The city of Charlotte has made history electing its first African American female mayor. In a landslide victory, Democratic candidate Vi Lyles defeated Republican Kenny Smith.
Lyles' supporters gathered at the Park Expo on Tuesday night to see if their candidate would be Charlotte’s next mayor. It was a victory party from the start. The smell of barbecue hung in the air and the wine was flowing.
Around the time polls were closing, Marlene Ferguson began to check the large projector screen waiting for results. She said Charlotte was ready for a change and that Lyles would help bring that change to the city. But she added:
"I don’t think this is going to be to be an easy in for her," Ferguson said. "I think because of the political climate that the whole country is in we’re in right now and experiencing, I don’t think it’s going to be a shoe in thing for her."
But fairly early into the night it became clear: This was a shoe-in for Lyles. She defeated Republican Kenny Smith with more than 59 percent of the vote.
The packed room lent itself to people constantly dabbing at sweaty brows. This sweat came from the heat and festivities, not from doubt their candidate would lose.
Around 9:20 p.m., Lyles’ pastor took the podium and changed the tone of the room by asking the crowd to bow their heads in prayer. The gathering went from a lively party to Sunday morning church as people hung their heads and said their amens while trying to cool themselves with fans or posters.
Then, without much further ado, he introduced mayor-elect Lyles.
She thanked her children and grandchildren and she acknowledged that the city had been through a lot this year. She hoped tonight would mark a new beginning for Charlotte.
After she left the podium she was swarmed by supporters but did manage to answer a few media questions. Through happy tears she described her excitement and what it means to be elected the city’s first black female mayor.
"I hope we use to it recruit business," Lyles said. "They are going to say 'who is your mayor?' And I want people to say, 'Look we have this black woman and she's ready to work with you!' That’s what I want it to be about, job recruitment."
One of the first issues she hopes to tackle is rebuilding trust in the community. And to that, she’ll need to call on the help of city council. Including the five new council members elected—all of whom are under the age of 40.
"I’m going to respect those folks and treat them just like any other council member," Lyles said. "They were elected by the people that they represent they are going to bring in new ideas and I look forward to working with them."
That begins Dec. 4, when all are sworn in.
Below are updates from WFAE's David Boraks, who tracked the election throughout Tuesday night.
Updated at 9:28 p.m.
Democrat Vi Lyles declared victory Tuesday night in the race for Charlotte mayor. With 109 of 168 precincts plus early votes counted, Lyles had about 59 percent of the vote, to 41 percent for Republican Kenny Smith.
She celebrated her victory in a speech to supporters at The Park conference center in east Charlotte, and talked about growing up in the Jim Crow South. "You've proven that a woman, whose father did not graduate from high school, can become this city's first African-American female mayor," she said.
Lyles called the vote an opportunity, in a city of opportunity, and hinted at themes she'll push as mayor.
"My belief is that our police and communities need to trust one another, that our transportation system should have opportunities for all, and that everybody should have a job and a safe place to live," she said.
She called for action and said, "I'm ready. "
And in an apparent reference to her opponent's campaign, Lyles criticized what she called an influx of outside money, and told supporters: "You've proven there is no place in this city for negativity."
"I will continue to lead in the way that I have in the nearly 4o years as public servant in this city," she said.
Posted at 9:13 p.m.
With votes starting to trickle in from precincts around the city, Democrat Vi Lyles is holding on to her early lead over Republican Kenny Smith in the Charlotte mayoral race.
With 65 of 168 precincts plus early votes now counted, Lyles had 35,493 votes, or about 60 percent of the vote. Smith had 23,677, or about 40 percent.
Lyles early strength was coming from all but the southern part of the city. Smith was polling well in precincts in the Southpark and Ballantyne areas.
See full results on the N.C. State Board of Elections website, NCSBE.gov
Posted at 7:58 p.m.
Lyles Leads Mayoral Race After Early Votes
Ballots cast during Charlotte's 15-day early voting period have been counted, giving Democrat Vi Lyles an early lead over Republican Kenny Smith in the race for mayor.
Lyles won about 18,769 early votes, about 64 percent, to Smith's 10,341 votes, or 35.5 percent.
“Initial results aren’t what we anticipated. And we’ll see where we end up. It’s a long way to go and we don’t know where turn out will end up today," Smith told WFAE's Alex Olgin shortly after 8 p.m.
Almost 37,000 early votes came in, or just over 5 percent of registered voters in the city.
Lyles is the current mayor pro-tem. She upset current Mayor Jennifer Roberts in the September Democratic primary. She has been talking about affordable housing, keeping down property taxes and building police community relations.
Smith is the current council representative from District 6, in south Charlotte. He easily won his primary, and brought a big campaign war chest into the general election against Lyles. His main themes in the campaign have been infrastructure, public safety and jobs.
Full results are still coming in from precincts around the city. Return to this page for updates.