It's Lyles vs. Smith for Charlotte Mayor

Sep 13, 2017

The results of Tuesday's primaries are in, and it was a night of upsets in Charlotte. Young challengers beat long time incumbents and the city will have a new mayor.

Republican Kenny Smith easily won his primary. And Vi Lyles defeated Jennifer Roberts and Joel Ford in the Democratic primary. In a surprise, that race wasn't even close.

The first hint that change was afoot, arrived just after 7:30 pm. That's when the polls close and Mecklenburg County Board of Elections posts the results of early voting. Mayor Pro-Tem Vi Lyles had a big lead with 47 percent of the Democratic vote.

Mayor Jennifer Roberts was in second with 36 percent. Joel Ford was a distant third with 14 percent.

At the Roberts campaign party in Plaza-Midwood, the party was put on hold. The small crowd of supporters who gathered there were patient.

The votes, they believed, would come in.

The mood was very different a short drive away at Vi Lyles campaign headquarters. There, the crowd was jubilant

And so was their candidate.

"I'm really stoked actually!"

Lyles had reason to be. Early voting totals are more than just a tally. They're like a final public poll. Sure, there can be big swings and upsets. But in municipal primaries, those are rare.

And through the night, as more precincts reported in, Lyles' 10 percent margin held. 

Just after 9 p.m., Sam Spencer, Jennifer Roberts' campaign manager, told reporters the mayor would make an appearance shortly. But first, he said, she was speaking to the next mayor of Charlotte. 

Shortly after, Roberts made her way to the second floor of the Peculiar Rabbit –

She hugged supporters, one kissed her on the cheek, leaving behind just a bit of lipstick.

"Thank you all for being here for supporting me," Roberts said.

Roberts walked to the middle of the room. She thanked her donors, her volunteers, her family, her staff. Then she gave the heart of her concession speech.

It has been such an honor to serve as mayor during, like probably the toughest two years she has seen in her history.

A timespan that includes the killing of Keith Lamont Scott, and the protests which followed. The city's LGBT ordinance, HB 2 and the boycotts.

This is all part of moving that conversation forward. And I do not apologize for standing up to discrimination.

Roberts then pledged to help democratic values win come the November election. All this was watched live by a victorious Vi Lyles and her fans.

It was now time for Charlotte's Democratic nominee for mayor to take center stage.

"The very first thing I want to say is that I'm extremely humbled and grateful for the confidence of the voters of this city to say they're willing to put this wonderful city, this great place, in my trust as mayor. I am eternally grateful for that. We've got another race to go but I promise you that we're going to run this next several weeks just like we ran this one. We're going to speak about the issues. And we're going to speak to the people about the issues and we're going to advocate for unity," Lyles said.

By winning the primary with 46 percent of the vote, Lyles did two things. First, she avoided a runoff election. And second, she showed Democrats in this city are ready to rally behind her.

Still, she has a new fight on her hands. Republican Kenny Smith walked through his primary with 88 percent of the vote. Lyles spent almost all of her campaign donations to get to this point. She has just $43,000 left. Smith has spent almost nothing and has a war chest of $325,000. And he's already on the offensive.

"Mayor Pro Tem Lyles is essentially the same candidate as Jennifer Roberts. She has been with her 100 percent on policy initiatives. Many of those have been outside of what we think is sort of the moderate mainstream."

And up for grabs in this fight for mayor is the fastest growing voting block in Charlotte - naffiliated voters.

Smith believes he has a message they will vote for come November.

What we've been campaigning on to date are the issues that we think are most important to the citizens of Charlotte. That's infrastructure, safety and jobs. We're going to continue those themes, and we're going to differentiate ourselves.