CHARLOTTE — In Charlotte’s mayoral primary held Tuesday, Charlotte Democrats ousted their own mayoral incumbent in what some are calling a referendum on Jennifer Roberts’ first term, marked by controversy over the city’s bathroom ordinance and violence in the wake of a police shooting.
Around 7pm on Tuesday, precincts began to report that Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles was leading Roberts and the field of three other Democratic primary candidates.
By the end of the night, Lyles, a former city budget director, secured approximately 46 percent of the vote — capturing key constituencies in Myers Park, Dilworth, and onward across the Queen City.
Roberts followed with 36 percent, while state Senator Joel Ford trailed with 15 percent. Connie Partee Johnson and Lucille Puckett, whose names appeared on the ballot without much fundraising, each captured less than a percentage point.
Lyles is the first African American woman to secure the nomination for the Charlotte mayoral race.
“I was always the local candidate, just the person talking about Charlotte,” Lyles told Fox46 in Charlotte on Wednesday morning, “and I think that made a difference.”
The primary turned out to be what many expected the general election would come down to — a judgement of Roberts’ polarizing politics tied to House Bill 2, racial protests, the police shooting of Lamont Scott last year, and sanctuary city status.
“I was mayor during the toughest two years that Charlotte has ever seen,” said Roberts to supporters on Tuesday night. “I’ve been happy to be in the midst of that to stand up for our city.”
“I called Vi Lyles, I told her she ran a great race and has great support,” she told the group about her concession call, “I have enjoyed being in this campaign with her because she has been positive, and we are going to be positive with her, and we are going to make sure that Democratic values win in the city council and mayoral race in November.”
Lyles will face Republican Kenny Smith, a District 6 city council member and corporate real estate broker, in the general election this November.
Smith skated through the conservative primary on Tuesday with nearly 89 percent of the vote. And with a stocked campaign war chest, Smith has financial leverage moving into the fall.
Roberts spent $166,361 in the month of August alone in the failed attempt to keep her seat. Lyles and Smith withdrew about $20,000 each during the same reporting period.
“They are all spending so much money, and we’re not,” said Smith speaking to North State Journal in early August about the Democratic primary field, “and I have a very lean staff.”
Smith is working with the consulting team at Victory Enterprises and has two staffers on his campaign payroll.
According to pre-primary finance reports submitted last week, Smith has spent $72,821 so far this cycle with $325,086 cash on hand heading into the fall.
Lyles, on the other hand, has spent $236,116 so far with $43,250 cash on hand, currently. Her victory is expected to boost those numbers in the coming weeks.
Money is king in campaigning; but ultimately, it will come down to what level of change Charlotteans are looking for.
LYLES ON THE ISSUES
Roberts’ loss may signal that Charlotte is tired of divisive politics, but Lyles sports a voting record on the city council that is almost identical to the current mayor.
Lyles backed Roberts’ efforts for LGBTQ protections, including the February 2016 ordinance that requires businesses with bathrooms open to the public to allow individuals to use either bathroom, regardless of biological sex.
But in the wake of House Bill 2 and Charlotte losing major sporting events, Lyles appeared more willing than Roberts to find compromise with Republican state leaders. She joined a group of council members to negotiate a repeal; albite unsuccessful, while Roberts held a hard line.
Lyles supported the decision not to release police body-worn camera footage of the Keith Lamar Scott shooting, even after riots broke out last October. However, she opposed Roberts’ Op-Ed that publicly criticized the police department.
Lyles also backed the Interstate-77 project, despite outrage from northern Mecklenburg, while recently voting for a $4.4 million tax credit package for new development projects in midtown.
Lyles, 64, grew up in Columbia, South Carolina before attending UNC-Chapel Hill for a Master’s in Public Administration.
“You have to be who you are, all the time,” said Lyles on Wednesday. “And I’m going to be consistent, I’m going to hang in there with the issues that are really important — so I’m going to continue to talk about jobs, housing, great neighborhoods, and I’m going to get out and ask people to support that effort.”
The general election will be held on November 7.