One year in, Vi Lyles has been the mayor Charlotte needed

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles after an uptown announcement Nov. 30 that Fortune 100 company Honeywell is bringing its headquarters to Charlotte.
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles after an uptown announcement Nov. 30 that Fortune 100 company Honeywell is bringing its headquarters to Charlotte. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Late last month, Vi Lyles stood before a packed room in uptown Charlotte and did the thing mayors love to do — welcome a big, new company to their city. As Lyles said the right things and thanked the right people about Honeywell’s relocation to Charlotte, two men near the front had something else to say — about her. “She’s graceful,” Republican N.C. Sen. Dan Bishop said. N.C. Rep. Andy Dulin, also a Republican, agreed.

You probably wouldn’t have heard two conservative lawmakers say such things about a Democratic Charlotte mayor a couple years ago. But Bishop says it’s no concession at all. “I have a very high opinion of Vi Lyles,” he told the editorial board this week. “Her style is so even-handed and thoughtful and positive.”

It’s not the Charlotte mayor’s job to get Republicans in Raleigh to say nice things about her, but it is the mayor’s job to understand the importance of relationships. Lyles does. She’s been in office a year as of last week, and she has been the mayor Charlotte needed.

Lyles has been a cautious voice and policy advocate in a city straining to move further left. Most critically, in an era where leaders too often choose the short-term gain of jabbing at political opponents, she has smartly worked to repair relationships that were fractured under previous mayor Jennifer Roberts. That contentiousness played out in ways small and big during Roberts’s tenure, including the HB2 saga and its resulting damage to Charlotte and North Carolina.

Certainly, Lyles got off on the right foot with Republicans with her early advocacy for Charlotte hosting the 2020 GOP convention. But Republicans, including Bishop, tell the editorial board that Lyles also has regularly reached out to GOP lawmakers and leadership. “I’ve enjoyed our conversations, and I have a great deal of respect for her,” N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger told the editorial board this week. “I look forward to continuing to work with her as we move forward.”

We haven’t agreed with everything Lyles has done in her inaugural year. Hosting the 2020 convention brings more risk than payoff, and while we applaud Lyles pushing for the $50 million housing bond that voters approved last month, we wish she’d been even bolder in ensuring that lowest-income housing needs don’t slip through the cracks. Lyles also can be prickly when criticized — a trait she shares with a few of her predecessors — but she did show an encouraging willingness to be questioned about the GOP convention, even posting her daughter’s social media dissent.

There will be more criticism ahead, of course. No mayor is immune, and the terrain might get even trickier as Lyles navigates the canyon between a still-conservative legislature and city/county leadership that’s as liberal as it’s ever been. But thus far, at least, she’s shown how a mayor can uphold the values her city celebrates without antagonizing those who have leverage over Charlotte. Let’s hope that continues.