CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts announced on Dec. 1 that she will run for reelection in 2017 in an email to supporters.
Already potential opponents are lining up, with Democrat Sen. Joel Ford, Republican Councilmember Kenny Smith and Democrat Councilmember Vi Lyles all publicly stating that they might challenge her for the seat.
“We need to demonstrate the Charlotte can-do spirit at City Hall as a leadership model for our community and other representatives to see how we achieve success in Charlotte by confronting our challenges with grit and by working together selflessly,” Ford, a three-time state senator and former chairman of the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party, said in a statement.
“It’s important that you represent all the citizens of Charlotte not just certain groups,” Smith told WSOC-TV, declaring his interest in possibly running.
“Charlotte needs steadier leadership to build trust with the community and get the things done that will make our city better for everyone,” Lyles said in a statement. “Charlotte needs a mayor who is focused on working for the people of this city.”
Roberts supported the expanded Charlotte non-discrimination ordinance, providing protections for the LGBTQ community, which passed in a 7-4 vote in February. Roberts, along with the majority of her colleagues in the city council, refused to budge when the North Carolina General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory tried to pressure the city to rescind its already nullified non-discrimination ordinance in order to cut a deal over House Bill 2.
This unwillingness to abandon the LGBTQ community has earned her support from many while also bringing criticism from those hoping a compromise might put an end to the boycotts that have cost the state millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs.
“I wouldn’t describe it as a compromise, I would describe it as a reset,” Ford told Raleigh’s News & Observer in September, speaking in favor of a deal. “We need to stop the economic hardship and the negative impact that is happening in our state and this is a good first step.”
Ford told a reporter from WSOC-TV earlier this month that as mayor he would work with Raleigh on issues like the non-discrimination ordinance.
“I think a lack of listening and a lack of collaboration with state leaders is part of the problem,” he said.
After attempts at a compromise fell through, both McCrory and House Speaker Tim Moore have both admitted that a full repeal of HB2 would not have happened even if Charlotte had blinked.
Smith also pushed for a compromise, after voting against expanding the non-discrimination ordinance to include protections for LGBTQ people.
Lyles and Smith met with members of the NCGA, along with Ed Driggs and James Mitchell, to discuss a compromise. Lyles voted in favor of the ordinance.
She upset many members of the LGBTQ community when she put forward an amended non-discrimination ordinance in 2015 after the full version failed to pass. The updated version left out transgender accommodations protections. That too failed to pass.
Roberts has also faced mixed reviews over the city’s handling of the aftermath of the Keith Lamont Scott police shooting, which she has said should have been handled with more transparency.
She also called for the repeal of House Bill 972 in the wake of the shooting. HB 972 took effect Oct. 1 and requires a court order to obtain law enforcement dashboard and body camera footage.
Ford backed the bill.
He also went after Roberts for her handling of the situation, reiterating in that same WSOC-TV interview what he said at the time, which was that she showed “a failure of leadership to attack the police chief.”
Smith and Lyles, along with the rest of Charlotte City Council, minus Mayor Roberts, authored a letter of support for Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Kerr Putney.
Ford was also one of only two Democrats to vote in favor of Senate Bill 2 in February 2015, a bill allowing magistrates and other government officials to opt out of issuing a marriage license if doing so would violate “any sincerely held religious belief.”
The bill passed, was vetoed by McCrory and then passed again in an override of the veto. SB2 is currently under legal challenge, with plaintiffs filing an appeal to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals after a federal judge ruled that there is no standing to challenge.
Ford defended his support of SB2 to qnotes at the time by calling it a vote for “individual freedom.”
“I supported this bill because it respects an individual’s personal religious beliefs and it also protects same-sex couples’ right to marry,” he added.
Ford says he will spend the next two months talking with Charlotte residents while deciding if he wants to run.
Smith says he is discussing the decision with his wife, friends and advisors.
Roy Cooper, who ran in opposition to HB2, will take over as the state’s governor and has pledged to repeal the law. That will be an uphill battle, as he will face a GOP controlled General Assembly, which amid continuing boycotts, could make talk of a compromise once again appear attractive.
The most likely compromise would be losing the transgender accommodations protections portion of the non-discrimination ordinance.
Whether or not Charlotte’s mayor, be it Roberts or otherwise, is willing to stand for the rights of the entire LGBTQ community is likely to have a major impact on how the ongoing battle over HB2 shakes out going forward.