As usual, there’s a lot at stake in Tuesday’s election in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Voters in Charlotte will decide the city’s fifth mayor in just 28 months, as well as the makeup of the next City Council. Mecklenburg voters will choose three at-large members of a school board with critical tasks ahead on student assignment and picking a superintendent.
But as usual, we expect to be disappointed by the low turnout that traditionally comes with municipal elections. To help you prove us wrong, the Observer has interviewed candidates and researched races. Here’s a recap of our recommendations:
Democrat Jennifer Roberts rolled through a deep Democratic field to win her party’s nomination, thanks in part to a strong campaign and tireless canvassing.
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We remain troubled, however, by her repeated timidity in confronting challenges and holding people accountable during her tenure as Meckleburg County Board of Commissioners chair. Roberts also has shown an unwillingness now to own up to those failures, which include a botched property revaluation that she resisted fixing for far too long.
Republican Edwin Peacock is a smart, solid alternative. He is a bridge-builder with endless energy, a firm grasp of issues and experience on the City Council.
Peacock also would be a voice of fiscal moderation on a council that often needs it. He’s shown a willingness to take a stand and speak up, even when that’s unpopular with his own party. The mayor’s office needs that independence.
City Council at-large
The City Council is losing two strong members in incumbents Michael Barnes and David Howard, who gave up their seats in unsuccessful bids for mayor. Those two at-large seats, plus two more, must be filled.
Our four recommendations: incumbent Democrats Vi Lyles and Claire Fallon, Democrat Julie Eiselt and Republican John Powell.
Lyles brings an expertise in city policies and processes and, we hope, a more assertive voice after a somewhat quiet first term on the council.
Fallon offers a feisty, independent spirit that helps keep the overwhelmingly Democratic council from marching blindly in lockstep.
Eiselt, who has a background in international finance, shows impressive insight into budgets and financial models. That’s particularly helpful in this time of infrastructure projects that don’t have certain funding sources.
Powell would bring a collegial Republican voice and strong relationships with GOP leaders in Raleigh. Given the state’s fractured relationship with its largest cities, Charlotte could use someone who has the ear of lawmakers.
City Council districts
Three seats are decided on the council – Patsy Kinsey and John Autry, both Democrats, and Republican Kenny Smith face no opposition. Our picks for the other seats:
In District 2, incumbent Democrat Al Austin has been a strong representative who has pursued economic development and redeveloping struggling neighborhoods.
In District 3, incumbent Democrat LaWana Mayfield has been an active council member with a broad range of policy influence.
In heavily Democratic District 4, voters face a choice between Democrat Greg Phipps, who has been underwhelming despite bringing strong public and private sector experience to his first term, and Republican Michael O’Hara, a vice president at Wells Fargo who offers an expertise in process, a strong work ethic and an eye toward efficiency and detail.
In District 7, Republican Ed Driggs’ fiscal and social conservatism aligns best with his safe-Republican constituency.
CMS school board
Nine women and three men are running for three at-large seats on the Board of Education. Several would bring the policy expertise and thoughtfulness needed to navigate the critical tasks ahead. Three especially stand out:
Janeen Bryant offers an impressive breadth of knowledge on education issues at home and nationwide. She has taught in the classroom and boasts a long list of advocacy activity, including in education.
Elyse Dashew has built credibility in the education community as a co-founder of MeckFUTURE, which pushed for more state and federal money for CMS, and as a smart, reasonable voice on issues.
Ericka Ellis-Stewart has long been among the county’s sharpest minds on education. Like Dashew, she values diversity but wants to pursue student assignment options that don’t include mandatory transportation. Her vast knowledge of education policy will help navigate the board through that delicate debate.