Campaign rhetoric can be hard to parse. Votes, not as much.
Though Democrat Vi Lyles and Republican Kenny Smith both made it to this point as “change” candidates, they are running substantially different campaigns.
Lyles ran as someone who would focus more on local issues and work to build consensus. Smith pledges a wholesale change in the direction of Charlotte.
Lyles spent nearly 30 years in Charlotte city government, in the budget office and as an assistant city manager. Smith is a commercial real estate broker and former neighborhood association leader.
But they both now serve on the Charlotte City Council, offering voters a look at their vision for the city in practice. They’ve voted differently on several substantial issues over the past two years.
Charlotte’s mayoral election could come down to how voters feel about these four key votes. The winner will replace current Mayor Jennifer Roberts, who lost the Democratic primary to Lyles.
Certainly you’ve heard of this one. In early 2016, the Charlotte City Council passed an ordinance that expanded protections to LGBT people in the city. One of the more controversial provisions allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of their gender expression rather than biological sex.
This is the ordinance that prompted the state legislature to pass House Bill 2, which wiped out Charlotte’s protections and bathroom rules and led entertainers and major sports events to leave North Carolina.
[Need more background on HB2? Read up in our archives]
Lyles and Smith differed on this from the start.
Lyles voted in favor of the nondiscrimination ordinance. Beforehand she said, “I truly believe this ordinance is about treating people with respect and dignity.”
Smith voted against what he called an “outrageous” ordinance, specifically targeting the bathroom provision. He said there was no evidence it made transgender people safe, while giving men cover to improperly use women’s facilities. “I simply share the common sense of a majority of Charlotteans,” he said.
Lyles voted against a compromise that would repeal the nondiscrimination ordinance and HB2 in May 2016, before ultimately voting for the same compromise this March. Smith voted for both repeals.
Construction is underway on toll lanes on the chronically clogged I-77 north of the center city. Supporters have said it was the best way to get the interstate widened and manage growth while guaranteeing a steady speed for people willing to pay the toll. It’s become wildly unpopular, however, over the past two years.
Lyles and Smith have long differed on this project.
The key moment came in January 2016, when the City Council was asked to either support or reject a transportation plan that included toll lanes on I-77 (as well as tolls on I-485 and Independence Boulevard).
Lyles voted in favor of the toll projects. Smith voted against them.
Lyles said last month in an interview with Morgan Fogarty that she does not regret her vote, though she has distanced herself from it and said she hopes a solution can be found to amend the project. She has implied that she doesn’t like the toll lane project but didn’t want to risk funding for other transportation projects.
Charlotte’s Gold Line streetcar currently runs through the middle of Uptown, and a second phase underway now will extend it further into the east and west side.
Smith has voted against the streetcar project on multiple occasions. Lyles has been consistent in her support of the project.
Lyles has said the streetcar will boost east and west Charlotte with development similar to what’s occurred in South End after the light rail line was built.
Smith, however, says the development potential along the streetcar line is limited and calls the project a “boondoggle.” Smith says the money being allocated to the streetcar could be better used on public safety or other infrastructure projects.
Affordable housing and Bojangles’ Coliseum
This vote was a little more in the weeds than the three above. But it’s an interesting look into priorities and willingness to take risks.
In July, the City Council voted to approve an $18.5 million project to update and connect Bojangles’ Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium in a new building called the “Link.” The project will expand hospitality, concession and office space in the historic property.
Money was set to come from the Community Investment Plan, a nearly $1 billion program that’s funded projects around the city.
Smith supported a plan that would use money from the city’s tourism tax fund to pay for the Bojangles’ Coliseum project, and direct the $18.5 million already in place toward affordable housing. “We are not measured by letters, we are measured by action,” Smith said, referencing the “Letter to the Community” the council signed pledging support for more affordable housing.
Lyles sided with the narrow 5-4 majority of Democrats to keep the project as-is. She said she wasn’t comfortable voting to change the funding source with “incomplete information” and without knowing more about the implications to the tourism tax fund.