Jan 16, 2018 - News

14 Charlotte newsmakers to watch in 2018

uptown skyline from le meridien city lights daytime

uptown skyline from le meridien city lights daytime

You thought 2017 had a lot going on? This year could be even busier.

Across the country, politicians are preparing for midterm elections, and we have some contested local races. In Charlotte, we’ll also continue to deal with affordable housing and economic opportunity. Oh, and the Carolina Panthers could be sold.

The following are in no particular order, but I believe all of them will make an impact in 2018.

Braxton Winston

Winston shocked the Charlotte political establishment by becoming the second-highest vote getter in the City Council at-large election last fall, and gained national attention from going from prominent protestor to elected official in just over a year. He’s spent his first few weeks in office floating test balloons from the dais — including raising council pay and pressuring the county to stop the 287(g) program.

Winston is clearly not afraid to advocate for issues he believes are important. In 2018, expect him to zero in on one top priority and make it happen.

Photo by Braxton Winston for Charlotte City Council via Facebook

Jennifer Roberts

Don’t count on the one-term Charlotte mayor to leave the public arena after losing her re-election campaign to Vi Lyles this past fall. She remains an adept fundraiser and still wants to represent the Charlotte area. Don’t be surprised if she launches a campaign for Congress this year.

She’s done it once before, challenging Robert Pittenger in District 9 back in 2012. But with redrawn districts, Roberts now lives in a much more Democrat-friendly District 12, currently held by U.S. Rep. Alma Adams.

Fred Whitfield

The Charlotte Hornets team president will have two big jobs in 2018 — trying to keep a restless fanbase happy while prepping for Charlotte to be on a global stage. The NBA All-Star Game is scheduled to return to the Queen City in February 2019 for the first time in several decades and three years after the HB2 debacle derailed the league’s plans.

Hornets President Fred Whitfield

Hugh McColl

The retired Bank of America CEO played a primary role in building Charlotte into what it is today. Count on 2018 to be a year where he works to solidify his legacy and hand the torch, so to speak, to a new generation. McColl became unusually active in this past year’s City Council races, endorsing Winston and Dimple Ajmera, and is forging relationships with other millennial generation leaders. McColl still pulls weight around Charlotte and can raise thousands of dollars with a few phone calls. Who will he tap in 2018?

Dimple Ajmera with Hugh McColl. Photo by Dimple Ajmera for Charlotte City Council via Facebook.

Marcus Smith

The Speedway Motorsports executive was in the news in 2017 for trying to cajole Charlotte into pushing for a Major League Soccer team. A public financing deal fell apart, sending Smith back to the drawing board. In 2018, he’ll face a decision: Should he keep pursuing soccer? Should he get involved with buying the Panthers? Or should he do something else sports-related with an eye to the future, like trying to land a professional eSports team?

Pat McCrory

The former Charlotte mayor and North Carolina governor spent 2017 on a comeback tour, landing a regular gig on WBT radio and getting back in the conversation locally. In 2018, he’ll have to decide whether he really wants to take another run at the Executive Mansion. The 2020 gubernatorial race right now hinges on this decision.

Clayton Wilcox

The new Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent spend his first six months on the job getting his feet wet. Count on him to announce some major initiatives in 2018. He’s inheriting a school district in flux, with a reassignment plan just completed and a bond package just approved. Signature elementary schools like Dilworth and Cotswold are embarking on ambitious experiments to pair with low-income neighbors. Many schools remain mired in low performance, and charter schools are nipping at CMS’s heels. 2018 will be key for Wilcox to hold on to the city’s goodwill.

Photo courtesy of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

John Lewis

The Charlotte Area Transit System CEO thinks big, and in 2018 he’ll have a prime opportunity to do so. The Blue Line extension to UNC Charlotte opening in March, meaning it’ll finally be time to proceed full speed ahead on what comes next. Lewis has already floated an idea to build several new light rail lines all at once. In 2018, he’ll have a chance to get the ball rolling on it.

Colette Forrest

As the chairwoman of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Political Caucus last year, Forrest was perhaps the most influential person in Charlotte’s municipal elections. Nearly every candidate the caucus endorsed won. Now that Forrest has stepped down, where will she apply her political skills? Will she manage a campaign in 2018?

Colette Forrest, center-right, in pink. Photo by the Black Political Caucus via Facebook

Lynn Wheeler

Even 15 years removed from the City Council dais, Wheeler remains perhaps the most politically connected person in Charlotte. The former mayor pro tem has tight relationships across business and political lines, and with experience both at WBT and WBTV, knows how to communicate effectively. Wheeler has recently launched a website where she interviews big-name figures (she’s already published pieces with Chamber CEO Bob Morgan and U.S. attorney Andrew Murray) and dishes some of her behind-the-scenes scoops. In 2018, Wheeler will likely be even more influential.

Photo by Sean Busher

Kerr Putney

After two years of rising homicides in Charlotte, the CMPD chief will feel pressure from people concerned about public safety. At the same time, he’s also still on the hot seat for officer-involved shootings and police relations with marginalized communities. Expect movement on both of these fronts in 2018.

CMPD Chief Kerr Putney, center

Andrea Smith

As one of the highest-ranking Bank of America executives in Charlotte — and the person responsible for a more than $23 billion budget — Smith belongs on this list every year. But this year, she’ll also be making major moves as co-chair of the Leading on Opportunity Council alongside James Ford that aims to tackle economic mobility in Charlotte. Count on their efforts to make major progress in 2018.

Andrea Smith, with James Ford

Tina Becker

After Jerry Richardson’s fall from grace amid sexual harassment allegations, Becker took over control of the team and became perhaps the highest-ranking woman in the NFL. This year she’ll have major responsibilities to rebuild a team that just fired its offensive coordinator, managing relationships with the city and guiding the team toward a sale.

Photo courtesy of the Carolina Panthers

James Mitchell

And speaking of the Panthers sale, Mitchell is the key member of Charlotte government who will be responsible for keeping the team in town. Mitchell heads the city’s economic development committee and has powerful sway over tax dollars that can be used to help the Panthers organization. He’s already said the city will do what it must do to keep the Panthers here. Did that weaken our negotiating position or send the right message? 2018 will likely be key to finding out.

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