What’s your ‘1 big thing’ for 2021? Here’s what 9 Charlotte leaders said

What’s your ‘1 big thing’ for 2021? Here’s what 9 Charlotte leaders said
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If you read any of Axios’s newsletters, you know they start each with a “1 big thing.”

(In case you missed it, Axios purchased Charlotte Agenda last month, and we’ll be transitioning to a new newsletter format later in January.)

In that spirit, we thought it’d be fun to start 2021 — this year of the vaccination, of hopefully climbing to the other side of the pandemic — by asking a few Charlotte leaders for their “1 big thing” or “1 big hope” for the new year.

Why it matters: Their answers ranged from personal to statewide to global, often based on their line of work. Regardless of their politics or personal beliefs, all seemed to trust that this year will be brighter than the last.

  • A recent Axios poll found that 73 percent of Americans are more hopeful than fearful about what the year 2021 will bring.

Some answers edited for brevity.

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U.S. Senator Thom Tillis: “Overcoming this pandemic”

Background: Tillis is a U.S. Senator from Cornelius and a popular figure in the northern Charlotte suburbs. He was sworn in Sunday for a second six-year term in Washington.

What he said: “Over the last year, my top priority has been protecting the physical health and economic future of North Carolinians. It is my hope in 2021 we continue to take steps toward overcoming this pandemic so we can safely return to life as normal.”

Thom Tillis at U.S. Capitol

Tillis contracted Covid-19 last year, but recovered and was back in the Capitol in December. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)


Mayor Vi Lyles: “Build something that everyone recognizes as important”

Background: Lyles enters the last year of her second term with hopes of convincing the state legislature to put a multibillion-dollar transportation referendum on your ballot this November.

What she said: “What I hope for in 2021 is that we have a city that has safe neighborhoods, that we’re able to stop some of the killing that’s going on, that we really give action to the meaning of equity for all … and that we build something that everyone recognizes as important for not just them today but for the generations to come.”

Mayor Vi Lyles and protesters in June 2020

Lyles meets with protesters in June 2020.


City council member Braxton Winston: “The progress of this transformational mobility plan”

Background: Winston, a Davidson grad, is the former activist who rose to prominence as a protester, then was swept into office as an at-large council member with convincing numbers in 2017 and 2019.

What he said: “Unequivocally, the most important thing that Charlotte deals with next year will be the progress of this transformational mobility plan.”

  • “From the beginning of time, where investments are made in transportation have determined where human development happens, what grows and what dies. Transportation over the past 100 years has been a way of dividing communities. And we’re taking an approach where we’re going to acknowledge those things and think about transportation that weaves neighborhoods together as opposed to scarring it or dividing it.
  • We are going to have to answer a lot of questions that we as a community and we as colleagues have. There’s legitimate questions about (for instance), is this the right thing to do because of Covid? This’ll be an election year where my seat is up — but the most important question is going to be this referendum question.”
Democrat incumbent Braxton Winston is running for a City Council at-large seat

Photo by Braxton Winston for Charlotte City Council


Red Ventures CEO Ric Elias: “Bounce back better”

Background: Elias is on his way to being the most successful active businessperson in the Carolinas, as Red Ventures continues to grow by leaps.

  • He’s also very involved in economic mobility and social initiatives aimed at closing Charlotte’s wealth gap.

What he said: “Charlotte is in a much better position than many other cities and as a result I think we’ll bounce back better.”

  • “I think we’re going to see a trend of both people and companies favor mid-size cities. … A city like ours that is thriving, and one with our airport and weather and reputation, is going to be a net gainer of more jobs.
  • Charlotte still needs more of the industries of the future. If I would want to see something, it’s a leadership that’s focused on the jobs that are really going to matter 10-20 years from now.
  • Every crisis brings with it an opportunity. I hope as a city we don’t waste this opportunity.”
Ric Elias

Ric Elias (Photo courtesy Red Ventures)


David Hoffman: “Real estate signs are going to flood the streets”

Background: Hoffman, a public speaker and former economist, owns one of the most successful real estate groups in the state, and 2020 was, against the odds, one of the most successful years for real estate. He believes the trend will continue in the next few months for three reasons:

  1. People who bought in 2019 have completely different needs now given the pandemic. We’re still spending a lot of time at home and many people need office space, more space for the kids to learn, etc.
  2. Many people didn’t list in 2020 and decided to ride the year out. They’re ready to sell now.
  3. Spring is the busy season for real estate in any year.

What he said: “If you said give me a 10-second headline for 2021 it’s ‘Real estate signs are going to flood the streets in 2021.'”

redbud real estate


Kevin Poirier, assistant principal, West Charlotte High School: “Refuse to return to ‘normalcy'”

Background: Poirier started in the classroom as a science teacher. Now 30, he’s devoted his career to shrinking achievement gaps.

What he said: “I’m hopeful that in 2021, we refuse to return to ‘normalcy.’ That we take the lessons learned, the innovative practices, and the exposed inequities, and work to transform our systems and ways of thinking that have not been serving large parts of our community and our country long before Covid-19 and the year 2020.”

  • “The only ‘normalcy’ I’m hopeful that we return to is seeing students back in person when it’s safe. I really miss them, and their inspiring, positive energy!”


James Ford, founder, Center for Racial Equity in Education: “Start acting on what we’ve learned”

Background: Ford grew up in Rockford, Illinois, and when he was a kid he was bused to a school that was academically superior to the one in his neighborhood. It sparked a lifetime of work trying to make a more equitable education system.

  • The 2014 North Carolina Teacher of the Year is now a member of the state board of education. During the racial justice movement in summer 2020, he led the board in discussions about revising the history curriculum to more accurately reflect the history of Black and brown people in the state.

What he said: “2020 allowed us to learn more, and so my hope is that 2021 allows us to start acting on what we’ve learned. To go from merely talking about what needs to happen to holding fidelity to what we believe needs to happen.”

James Ford, former North Carolina Teacher of the Year. Photo courtesy of Brent Gulledge


Lisa Crawford, Mothers of Murdered Offspring: “I hope for connections”

Background: MOMO has provided services to families of homicide victims since 1993. Its founder, Judy Williams, died in 2020, but her legacy lives on in people like Crawford.

What she said: “I hope for connections. I hope to be able to reconnect with people.”

  • “This year we’ve been so isolated from other people that we realize how much value there is in personal connections. Being able to sit across from people and laugh and talk without worry. To be able to connect, to be able to hug. I’m a hugger and to be able to greet people with a hug. I’ve missed that so much. And of course that we find some way to heal the hearts of our fellow brethren so that they value our lives and their own.”
Lisa Crawford, Mothers of Murdered Offspring

Photo by Jon Strayhorn for Mothers of Murdered Offspring


Michael Smith, CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners: “My hopes begin with recovery”

Background: After a decade of “prolific” growth, as CCCP’s president and CEO says, the city is now looking ahead 20 years with its recent 2040 vision plan proposal. But first, center city needs to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic.

What he said: “There was a shared experience by all cities around the world, but the way we all respond … is going to differentiate cities. I’ve got a lot of faith in Charlotte. My hopes begin with recovery, public health, and the thriving creation of opportunity.”

  • “Personally, it is hugging distant family and good friends … and live music. I am just dying to be back in a small venue, listening to live music.”
Neighborhood Theatre during Covid-19

Arts organizations and concert venues have been among those hit hardest by the pandemic shutdowns. Go deeper.


Brianna Crane, Paige Hopkins, Katie Peralta, and Emma Way contributed to this report.

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