After an influx of new, young voices two years ago, this fall’s Charlotte City Council election is about continuity. Four incumbent Democrats are favored to remain in their at-large seats, and three district incumbents are running unopposed in the general election. Mayor Vi Lyles also is heavily favored to win a second term.
The Nov. 6 winners will have a full plate of issues to tackle, including economic mobility, transportation initiatives and a likely request to upgrade Bank of America Stadium for a potential Major League Soccer franchise.
Here’s how we see the contested races on the ballot:
Incumbent Democrat Vi Lyles faces perennial Republican candidate David Michael Rice in what might be the easiest choice for Charlotte voters this election. Lyles has been the candidate Charlotte needs after the tumultuous term of Democrat Jennifer Roberts. Lyles has begun to repair the city’s fractured relationship with Republican lawmakers, who appreciate her steadiness and willingness to host the 2020 Republican National Convention. She’s also earned the appreciation of Charlotte’s business community, and importantly, the respect of a City Council that’s benefited from her calculated, steady presence.
This editorial board hasn’t always agreed with Lyles. We think the RNC carries more risk than benefit, and we believe she could have been more forthcoming about funding shortfalls for the Cross Charlotte Trail. Her successes far outweigh her struggles, however. She deserves a second term.
City Council at-large
Incumbent Democrats Julie Eiselt, James Mitchell, Braxton Winston and Dimple Ajmera are favorites over Republican newcomer Joshua Richardson. Voters can select four candidates. We recommend Eiselt, Mitchell and Winston.
Eiselt, the mayor pro tem, is a second-term moderate who has the respect of veteran and new council members. She brings a deliberate approach to the complex issues facing the council, and her banking background is valuable on budget issues. Mitchell is the council’s senior member and perhaps the most well-liked, not only by his fellow members but also the Charlotte business community. Those ties, along with Mitchell’s economic development background, serve the council well. Winston has delivered on his promise to be a strong voice for the disadvantaged in Charlotte. He makes the council and city confront uncomfortable issues. That’s a good thing, and we hope he leverages that role in his second term with collaboration and coalition building.
We appreciate Richardson, the lone Republican at-large candidate, for his energy and willingness to dive into the minutiae of city governing and policy. We believe the 21-year-old has the thoughtfulness and drive to develop a more sophisticated understanding of the council and city government. Charlotte will benefit if he continues on his path toward public service.
We also hope that Ajmera works to repair relationships with fellow council members, who believe she too often takes public stances on issues without putting in the hard work of governing. Ajmera has been a potent voice on environmental issues in Charlotte, and she has the potential to be a powerful advocate for Charlotte’s underserved communities.
Democrat Malcolm Graham is poised to return to the city council in his race against Republican newcomer Jacob Robinson. We recommend Graham, a former N.C. senator and official at Johnson C. Smith University who has had a hand in many of his district’s success stories. Graham was a council member from 1999-2005, and his familiarity with the district and city government will help him immediately be a strong advocate for his constituents.
The board is impressed with Robinson’s investment in the people and neighborhoods. We hope he remains active in the district.
Two first-time candidates — Democrat Renee Perkins Johnson and Republican Brandon Pierce — are running to replace incumbent Greg Phipps in this district that includes the University area and UNC Charlotte.
Perkins Johnson, who moved to Charlotte four years ago, has experience navigating city government as the CEO of a company that provides services to survivors of brain trauma and other injuries. She also would bring significant experience in affordable housing solutions.
Pierce, who switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in 2016, has a deep understanding of his district’s complex and developing needs. But his ideas on deemphasizing the council’s voice on zoning, as well as raising significant city revenue through public-private marketing, are unrealistic. We hope he refines his proposals, because he’s the kind of young, dynamic Republican the party needs more of in Charlotte. In this race, we recommend Perkins Johnson.
Voters in this south Charlotte district face a difficult choice between two strong candidates — first-term incumbent Republican Tariq Bokhari and Democratic challenger Gina Navarrete.
Navarrete brings a well-rounded resume to the race. She’s a business owner and mental health professional who founded a practice in Colorado. She helped lead the successful 2019 Charlotte Women’s March, and she’s a first-generation immigrant who would bring a much-needed and thoughtful Latina voice to the council.
Bokhari already brings thoughtfulness and a precise grasp of policy to the council, along with experience in the growing financial technology sector. Perhaps most distinctively, he offers one of two conservative voices on a council dominated by Democrats. That dissenting perspective is critical for any organization, and both Bokhari and District 7 representative Ed Driggs provide it in a constructive and meaningful fashion.
Voters can’t go wrong here, but we give a slight nod to Bokhari.
HOW WE DO OUR ENDORSEMENTS:
Charlotte Observer editorial board members Kevin Siers and Peter St. Onge conduct 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.