Vi Lyles became our city’s first African-American female mayor in 2017. Last night, she won the Democratic primary, all but guaranteeing her a second term.
Before becoming mayor, she served two terms on city council as an at-large representative and had a 30-year career with the City of Charlotte.
I visited her in her uptown office to find out how the mayor, mother, and grandmother works.
Responses have been edited lightly for length and clarity.
(1) What’s an app you couldn’t live without?
I couldn’t live without my app that tells me all my passwords. It’s called Keeper.
And, increasingly, texting. It’s the way people communicate now. If I miss an email, it’s okay, usually. But if I miss a text, it’s going to be about something that needs to be done immediately.
(2) Do you use social media? If so, do you have a favorite platform?
I don’t know that I have a favorite platform, I just feel like I have to keep up with it.
(3) What time do you go to bed and what time do you wake up?
About 11:30 p.m., quarter of midnight. I wake up at at about 7 a.m.
(4) What is your commute like and what do you do during it?
My commute is from SouthPark into Uptown. I usually have coffee and make return phone calls. I do have a hand-free system in the car, so I’m not driving with my phone.
And I do that on the way home at night as well, try to return phone calls.
(5) How do you spend the first hour of your day?
I couldn’t live without a really good cup of coffee.
I spent an inordinate amount of money on a coffee machine.
That makes me happy every morning when I wake up.
(6) Where’s the best cup of coffee in the city?
The one at my house at 7 a.m.
(7) What do you actually do? What does this job entail?
The job requires me to be visible to the community. I do a number of events. In the last five weeks, I’ve been to five galas, and so that’s the kind of thing that you do to support the community.
At least two days a week I try to see people that send in the form that says, “Meet the Mayor.” I will take pictures with Eagle Scouts who come in with their parents. Now, that, that’s important.
But there’s also another component of this job, and it’s the hardest part. The idea of what are our city priorities and how to implement them in a way that stays true to our values.
Right now I’m working on a project around violence. And I’m talking to UNC Charlotte about analytics around it. I’ve also talked to the Bloomberg Foundation about what expertise they can help provide us.
I talk to the (police) chief and the city manager on an ongoing basis about the best approach to this project. In other communities, they have indicators that will actually show that this person or people in our community may be a victim or the person that commits a crime.
Those are things like have you broken the law five times? What are certain offenses that you have? Did you experience domestic violence? All of those are indicators.
But we need to know what the indicators are for our city right now. So that’s a large part of what I think about and try to provide as an effort to make our city better, whether it’s housing, transportation options, safety, or the environment.
(8) What’s the issue that will most impact Charlotte in the next 5-10 years?
Building a city with the infrastructure necessary for growth that’s inclusive.
Making sure that everybody plays a part in our success is what will differentiate Charlotte from the rest of the urban communities.
Building our ecosystem is really important, with values of inclusiveness and diversity, and at the same time building on the strengths that we have.
I think everyone should have a place where they can live safely, a way to get to work, and a job that they’re going to every day.
(9) If you were to meet someone who’s new to our city and looking to put down roots, what advice might you offer?
I think the best way to do that is to go and volunteer and get experiences.
Go out and look around the community and say, “What do I enjoy doing?” You know, there’s every type of organization that’s doing a little part to make our city unique. Black Girls Do Bike, running clubs, the many volunteer opportunities with tutoring for our kids, all of those things are out there.
But try them and see what is your passion. If you know yourself well enough, I think you’ll make a good choice. Charlotte is a place where if you say, “I’m willing to work” they will find a place for you to do that. So you just need to decide what kind of work you want to do.
I would say do not watch TV. Get outside.
(10) What everyday thing are you really good at?
Making people feel welcome.
(11) What is one thing Charlotteans don’t utilize enough?
Anything to get out of a car. Our train, our bike lanes, walking.
(12) Criticism is an inevitable part of politics. How do you handle feedback and not let it get to you?
Not very well, I expect. I’ve learned that when someone says something that’s critical, I should go back and look and find out if that is a valid criticism. And then ask myself, “What would I do differently the next time?”
But there are some people that just criticize no matter what. And you just have to put that that aside and know yourself well enough to have the confidence in this.
I used to have a job where we’d always have this evaluation. One of the teammates that I had said, “At the end of the day, you have to know you delivered your best and not leave it up to someone else to tell you that you did.” So I’ve taken that to heart.
And I always ask myself, “Did I do the right thing? What would I do differently?” And try to incorporate that into the next step.
(13) What’s one skill they don’t teach you in high school that they really should?
I wish I had more geography. Yesterday we had five ambassadors from Africa in, and I want to be able to visualize where they are in their world.
I should have learned more geography.
(14) What’s your favorite time-saving shortcut?
I live in a place where the outdoor maintenance is done by the Homeowners’ Association.
I have neighbors that do things for me when I don’t get there to do them. So having a great sense of your neighbors and what they can do to help, and also forgiving yourself when you don’t have time. Sometimes you just have to realize there’ll be another day.
(15) What’s the best part of your job?
(16) What’s the worst part of your job?
Not being able to impact something that really needs to be different. If I could take back those homicides, I would.
(17) How do you decompress after work?
I read books on Libby, that’s a part of the public library system. Decompression for me means reading, but when I’ve had a really, really bad day, I go play tea party and I roll around on the floor with my granddaughter.
(18) What’s a purchase of less than $100 that’s had the biggest impact on your life?
A really good daily notebook or diary. I’m still searching for that one book. I would like to be able to catalog this experience on a daily basis and be able to take that book and put it on a shelf. And one day have someone understand what it was like to be mayor now.
(19) What’s your favorite thing about our city?
The way people connect with each other. The openness to be willing to accept people. That’s one of the values we have to protect. We really need to be very careful and not allow our community to become more polarized. And we all need to work to make sure that we have more inclusiveness.
Love learning how people work? Here’s the whole How I Work series including interviews with Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst, Governor Roy Cooper, developer David Furman, elevator lady Cherie Berry, Hornets player Cody Zeller, restauranteur Frank Scibelli, lawyer Michael A. DeMayo and Charlotte Checkers COO Tera Black.