Voters in the area will decide today on Charlotte’s mayor and city council, and select Mecklenburg County’s at-large school board members. They’ll also weigh in on the controversial sales-tax increase, which would fund arts, parks, and education.
City council will have at least three new faces after the general election — two current district representatives aren’t running and another lost her primary race for an at-large seat.
Why it matters: Because city council decides on everything from affordable housing projects, to police department funding, to bike lanes, to extending invitations to big events like the Republican National Convention. The school board, meanwhile, decided superintendent Clayton Wilcox needed to resign, and decided Earnest Winston should stay on full-time. And a new sales tax affects everyone.
Voter turnout in municipal elections is usually low. That means every vote matters. The 9th Congressional District race held in September helped drive voter turnout for the municipal primaries; more than 21 percent of the county’s eligible voters cast a ballot in September, nearly three times as many as in 2017. We’ll probably see a lower turnout than that today.
Vi Lyles easily defeated her four Democratic challengers in the September primary, winning 87 percent of the vote.
Lyles, a former city budget writer and assistant city manager, became Charlotte’s first female African-American mayor when she beat Republican Kenny Smith in 2017. Lyles has been lauded for leading a proposal to get a $50 million affordable housing bond on the ballot last year (the initiative passed in a citywide vote in 2018). She received mixed reviews for her support of the RNC.
Lyles is expected to easily defeat her challenger, Republican David Michael Rice, who has previously referred to himself as “Lord God King.” Rice does not have the support of the Republican Party.
The last time Charlotte had a Republican mayor was 10 years ago, when Pat McCrory held the position.
City Council, at-large
Charlotte’s City Council has 11 members. Seven are elected from districts; the other four are “at-large,” meaning they’re elected by the entire city. Unless your district representative was decided in the September primary, you’ll vote today in your district race (find your district here), and for four “at-large” members.
In Charlotte’s competitive at-large race, all four incumbents moved on in the September primary: Dimple Ajmera, Julie Eiselt, James (Smuggie) Mitchell, and Braxton Winston. Winston was the top vote-getter by far. If he repeats that in the general election, he could become the mayor pro tem, replacing Eiselt, who got the most votes each time she ran in the past.
A mayor pro tem typically is the at-large candidate who receives the most votes. City council members elect the mayor pro tem to preside over meetings when the mayor is absent.
Joshua Richardson, who turned 21 in August, is running for an at-large seat on the Republican side.
City Council, by district
City Council District 1: Larken Egleston, the current representative for the east Charlotte seat that incorporates Plaza Midwood and surrounding areas, won his primary in September. Egleston will retain his seat since no Republican is running.
City Council District 2: Malcom Graham, a former state senator and past City Council member, easily defeated three Democrats in the primary race to represent the historically black west Charlotte area. Graham is the brother of Cynthia Graham Hurd, who was killed in the attack at Mother Emanuel church in Charleston in 2015. The Republican in the general is Jacob Robinson, a digital marketing strategist.
City Council District 3: Victoria Watlington edged out two other Democrats and will replace LaWana Mayfield to represent this wide-reaching west Charlotte district, which stretches from Freedom Drive to Steele Creek. Mayfield ran unsuccessfully for an at-large seat. No Republicans are running in the general.
City Council District 4: In a crowded race, Renee Perkins Johnson beat six other Democrats to represent this north Charlotte seat. She’ll face Brandon Pierce, the lone Republican vying for the job.
City Council District 5: Democrat incumbent Matt Newton easily defeated two other Democrats in the primary. He’ll keep his seat, because no Republicans are running.
City Council District 6: Incumbent Republican Tariq Bokhari will face Democrat Gina Navarrete, co-founder of the Charlotte Women’s March. If elected, Navarrete would become the first Latina on city council.
City Council District 7: Republican incumbent Ed Driggs won his September primary and will retain his south Charlotte district seat because no Democrats filed to run.
School board elections
Thirteen candidates are running for three at-large seats on the CMS board. This year, only at-large candidates are on the ballot; district races are in 2021. This race is nonpartisan, so candidates’ party affiliation won’t show up on the ballot. But Ann Doss Helms of WFAE recently reported that all but three candidates are Democrats: Annette Albright and Duncan St. Clair are unaffiliated; Gregory Denlea is a Republican.
- Annette Albright: A former CMS administrator who ran unsuccessfully for a District 1 seat in 2017
- Elyse Dashew: Currently the vice chairwoman of the board, and the only incumbent running
- Jennifer De La Jara: A former small business owner and current director of Education at the International House in Charlotte, which partners with CMS on literacy programs
- Gregory Denlea: A resident of south Charlotte who teaches at the University of Phoenix
- Jenna Moorehead: A social worker and Charlotte newcomer who was the president of the board of the Bellafonte Area School District in Pennsylvania, according to WFAE
- Donna Parker-Tate: A retired CMS principal who consults and mentors principals within Durham Public Schools
- Jordan Pineda: A former CMS teacher who now works with Teach for America, Pineda recently founded a nonprofit called City to Cea, which focuses on “dismantling toxic perceptions of masculinity held by young men of color”
- Olivia Scott: A candidate who ran unsuccessfully for a school board seat in 2017 and recently told WFAE she is not actively campaigning
- Lenora Shipp: An employee of CMS for over three decades, Shipp has been both a teacher and a principal at various schools, including Sedgefield Elementary School
- Stephanie Sneed: A former child protective services attorney and current member of the education committee of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Black Political Caucus
- Duncan St. Clair: A political newcomer and small business owner, St. Clair told WFAE that “splitting CMS into smaller districts could improve the district’s effectiveness”
- Queen Thompson: A retired CMS employee who coordinated services for students with special needs, according to the Charlotte Observer
- Monty Witherspoon: A first-time candidate and pastor at Steele Creeke AME Zion Church, Witherspoon is also a member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Black Political Caucus
Voters will decide whether to increase the sales tax from 7.25 percent to 7.50 percent to help fund arts, parks and education. The hike would bring $50 million in additional revenue to the city each year. Of that, $22.5 million would go to the Arts & Science Council, $17 million to parks and greenways, $8 million to education, and $2.5 million to other arts projects in the county’s smaller towns.
Read the Agenda’s in-depth explainer on the sales tax here.
The proposal has been controversial. The group advocating in favor of the sales-tax hike has raised over $1 million in its marketing efforts and even took out a huge print ad in this weekend’s Observer. Those who oppose the increase include both Republicans and liberal community activists. They have said that the area has other needs that are more urgent, including affordable housing and transit projects.
Read the Agenda’s story on the ways the sales tax debate cuts across party lines here.