Reporting by Jim Morrill, Anna Douglas, Ann Doss Helms and Ely Portillo, The Charlotte Observer
Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles Tuesday upset Mayor Jennifer Roberts – a controversial leader who made national headlines over House Bill 2 – and won the Democratic mayoral nomination without a runoff.
Lyles, a former city budget director and assistant city manager, won in virtually every corner of the city, from the northwest to the southeast. She carried African-American precincts off Beatties Ford Road as well as in Myers Park and Dilworth.
The crowd of supporters gathered around a small TV to watch Roberts concession speech. They broke into cheers and chants of “Team Vi Lyles.”
“I can’t believe it,” one supporter yelled.
“I can,” yelled another.
— Ely Portillo (@ESPortillo) September 13, 2017
State Sen. Joel Ford was a distant third, followed by Lucille Puckett and Constance Partee Johnson.
Meanwhile, City Council member Kenny Smith rolled past two rivals – Gary Dunn and Kimberley Paige Barnette – for the Republican nomination.
With 120 of 168 precincts in, Lyles had 46 percent of the vote to Roberts’ 37.2 percent. Ford had 15 percent.
She had the support of the Black Political Caucus as well as establishment leaders such as former Bank of America Chairman Hugh McColl.
Lyles watched the returns with several dozen supporters at her campaign office at the Park Expo center on Independence Boulevard. They nibbled on a buffet of wings, barbecue and beans.
“I’m pretty stoked, actually!” Lyles said with a laugh. She told reporters she hopes to bring a new approach to the mayor’s office for issues like affordable housing and infrastructure.
“Traditions are great, but we need some new paths forward,” she said.
While her two main opponents attacked each other, Lyles was less often a target for either. She cast herself as a conciliator who could bring people together.
Lyles overcame a big financial disadvantage.
Through August Roberts raised $468,000, far more than her rivals. That helped her stay on TV consistently since Aug. 21, while none of her Democratic opponents aired a single ad.
Roberts, who ran a Spanish-language TV ad, tapped into her connections with Charlotte’s immigrant community. Recent donors included Hilda Gurdian, publisher La Noticia, and Astrid Chirinos, chief executive of the Latin American Economic Development Corp.
The mayor who became the face of the anti-discrimination ordinance that prompted House Bill 2, also found support from the LGBT community.
Ford’s supporters included legislators from both sides of the aisle. His donors included at least nine GOP lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown and House Rules Chair David Lewis. And Ford, who once chaired the Mecklenburg Democratic Party, encouraged non-Democrats to change their registration so they could vote for him in the primary.
Lyles appealed to Democrats such as Addie Pettice, 81, is a retired city employee.
“I think she needs an opportunity to let the city know what she can do and what she’s capable of,” said Pettice.
Ford was the most aggressive of the Democrats.
He consistently hit Roberts for her leadership, especially in the wake of last year’s police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and the violent protests that followed. He accused the mayor of throwing Police Chief Kerr Putney “under the bus” when she called last fall for more transparency in the release of police body cam videos after the Scott shooting.
Roberts disputed the charge. During a debate last week, Roberts called her opponent’s characterization of her relationship with Putney “as fictional as (Ford’s) crime-fighting plan.”
She also said his “baseless attacks show that his campaign is desperate.”
Ford also faulted Roberts for her handling of last year’s anti-discrimination ordinance that extended protections for the LGBT community. Republican lawmakers responded by passing HB2, which sparked a national backlash against Charlotte and the state.
Ford argued that unlike Roberts, he would have a better relationship with Republican legislators that would pay dividends for Charlotte.
Until the debate, Lyles had generally avoided being attacked. But Roberts questioned why she voted against two ways to put more money in the city’s Housing Trust Fund. Lyles recently opposed a plan by Republican Ed Driggs to use hotel/motel tax money to pay for improvements to Bojangles’ Coliseum. That could have freed up to $18 million for affordable housing.
Lyles argued that she would be more effective than Roberts.
Thank you to all of our supporters who brought us this far. I love you all, and want you to know I'll keep standing up and fighting for you.
— Jennifer Roberts (@JenRobertsNC) September 13, 2017
— Mayor Vi Lyles (@ViLyles) September 13, 2017