reasons he’s “uniquely qualified” for the job, and some who know him thinks he doesn’t work well with others. Asked about that, Newton said that when he touts his accomplishments, he’s simply telling the truth.

Both candidates know the east side well. We think Young would work more effectively with other council members.

District 6

The race to replace Kenny Smith, who is running for Charlotte mayor, features an older political newcomer and younger veteran of municipal races. Both would bring business backgrounds and solid conservative credentials to the heavily Democratic council.

The newcomer, Eric Laster, is president and CEO of Edifice, a general contractor. Laster, 61, says he was compelled to run for the south Charlotte district seat because he sees a lack of attention paid to Charlotte’s infrastructure.

The veteran, Tariq Scott Bokhari, is making a return to municipal politics after unsuccessfully running for an at-large seat in 2009 and district seat in 2007. Bokhari, 37, is a former banking executive who launched his own financial technology company.

Tariq Bokhari HANDOUT

Both candidates are solid choices. Bokhari, however, has served on city committees and displays a more complete understanding of issues affecting Charlotte, as well as the demands of district representation.

Laster is harsher in his words about Charlotte’s Democratic leadership, which he candidly says will help him get elected. That might be true in conservative District 6, but it doesn’t speak well to how he might work with a Democratic super-majority to get things done for his constituents, something Smith did deftly. We recommend Bokhari.