An Hour-Long Mayoral Debate Boiled Down To One Question

Aug 23, 2017

From left mayoral candidate Kimberley Paige Barnette (R), Joel Ford (D), Constance Partee Johnson (D), Vi Lyles (D), Lucille Puckett (D) and Jennifer Roberts (D). Republicans Kenny Smith and Gary Dunn did not participate
Credit Tom Bullock / WFAE

Six of the eight candidates for mayor of Charlotte debated each other Tuesday at an event sponsored by the League of Women Voters and PBS Charlotte. It was an hour long debate. But let's focus on just one question.

Here's moderator Jeff Sonier: "The city of Charlotte is on record in support of the I-77 toll lane project between uptown and Mooresville. As mayor, would you support the current toll lane project and would you support future toll lane projects in Charlotte and surrounding communities?"

It's a good question since all the votes on the regional transportation board are weighted by population. So as Charlotte goes so does the vote on that board more or less.

The answers showed the tactics the big three Democrats are using at the heart of their campaigns.

"I would absolutely not support tolls in this region and in the city of Charlotte," said Joel Ford.

The state senator pitches himself as the only candidate who can work with Republican lawmakers in Raleigh to improve things here. For example, getting more state money for roads.

Next up Mayor Pro-Tem Vi Lyles, who blamed the toll lanes on the GOP.

"I have to say that this decision was made in 2011 with Speaker Thom Tillis and the state legislature," she said.

But Lyles, as the city's representative on the regional transportation board, has cast deciding votes in the project.

She pitches herself as someone who knows best how city government works. And pivoted in her answer from tolls to how the city needs managed lanes to make public transportation work better.

Finally, Mayor Jennifer Roberts.

"So as I said in my first campaign, I was against the contract," said Roberts.

She's running on her record and her two years of experience as mayor of Charlotte. She pointed out that cancelling the toll contract may cost the city $200 million, which is why she is not working to do so.

Republican front runner Kenny Smith did not participate in the debate. Republican Kimberley Paige Barnette and Democrats Constance Partee Johnson and Lucille Puckett also spoke out against the toll project.

You can see it next Tuesday (August 29 at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.) on WTVI.