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Glenn H. Burkins

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5 takeaways from the Charlotte primary vote

Photo: The Charlotte Observer

Charlotte will have a new mayor come December. Incumbent Jennifer Roberts got bounced in Tuesday’s Democratic primary by Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles.

And that’s not all. City council will undergo a major shakeup, too, with five new members effectively elected to the 11-person council.

What does it all mean? Here are my top-five takeaways:

#1. Vi Lyles will be Charlotte’s next mayor.

That’s not a prediction based solely on the fact that Lyles won the Democratic nomination in a Democratic city, though that’s a pretty good place to start. No, I’m predicting her win in November because of the decisive way she dispatched Roberts. Up against two viable candidates, Lyles came within four percentage points of winning half the votes cast. Who would have predicted that?

Whenever I saw Lyles out and about during the campaign, I always made a point of asking how she felt about her chances in the primary. She’d smile and say something like, “I’m just hoping I can get to 40 percent” to avoid a runoff.  She reached that mark with votes to spare. Lyles, the most popular politician in Charlotte at this moment, should have no trouble becoming the first black woman elected to lead the Qcity. (For what it’s worth, I also predicted a Hillary win last November.)

#2. For Roberts, getting elected proved easier than governing.

Back in August, the Charlotte Observer’s editorial board declared Mayor Roberts to be “the best campaigner Charlotte has ever seen,” and they were right. With high energy and an ever-present smile, she seemed to be everywhere. As for her performance in office…well, that’s been complicated.

Back in 2011, she got bounced from her chair as head of the Mecklenburg commission after attorney Harold Cogdell, a fellow Democrat, joined with four Republicans in a bloodless coup. As mayor, Roberts pushed for LGBT rights, but it got the entire state stuck with HB2. She also caught heat (not all of it justified) for her leadership in the wake of last year’s Keith Scott killing, when peaceful protests turned violent.

Roberts, 57, has devoted much of her life to public service. It’s hard to see where she goes from here.

#3. Joel Ford has lost his base

How is it possible that a state senator managed to get only 16 percent of the vote in what was effectively a three-person race for mayor? The short answer: Ford has alienated his Democratic support.

In 2015, he was one of two Senate Democrats who voted for SB2, a Republican bill that allowed civil magistrates to recuse themselves from performing same-sex marriages. As a private citizen, he has said, he also voted for Amendment 1, which banned same-sex marriage in North Carolina. (The U.S. Supreme Court nullified the amendment when it legalized gay marriage nationwide.) And at a time when black Americans were righteously indignant over police shootings, Ford backed a Republican measure that prohibits North Carolina’s police departments from releasing video footage without a court’s permission.

To his critics, Ford seemed to care most deeply about proving how much he could cozy up to the GOP. Thus, he failed to carry even one of Charlotte’s 168 precincts in his bid to be mayor – including precincts in his own district.

#4. Democrats want change.

Charlotte’s elected leadership will undergo dramatic change come December. It will be younger…and perhaps less politically cautious. The next city council will convene with at least five new members out of 11.

Democrats Patsy Kinsey and Claire Fallon won’t be returning. Kinsey, 76, lost her District 1 seat to 34-year-old Larken Egleston, who accused Kinsey of being out of touch with voters on a key zoning issue in her district. And Fallon, 83, failed to finish in the top four in the at-large race.

If recent history holds and Democrats again sweep the at-large seats, council also would get Braxton Winston II, an outspoken critic of police tactics following the Keith Scott shooting. Dimple Ajmera, who became the first Indian-American on council when she was appointed to fill a vacated seat in District 5, also finished among the Democrats’ top four at-large candidates. Ajmera drew attention (and some criticism) when she said during the campaign that people who voted for Donald Trump should have no place in city government. She refused to back down when Republicans howled.

So depending on how voting goes in November, Charlotte could be in for a new brand of leadership.

#5. Overall, voters are largely uninspired.

Out of 544,908 people eligible to vote, only 7.95 percent (43,337) cast a ballot. Not surprising for a primary election, but still disappointing. For anyone looking for an early sign that Democrats are getting fired up and ready for 2018, Tuesday’s turnout didn’t provide much encouragement.

Glenn is editor of Qcitymetro. Hit him up at editor@qcitymetro.com.

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