Eight Candidates Try For An At-Large Seat On Charlotte City Council

Nov 1, 2017

Credit Denise Cross Photography

Next Tuesday, November 7, is Election Day. A lot of attention has been paid to the race for Charlotte mayor.

But there are other members of the city council who are elected citywide. And those races haven’t garnered the same level of attention.

Morning Edition host Marshall Terry and reporter Tom Bullock talk through the eight candidates vying for an at-large seat on the Charlotte City Council.

MARSHALL TERRY: Of course, we're talking about the candidates vying for at-large seats on the Charlotte City Council. And it's a pretty crowded field.

TOM BULLOCK: Yes, it is. There are four Democrats, three Republicans, and one Libertarian facing off against each other and the top four vote-getters will win a spot as an at-large member. And, as you said, these seats are different than the district seats. These candidates run citywide. And that fact usually comes with a perk. The at-large candidate who gets the most votes traditionally becomes the mayor pro-tem, meaning they fill in as mayor and run council meetings when the actual mayor isn't present. 

MT: And there has already been an election surprise with an at-large seat.

TB: That happened during the September primary. Incumbent Claire Fallon, a Democrat, lost her primary, so she's out. And mayoral candidate Vi Lyles, another Democrat, can't run for both that position and her current at-large spot on the council, so at least two of the four at-large members of council will be newly- elected to that position.

MT: Well, this seems an opportune time to start talking about the candidates. Let's start with the two incumbents.

TB: And they are James "Smuggie" Mitchell and Julie Eiselt. Both are Democrats.

As a first-time candidate Eiselt was the top at-large vote-getter in 2015. And given her inexperience on council then, Eiselt did not seek the Mayor Pro-Tem title. Then, as now, Eiselt is running on public safety. She lists fostering positive relationships between CMPD and residents as a core strategy for proactive crime prevention in Charlotte. Her other campaign priorities include affordable housing, developing a homegrown workforce, creating bike lanes and a modern mass transit system.

As for James Mitchell, he has served for 14 years on council. That ended when he ran for mayor in 2013. He squeaked back onto the council in 2015, beating Republican John Powell by just 248 votes. And we'll get back to Powell in a moment because he is running again. Mitchell's priorities include, creating jobs, expanding small businesses and is a big proponent of building Charlotte's economy with public-private partnerships. His website also touts his work in acquiring funds to upgrade stadiums for both the Panthers and the Knights.

MT: The final two Democrats include a first-time candidate and someone you list as a kind of incumbent. Explain.

TB: And that does need to be explained. The kind of incumbent is Dimple Ajmera. She currently represents District 5 on the city council, a post she was appointed to after John Autry was elected to the North Carolina House. And there's something of an unwritten rule when someone is appointed to a seat on the council – they don’t run for that same seat in the next election. So Ajmera is instead vying for an at-large seat. She is easily the most vociferous anti-Donald Trump member of the council and that has earned her either scorn or praise depending on your political point of view. Ajmera's top priorities include expanding economic opportunities citywide, affordable housing, and investing in Charlotte's infrastructure.

As for the first-time Democratic candidate, that would be Braxton Winston. He rose to prominence during the Keith Scott protests. Like Ajmera, Braxton Winston is a millennial and his campaign has a large social media presence. He lists his top priorities as affordable housing, bridging the digital divide, and better public transportation in order to help break down socio-economic barriers.

MT: So those are the Democrats. What about the Republicans?

TB: Charlotte last elected a Republican at-large member of the council in 2009. There are three current candidates hoping to change that.

First, there's the aforementioned John Powell, who lost to James Mitchell in 2015 by 248 votes. Powell is back this year and his top priorities are public safety, economic development including job-training programs and financial accountability.  

Powell is joined by fellow Republican Parker Cains on the ballot. Cains is a millennial who lists his priorities as community safety, economic development, and infrastructure. Cains, like other GOP candidates in Charlotte, also says he wants the council to focus on city issues and stay out of culture wars.

The third Republican is David Michael Rice. And there's not a lot of information on his campaign or his priorities. Rice has no website and no real presence on social media. He's something of a perennial candidate however, running unsuccessfully multiple times for city council, mayor and Mecklenburg County Commission.

MT: And there's a Libertarian candidate in the at-large race as well.

TB: Steven DiFiorie is his name. He's one of just two Libertarians trying to get elected to the council this year. His top priorities are reigning in spending by council members themselves, affordable housing and opposing public money being spent on private projects like stadiums.

MT: You're doing something of a voter guide.

TB: That's right. We've asked every candidate for Charlotte City Council that's in a contested race to answer two questions. First, what is the most important issue for them and how they would address it and, second, for those who haven’t made up their mind, tell us something that may sway those voters. Then, we gave them a Google voicemail number to call. We'll post those answers on our website on Thursday and feature them in this week's Candidate ME podcast.