This is it. Friday, July 21 is the last day for candidates to officially fill out the paperwork needed to run in the 2017 elections.
This being an odd numbered year, these are all local races like mayor, school board, city council and town boards.
Morning Edition Host Marshall Terry and WFAE's Tom Bullock discuss who has and has not filed, size up the candidate field for Charlotte's mayor and talk about a new podcast WFAE has launched.
MARSHALL TERRY: We'll get to the candidates in a moment. But let's start with this: these municipal elections don’t usually hold the attention of voters like, say, last year's presidential race.
TOM BULLOCK: That is normally the case. And yet it's a safe bet we'll see a new record for spending in the race for mayor of Charlotte. Well over a million dollars could easily be spent in that race alone, including money from groups that do not have to disclose their donors – which is a first for Charlotte.
But Republican political strategist Larry Shaheen says there's another reason voters should pay attention to these local races.
"There is only one body of government that can tax your property until you lose it, that can keep you from getting from A to Z, that can put regulations in place to shut down your business."
TB: And that, Shaheen says, is local city commissions or town boards. And he's basically right, though there are some exceptions to the rule.
MT: Ok, let's go through some of the candidates. Any surprises in who's filed?
TB: Let's point out candidates can still file through the end of the day today. But the big news so far is who is not running.
First, there's Jim Taylor who's served as mayor of Mathews for 8 years. Taylor sent out a press released earlier this week saying, "I said many years ago that once I felt this service started to feel like a job, it would be time to step away. Well, that time is now." So he will not seek a fifth term.
Then, there's Chuck Travis, the current mayor of Cornelius. And Travis has been controversial. Last year he went to the General Assembly to state his support for the I-77 toll lanes. A view the town board disagreed with. So they voted to censure him.
Travis also announced this week he will not seek re-election.
MT: Tom, how is Charlotte's mayoral race shaping up?
TB: Mostly as expected. But we do now know there will be a Republican primary for the race.
City Councilman Kenny Smith was, for quite a while, the only Republican running for the office. He now will face at least two primary challengers, Kimberley Paige Barnette and Gary Dunn. Neither appear to have a campaign website, so there's not a whole lot I can tell you about Ms. Barnette in particular. Mr. Dunn is something of a perennial candidate. He's run for office as a Republican, then a Democrat, and now he's running for mayor as a Republican.
Now, I just happened to be there when he filed so I asked him what his platform was. Here's what he said.
"I promise not to do anything. Except for my mom, I promised my mom I would wear a tie."
TB: So, yeah, he's a bit of a character.
MT: What about the Democratic field for mayor?
TB: This will be an interesting primary race for sure. You've got the big three candidates all officially in. They are Mayor Jennifer Roberts, City Councilwoman and Mayor Pro-Tem Vi Lyles and State Senator Joel Ford.
Roberts and Lyles both currently hold citywide seats, so they have strong name recognition. Joel Ford is better known in his Senate District but knows how to run an effective campaign.
Plus, you have at least one other candidate in the mix, Constance Partee Johnson announced she would run as a Democrat at an early candidate forum. She's also filed the needed paperwork. One other potential candidate also declared their intent at that forum, but she has yet to file.
MT: So far we've talked a lot about Democrats and Republicans. Are there any third party candidates running this year.
TB: Two so far. Both Libertarians. Steven DiFiore and Jeff Scott.
They are among the more than 30 candidates vying for a spot on the 11 member Charlotte City Council.
And Libertarians, along with Democrats and Republicans are the official political parties recognized by North Carolina. You'll note that so far there are no representatives of the fastest growing group of registered voters both in Mecklenburg County and the state overall, unaffiliated voters. They are now the second largest registered group in the state.
MT: And that is one of the issues you talk about in the first episode of a new podcast WFAE is launching today.
TB: It is. The podcast is called 'Candidate ME' and the first episode is available now on our website now.
And a big reason we don’t see unaffiliated candidates is simple - there are some really significant hurdles they have to jump through in order to qualify.
Michael Dickerson is the director of Elections for Mecklenburg County.
"What if I'm unaffiliated, can I still run? Sure you can but that now requires a collection of signatures to get on the ballot versus participating in a primary."
TB: And this is the first big hurdle, unaffiliated candidates can only take part in a general election and to do that they need to collect the signatures of at least 4 percent of all registered voters eligible to vote for that office. Now, Marshall, I know 4 percent doesn’t sound like much but let's put this in context.
Overall turnout in 2015, the last municipal election in Charlotte, was just 8.8 percent. This is also true for members of political parties that aren’t officially recognized by the state.
Contrast this with candidates who are registered Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians – they just have to show up, fill out a simple form, prove they live in the district, town or city the office represents and pay a filing fee. Then they're automatically on the ballot.
MT: Let's talk specifically about the podcast for a moment. What can people expect from Candidate ME?
TB: The concept is simple, we use a hypothetical candidate for office to explore key issues of campaigning. From dark money groups to the world of social media, from yard signs to how people craft attack ads, we're going to show the stuff happening behind the scenes. Plus, we'll be covering the political news of the week in longer form. All the while talking with real candidates, Republican and Democratic strategists, and others.
And new episodes will be coming out regularly up to the November election.
The first episode is all about launching the hypothetical campaign. Plus we have two political strategists, Democrat Dan McCorkle and Republican Larry Shaheen in for a roundtable discussion. This is not about your classic talking points. Instead we have a really frank discussion on issues like how much money does a mayoral campaign in Charlotte really need? What are the real candidates doing right now behind the scenes and how big a role should Charlotte's homicide rate play in the election?