Our choices for Charlotte City Council

The Observer editorial board

Ray McKinnon takes a selfie with City Council at Large candidate Julie Eiselt at an event last month in Charlotte.
Ray McKinnon takes a selfie with City Council at Large candidate Julie Eiselt at an event last month in Charlotte.

Charlotte’s City Council will have a dramatically new look the next two years, with at least five newcomers among the 11 members after November’s election. They will wrestle with economic opportunity, police-community relations, your property tax rate and more.

Eight candidates are vying for four at-large seats. There are also four district seats on the ballot. (In each of three other districts, one candidate is running unopposed.)

Here’s how we see the races:


Voters will fill four seats. Four Democrats, three Republicans and one Libertarian are running. We recommend Julie Eiselt, John Powell, Braxton Winston and James “Smuggie” Mitchell.

Eiselt, a Democrat, was the leading vote-getter in 2015. She is an active, engaged council member who does her homework on a wide swath of issues. Often a swing vote, Eiselt has left-of-center views on social issues and is willing to vote with Republicans on other initiatives, such as a recent proposal by Republican Ed Driggs that would have freed up money for affordable housing. She strikes a good balance of being outspoken when that’s appropriate without seeking attention.

Powell, a Republican, would take office without a steep learning curve. He lost his City Council bid in 2015 by 252 votes, a near-miss that he says has motivated him to run again. A real estate appraiser, Powell has served on the Zoning Board of Adjustment and attended most City Council meetings for years. He says the council’s focus should be on public safety, economic development, infrastructure, economic mobility and transportation. He calls himself a unifier who gets along well with current and future council members.

Winston, a Democrat, is a Davidson College graduate who won attention for his peaceful but forceful role in the Keith Scott demonstrations and aftermath. He questions how police handled the Scott protests as well as the shooting of Ruben Galindo, and advocates for transparency from police. He also wants to work to help “the vulnerable and marginalized.” He is intelligent and passionate and would bring a healthy skepticism to the council.

Mitchell, a Democrat, has served on the council for 16 years. He knows city government well and is a consistent cheerleader for the city. We wish he would examine proposed city investments more critically, such as a proposed Major League Soccer stadium, but we value his institutional knowledge.

Democrat Dimple Ajmera has an impressive life story, but she needs a firmer grasp of city issues and to develop the trust of other council members. Republican Parker Cains, a newcomer on the political scene, shows promise but needs deeper familiarity with city government.

District 2

In the race to fill the seat of Al Austin, fellow Democrat Justin Harlow faces Republican Pete Givens in this heavily Democratic district north and west of uptown. We recommend Harlow.

Harlow, who narrowly won his primary, is a Charlotte dentist who moved to the city four years ago. He’s been active in his community and Charlotte politics since. Givens, a sales manager for a lighting company, thinks his district has been left behind in Charlotte’s growth.

Harlow has a keener grasp of the issues facing District 2 residents, and he would bring fresh ideas and energy to a district that could use a forceful voice on the council.

District 3

Incumbent Democrat Lawana Mayfield seeks a fourth term in this district that covers most of west and southwest Charlotte. She is being challenged by Republican newcomer Daniel Herrera. We recommend Mayfield.

Mayfield has been one of the more effective council members. She is an independent thinker, breaking with a majority of Democrats occasionally on issues such as toll lanes and a Republican’s recent affordable housing proposal. She is a vocal proponent of LGBT equality.

Herrera, a first-generation American born in New Jersey, came to Charlotte two years ago to attend Charlotte School of Law. He is smart but has limited familiarity with the City Council and the issues it faces.

District 6

In this south Charlotte district, Republican Tariq Bokhari, Democrat Sam Grundman and Libertarian Jeff Scott hope to replace mayoral candidate Kenny Smith.

Bokhari, a former banking executive who launched his own financial technology company, has remained involved in city government since two bids for the council a decade ago. Grundman’s candidacy has largely focused on the benefits of making District 6 and Charlotte more walkable.

Bokhari shows a more complete grasp than his opponents of the issues facing his district and the city. District 6 voters should be confident that he would be a solid representative.

District 7

Republican Ed Driggs is seeking his third term in this district at the southern edge of the city. He faces Democrat and marketing consultant Sharon Roberts, who is running because she is alarmed at the divisiveness she sees in political conversations here and elsewhere.

Driggs, who is retired from a career in finance, has been a thoughtful and collegial voice on the council. He’s a consistent and capable representative for his constituents, and we recommend him for another term.

We also endorse Roberts’ message – that we need to find common ground in Charlotte and across the country. We hope the new council helps us get there.