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Vi Lyles, making history as new Charlotte mayor, aims to be an ‘instrument of change’

Outgoing mayor Jennifer Roberts said she was “proud to be at the center of a national discussion on inclusion and nondiscrimination."

By Steve Harrison, The Charlotte Observer

Vi Lyles was sworn in Monday night as Charlotte’s first African-American female mayor, telling a packed City Council chamber that she is “anxious to serve as your instrument of change.”

“I’m a product of a family grounded in faith, hard work, loyalty and love,” said Lyles, 66, in a speech after she took the oath of office. Lyles said she believes her election will lead more young women to “think it’s possible for them.”

“Yes, I am our first African-American woman mayor,” Lyles said. “I want to be known as the best mayor, to create opportunity for all of us.”

Lyles, who worked in the city’s budget office and as an assistant city manager for nearly 30 years, was often pragmatic as a council member for the last four years. Her speech touched upon the themes of her campaign – improving economic opportunity for low-income neighborhoods and building more affordable housing. She said she wants to be a mayor who can “find a restaurant on Beatties Ford Road.”

Monday also marked the final meeting for outgoing Mayor Jennifer Roberts and four other council members: Patsy Kinsey, Claire Fallon, Kenny Smith and Carlenia Ivory.

Lyles defeated Roberts in the Democratic primary and then Smith in the November general election. In her final speech as mayor, Roberts said her term of two years “seemed like 10 years at times” – a reference to stresses caused by the Keith Lamont Scott protests and riots and by the fight over House Bill 2.

She said she was “proud to be at the center of a national discussion on inclusion and nondiscrimination.” She added: “Charlotte was on the right side.”

Lyles will be working with a City Council that’s been upended with five new faces.

Of the seven district seats, four will be represented by first-time council members who won in November.

Of the four at-large seats, there will be one new member: Braxton Winston, who became a leader during the Scott protests in September 2016. Winston said the council is losing the voices of several women and that it must work to ensure their voices are still heard.

Winston also said if the city stays together as a “fist,” it can “break through the walls of inequity.”

All five of the new members are under 40. They have often been called the council’s new millennial members, but they have shunned that moniker. Instead, they are calling themselves the “freshman caucus.”

Though there are new faces, the council will still have a 9-2 Democratic majority. That’s been the case since 2011.

Monday’s meeting was almost entirely ceremonial, except for the council naming a new mayor pro tem. At-large member Julie Eiselt, a Democrat, was voted unanimously by council to take that role. Eiselt finished first among all at-large candidates in the November election.

The mayor pro tem runs meetings when the mayor is absent.

Two years ago, in her first election, Eiselt also finished first. But she nominated Lyles to be mayor pro tem.

This time Eiselt wanted the job.

At-large council member James Mitchell was interested in becoming mayor pro tem last week, but he voted for Eiselt.

The outgoing council members also made brief speeches. Kinsey, who was a council member for 14 years, was also appointed mayor in 2013 after Anthony Foxx stepped down to become U.S. Transportation Secretary. She said that what she’ll remember most about being mayor is being Charlotte’s first mayor to participate in the city’s Gay Pride parade.

“That will forever be in my heart,” she said.