CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte has already begun early voting in a race to select the city’s seventh mayor in eight years.
Republican Councilmember Kenny Smith is facing off against Democratic Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles, after she beat incumbent Mayor Jennifer Roberts in a crowded primary.
Smith expected to run against Roberts, who enjoyed a huge financial advantage over her opponents, so much so that she was the only candidate able to run TV ads.
Smith is now trying to tie Lyles to Roberts, since he can’t use the same “failed leadership” line on her. Instead, he claims she will offer more of the same, telling The Charlotte Observer that she’s “pretty lock-step with Jennifer.”
At press time, Smith’s campaign website still prominently features his campaign announcement video, where he criticizes Roberts as an ineffective leader.
He cites the controversies around Charlotte’s decision to offer protections for the LGBTQ community, with the non-discrimination ordinance that Roberts championed, and which the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) responded to with the anti-LGBTQ law House Bill 2.
He also mentions the police shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott, and the protest and unrest that followed.
Roberts appeared to try to have it both ways, alternately appearing on the side of the city and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney, while at other times condemning what she called a lack of transparency.
Lyles and Smith responded in more or less the same way, by signing onto a city council letter in support of Putney.
They have also both expressed disappointments at the Police Foundation’s report on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s response to the protests, with Smith hoping for more recommendations and Lyles wishing it had focused more on broader issues and problems in the community.
Even their stated issues of top priority look nearly identical, with Smith saying he wants to focus on public safety, infrastructure and jobs, and Lyles saying she wants to focus on equity, transportation, infrastructure, affordable housing and jobs.
Related — Early voting has already begun:
One of the biggest issues in this race, and not just with the community, is that of LGBTQ rights.
Lyles voted for the LGBTQ inclusive non-discrimination ordinance in 2015 and 2016, when it finally passed, with a 7-4 vote.
Her vote for the ordinance in 2015, after an amendment removed transgender bathroom and locker room protections, drew some criticism from the transgender and allied communities.
Smith voted against the ordinance both years.
He argued in 2015 that the purpose of the bill was to “impose the progressive left’s new morality on our citizens.”
Last year, he called the public forum where members of the community could voice their support or opposition to the bill as “a sham” and called the ordinance “outrageous.”
He incorrectly stated that there is no reason to believe that transgender people would be made safer by being granted the right to use bathrooms matching their gender identity. In fact, surveys that show many transgender people, whom he called “transgenders,” have faced harassment and violence when forced into facilities that don’t match their identity.
In Smith’s aforementioned campaign video, he puts the blame for the boycotts that followed the passage of HB2 solely on Roberts, despite the fact that those staying away from the state cited the anti-LGBTQ discrimination sanctioned by HB2.
He oversimplifies, and misrepresents, the issue and the unfolding events by claiming it was “the mayor’s pursuit of the ‘bathroom ordinance’” that “cost us thousands of jobs, hundreds of millions in economic development and high profile sporting events that were once commonplace in our city.”
Both Lyles and Smith met with members of the NCGA to discuss a “compromise,” that resulted in HB142, a bill that prevents cities from passing non-discrimination ordinances that protect the LGBTQ community until 2020.
It also prevents any entity under the state’s control, such as state universities, from enacting policies that allow transgender people to use facilities matching their gender identity.
While Lyles has some explaining to do on that front — qnotes tried to interview both candidates, but neither returned repeated requests (see bottom for update) — it is clear that a Mayor Smith would be a much more dangerous proposition for the LGBTQ community and its allies.
When asked by the Observer if he would use his veto power if elected mayor and the council attempted to pass another non-discrimination ordinance protecting the LGBTQ community, he would not rule it out.
With statements like these, as well as his voting record, it is no surprise that LGBTQ rights organizations — the Human Rights Campaign, MeckPAC and Equality North Carolina — are throwing their support behind Lyles, after supporting Roberts in the primary.
UPDATE: The Lyles campaign has asked that we clarify that while it failed to get us answers in time for press, they did return an email saying answers were coming, and that they misunderstood the deadline. We have once again been assured that answers are coming, and if they do, and prove newsworthy, you can expect us to publish them.