How the rejuvenated Black Political Caucus became the most powerful political force in Charlotte

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Last month’s primary election results were something of a surprise to most of Charlotte’s political establishment.

A political newcomer was the second-leading vote-getter in the City Council at-large race. Two incumbent council members lost their seats. And the incumbent mayor was trounced, losing without going to a runoff.

You know who wasn’t surprised? The Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

Every single candidate who carried their endorsement won.

Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles was endorsed by the Black Political Caucus and handily won the Democratic primary to be Charlotte’s next mayor.

The Black Political Caucus has emerged once again as the most powerful political force in Charlotte.

Behind newly elected leader Colette Forrest, the caucus has massively grown its ranks and increasingly flexed its muscles in the local political arena.

Multiple political observers told the Agenda that they’re the direct cause of the September primary results.

Now the question is how well their success so far this year will transfer to November 7.

The numbers are in their favor. Two-thirds of the Democratic Party in Charlotte is black, and one-third of overall voters.

charlotte-vote-here-sign

‘A new energy’

The Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg was created in 1965 with dues of $1 in its first year. They helped Fred Alexander become the first African-American elected to the City Council that fall.

Over time, the caucus evolved into an influential voice of Charlotte’s black community. Like all organizations, its prominence has waxed and waned over the years.

But by all accounts, this year it’s definitely on the upswing.

Forrest, a community organizer and experienced campaign operative, was elected to chair the caucus in February on a platform of increasing membership, engaging voters more in person and through social media, and raising money.

Colette Forrest, center-right, in pink. Photo by the Black Political Caucus via Facebook

She’s been successful on all counts.

Caucus membership numbered about 80 people when Forrest took over. It’s now at 300 and growing (dues are $30 at this point).

Once the caucus picked out its preferred candidates for the September primary, their endorsement flier has been ubiquitous on Facebook and in email inboxes.

“They’re probably the most informed group out there,” said Councilwoman Julie Eiselt, who was endorsed by the caucus this year. “They work hard to get their voters out to vote.”

The caucus has also focused on more voter education in addition to picking a slate of candidates. They held a forum in May on running for political office featuring former mayor Patrick Cannon, and another one in June seeking answers on the rising homicide rate. They also brought in a big name for their annual banquet this year — U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters.

“The BPC definitely has a new energy,” said Justin Harlow, who won the Democratic primary for District 2 by just 16 votes. He described the caucus endorsement as one of the most sought-after in the city and described it as instrumental in his victory.

Forrest did not wish to speak for this article.

Photo by the Harlow campaign, via Facebook

Campaign tactics

But their campaign tactics have also strengthened.

After a highly successful fundraiser, including raising money from the campaigns they endorsed, the Black Political Caucus had enough in the bank to send out direct mail advertising their slate of candidates. They hadn’t had the money to do that in previous years.

Caucus members manned polling sites, handing out fliers with their slate of candidates on it. The caucus also put in time and effort into the campaigns.

“They worked very closely with the endorsed candidates and executed a comprehensive plan that resulted in victories for the entire slate,” Harlow said.

The caucus also moved up its endorsement of a mayoral candidate by several months. Two years ago, the caucus didn’t endorse David Howard until August. This year, they endorsed Vi Lyles in May, before filing for the race even began.

That allowed the Lyles campaign to gain momentum and head off worries that having two black candidates in the race would split votes. The other African-American candidate in the Democratic primary, N.C. Sen. Joel Ford, finished a distant third. Current mayor Jennifer Roberts won the 2015 Democratic primary in a run-off against former mayor Dan Clodfelter.

dan clodfelter

Former mayor Dan Clodfelter

Republicans seek their approval, too.

As the campaign season heads toward the November general election, even Republican candidates are clamoring for the Black Political Caucus endorsement.

Council candidates like Parker Cains, running at large, and Tariq Scott Bokhari, in District 6, have spoken at caucus meetings. Bokhari has won the Black Political Caucus endorsement.

Time will tell if they go undefeated once again.

Cover photo by Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg via Facebook

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Andrew Dunn
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