Charlotte will have a new mayor this fall after Vi Lyles defeated Mayor Jennifer Roberts in Tuesday’s primary election.
The stunning vote marked an unexpected repudiation of Roberts’ two years in office. She won the office handily in 2015 and maintained her fundraising advantage in this year’s election.
Now Lyles, a Democrat and currently the city’s mayor pro tem, will face Republican Kenny Smith in November’s general election. Smith, a city councilman, won his party’s primary with about 90 percent of the vote.
Lyles defeated Roberts by a margin of 46 percent to 36 percent, enough to avoid a runoff.
The Democratic primary drew an unusually strong field as Roberts took criticism for being heavily focused on national issues. In her campaign, she positioned herself as someone who would fight Republicans in Washington and Raleigh, and some rivals said she was padding a resume for a run at higher office.
[Agenda story: Mayoral hopefuls sense a weak Jennifer Roberts]
Roberts also took heat for her handling of two major events during her tenure.
The first was the back-and-forth over a nondiscrimination ordinance that offered protection to LGBT people. That ordinance led the N.C. legislature to pass a sweeping bill known as House Bill 2 that led to an economic boycott of the state from musicians and sporting events — including the NBA All-Star Game.
She later broke with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who helped broker a deal that repealed HB2 but did not expand LGBT protections.
Roberts also was faulted for her response to the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott a year ago by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department officer. She appeared to criticize the city’s police chief in the immediate aftermath, and later made statements on behalf of the city without consulting the council.
Lyles especially positioned herself as somebody who would work more collaboratively and focus more on local issues.
A third major Democratic candidate, N.C. Sen. Joel Ford, finished a distant third, with only 16 percent of the vote.
During the campaign, there was some talk of a deal between Lyles and Ford for one of them to drop out of the race, for fear of splitting the vote of the many African-American Democratic voters (both Lyles and Ford are black).
Neither was willing to do so, but it didn’t end up mattering.
Roberts conceded to Lyles before 10 p.m. Tuesday.
Turnout was predictably abysmal. Less than 8 percent of voters cast ballots.