Jul 26, 2022 - Election

The candidates for mayor and council have differing visions for the future of Charlotte

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Looking ahead to the July 26 municipal elections, we asked each candidate for mayor and City Council in a contested race to answer a question about their vision for Charlotte in 300 words or less:

Can you describe where you see our city in the next 5-10 years? How do you plan to address the challenges that come with it in the following areas: affordable housing/displacement, transportation needs and creating more equitable economic development opportunities?

Why it matters: Charlotte is rapidly evolving. Council members have major say in policies and tax dollar spending that influences how that change unfolds.

  • July is not a typical time of year for a general election to take place. Voting was postponed this year as census delays prolonged redistricting efforts. Don’t let the summer weather distract you from educating yourself on your potential representative and hitting the polls.

Of note: If you haven’t voted yet, find out who is on your ballot here. Each resident can vote for mayor, four at-large candidates and their district representative.

  • Find a nearby early voting site here or here.

Below is each candidate’s response, edited for grammar and clarity:

Mayor

Courtesy City of Charlotte

Vi Alexander Lyles (D), incumbent: Charlotte is the 16th largest city in the nation, now home to over 900,000 residents. We have come a long way since our humble beginning as a trading post, still marked by the corners of Trade and Tryon. As the home to Fortune 50 businesses, a new MLS team, homegrown talent, and some of the best hospitality in the world, it is no surprise to me how Charlotte has grown over the last decade. The City Council has worked tirelessly to ensure that our success as a city is sustainable into the future. As a Council, we have six key priorities:

  • Affordable Housing
  • Arts and Culture
  • Corridors of Opportunity and SAFE Charlotte
  • Jobs and Economic Development
  • The Charlotte Future 2040 Plan, the Unified Development Ordinance, and the Sustainable Energy Action Plan
  • Transportation and Mobility

The community, city staff and elected leaders have engaged in robust and passionate discussions over the last few months as we debate our guiding plans. These should be hard conversations because collaboration and compromise aren’t always easy, especially when we think about where Charlotte will be in the next 10, 20, 30 years, but it is always worth it. What sets Charlotte apart is not our plans or our strategies; it is our commitment to the six priorities and the focus on three key principles. Charlotte should, and will, be a place where everyone has access to:

  • An affordable, safe place to live
  • A good paying job
  • Mobility – both in terms of transit and transportation, and upward economic opportunities

We all need to remain engaged, as we forge ahead as residents, elected officials, private and philanthropic partners, regional counterparts, and most importantly, people who love and believe in Charlotte to ensure the Queen City keeps shining.

Courtesy of Stephanie de Sarachaga-Bilbao

Stephanie de Sarachaga-Bilbao (R): We face challenges that must be solved or the city we are building for ourselves and our children will remain a dream. We have to focus now and don’t have 10 years. As mayor I will propose immediate no-nonsense solutions for the issues we are facing. To be a thriving city, and example to the rest of the nation, let’s acknowledge our shortcomings now.

We have a violence problem. People are dying in our streets and neighborhoods. Children cannot afford to eat. Obtainable housing is nonexistent. In 10 years we will look back at this moment and see if we rose to the occasion.

We will see if we protected the soul of our city. See if we develop and build the capacity of programs and organizations which will strengthen our children and their families. We will be the example of what public safety wrap around supports and services can truly achieve when our community comes together. We have to break down the barriers between neighborhood and developer: uniting around our common goal of obtainable housing for all.

Entrepreneurship will be a path to multigenerational sustainable wealth for all Charlotteans. Hand in hand with our businesses we will invest in our other greatest asset; our families. Helping families, young and old to generate upward mobility, an example to the nation of the American dream.

Charlotte will be a place not just to invest, but to invest, live and grow. We will be a national epicenter of culture, fashion and the arts. A destination city that has invested in all corners of our community. People will come from far and wide to visit Beatties Ford, Uptown, or Independence or University or Steele Creek, all of Charlotte will be a destination built upon family, faith, community and opportunity.

At-large

Courtesy Braxton Winston

Braxton Winston (D), incumbent: In 5-10 years Charlotte will (be) knee deep in a transportation and transit rebuild. The next generation of our transportation networks will serve as the skeleton of our city that is changing its built environment from suburban sprawl into different types of dense urbanism in different parts of town.

  • The equitable build out of our public transit and transportation systems will enable us to reach the goals of our comprehensive plan by enabling diverse price point housing options to be built in close proximity to desirable amenities like schools, jobs, health care, and fresh food. Our investments in transit and transportation will be intersected with technology investments that will make Charlotte the most digitally equitable big city in America.

In 5-10 years the city of Charlotte government will make significant changes to the way our City Council, Mayor, and staff work together so we are able to operate with the level of sophistication, organization, and rigor that is demanded of a city that is one of the largest and fastest growing cities in America. Our citizens continue to demand to be at the table at the beginning of conversations and work processes as this city develops. We owe it to our growing constituencies to modernize our government in a way that more efficiently responds to their needs.

In 5-10 years the city of Charlotte will have stronger local and regional collaborative coalitions. The prosperity of our city is interconnected with the growth of our region and state. The challenges of affordable housing, transportation, and the environment will not stop at our city limits nor will the solutions. The city will figure out how to best consolidate our intergovernmental approaches to best get the work on behalf of our constituents done.

Dimple Ajmera
Dimple Ajmera

Dimple Ajmera (D), incumbent: My goals for Charlotte in the next 5-10 years are to create a thriving equitable city with safe environmentally sustainable neighborhoods, job opportunities, and affordable housing throughout our cities. What we accomplish and plan for now will have a positive effect for generations to come. 

To explain further, I continue to work to expand access to affordable housing, increase local awareness and action on school safety, and bring traction and economic opportunities to the 69-acre Eastland site, an area left undeveloped for years.

As for transportation, we must address our reliability and effective transit issues before we ask voters for a sales tax increase.

Courtesy of Carrie Olinski

Carrie Olinski (R): I hope that in the next 5-10 years, Charlotte will continue to grow and be a city desired by many! It is already a city of opportunity, tourism, and growth. However, if we do not begin to curtail big issues such as housing, transportation and equitable economic development then I fear we will begin to see a decline. City Council needs to look at these issues systematically and holistically, not isolating one from another.

I think these issues have prevailed because our current leadership has not focused on the most important part – the people. There have been plans in place to work on many issues but city council has yet to focus on the residents of this city. There is a reason why mentoring, teaching, parenting, and supportive networks produce effects that last years and even generations. For this to happen, we need to start from the ground up or our children up. Our city needs early childhood development programs to help limit the education and literacy disparity gap that is affecting our youth, especially those in the corridors. For adults, we need workforce development training so residents can attain a livable wage and stay in their homes (like in the Property Tax Relief Programs already established but under utilized). As for transportation, we need to focus on the roads and bus system which is currently not working effectively or efficiently. People are reliant on this system and it continues to fail them.

Ultimately, people aren’t being heard, protected, or respected which has led to an exodus from the job force. For our city to continue to grow we need to make our employees safe and become a desirable place to work.

Courtesy of Charlie Mulligan

Charlie Mulligan (R): Because of our growth and economic vitality, we are positioned to be a world class city. But are we finally ready to stop thinking we’re a small town?

I think we are.

But we need vision, and right now I don’t know if we do.

Here’s mine.

In 5-10 years, I want to see a Charlotte that is thriving, multicultural and southern.

We know the parts of town that are thriving right now. But we also need a plan for the areas that we have ignored for decades. My future Charlotte has a plan to keep generational wealth in communities of color by supporting homeownership rather than only subsidizing rentals. It will leverage our financial industry not to strip-mine our housing inventory but preserve it with a rent-to-own program targeted at locals. Charlotte has often been known as a good place for a family. But is that always true in the Crescent? It has to be.

We’re nearly a majority-minority city, and that presents exciting opportunities. Why don’t we let all cultures in our city shine? We know about the Charlotte Way – the refusal to platform any voice that doesn’t look the right way or doesn’t come from the right family.

The Charlotte Way is dead.

This city is bursting with vibrant people from all backgrounds. It’s time we gave them a chance to shine and made them a centerpiece of what our city is.

And finally, my future Charlotte is re-connected with our roots and soul. We’re gonna listen to our neighbors and communities instead of only to corporate interests. We’re gonna preserve our history rather than bulldozing it. We’re gonna embrace excellence while also celebrating what makes this home.

I believe Charlotte is the best freakin’ place in the world. Time we start acting like it.

Courtesy of David Merrill

David Merrill (R): I imagine Charlotte 2030 as a clean, green, and thriving multi-modal community with plenty of transportation options including autonomous vehicles and plentiful charging stations. Charlotte is now a banking, technology, and entrepreneurial hub with safe streets, art and culture. Our neighborhoods have their own charm and personality but are interconnected via parks, trails and greenways, all under our beautiful tree canopy. We are a strong and diverse community where neighbors look out for neighbors, and we are considered a leader in economic mobility.

People that work in Charlotte should be able to afford to live in Charlotte. The city and state have displacement prevention plans and while well-intentioned, they are falling short. The Aging in Place program disbursed $76,000 of a $1.5 M fund to help keep seniors in their homes. Among the many problems, the income and property value limits are not aligned with Charlotte’s needs. There are also Homestead and Circuit Breaker Tax Deferral programs too, but those aren’t much better.

Economic mobility is rooted in education, but it grows from a foundation of safe streets, stable, affordable, and attainable housing. It is completely unacceptable that more than 90% of our Black and brown 3rd graders are unable to pass end-of-grade reading and math tests. I don’t care if the school board and county are responsible for our schools, educating our children is everybody’s responsibility. Early Childhood Education Centers should be concentrated in our most economically disadvantaged communities to ensure everyone has the opportunity for success. It is also time to expand our charter schools and allow the money to follow the student.

We are going to have to work with the NC General Assembly to change the laws around housing and education programs to allow municipalities to develop better programs to assist those in need.

Courtesy James “Smuggie” Mitchell

James “Smuggie” Mitchell (D): In the next 5-10 years I see a more progressive city. I see the next phase of the light rail running to connect residents to efficient transportation without a tax burden. I am hopeful that the General Assembly would approve an increase in sales tax and not increase property tax.

  • A $100 million dollar bond passed and a voucher system in place to subsidize affordable housing.
  • Have incentives for developers to keep pricing affordable.

We could do a better job with the inventory of affordable housing properties and have dedicated funds to rehab properties so they are up to standard and good quality. This would reduce displacement.

An increase in wages to $22-$25 per hour would provide a salary for more equitable opportunities for residents to afford quality housing.

We can’t build enough affordable units but we can tackle this issue at both ends.

Courtesy Kyle Luebke.

Kyle Luebke (R): Charlotte is in a crisis. Housing prices, both to own and rent, are becoming unaffordable. Our transit system is plagued with buses being consistently late or not showing up at all. Our city procurement system is set up so that insiders and large corporations have the best shot at city contracts. I have solutions to all of these problems.

For housing reform, I would like to incentivize developers to build homes to own, increase our downpayment assistance program, and work on property tax reform with the legislature to protect our vulnerable neighbors from displacement.

I want to focus on ensuring that we have a working bus system. Our current council wants to prioritize projects that look good to consultants, while our current system is failing. Bus riders don’t know if their bus is going to show up. People are missing work, being fired, missing court dates and missing major life events … all because we are not holding CATS leadership accountable. If elected, I would be the only bus rider on council, and I would take my experiences as a rider to address these problems.

When it comes to city contracts, we cannot talk about supporting our entrepreneurs and small businesses while at the same time effectively shutting them out of city contracts because they don’t have the army of employees, lawyers and other professionals to craft a large RFP.  We need to break up the RFP process so that small businesses, which are often minority and women owned, have an actual shot at getting access to city money.

Charlotte needs pragmatic and moderate voices that put aside partisan fights and instead focus on what matters. I have worked with both Democrats and Republicans in our City to make change…and I hope to continue doing so on Council.

Courtesy LaWana Mayfield

LaWana Mayfield (D): Charlotte is at a crossroads as we work to grow from a big town to a big city in thought and action. Across the nation, we are watching investment companies purchase almost all available single housing which could create a generation of renters with little to no ability to be a homeowner regardless of income. We have residents with multiple levels of education from Associates to Masters and beyond who are currently unemployed, along with our CATS drivers collectively taking 1 of their 60 days off in protest of pay & conditions with no accountability by the Texas-based RATP Deve USA which received the management contract in 2019.

I have a focus on connecting Charlotteans to the high-paying jobs coming along with clear commitments to employment for ALL who successfully complete a training program funded by the city.

Council has implemented multiple housing programs. I want to review the goals and actual impacts of the programs to ensure the community is at the forefront of speaking to their needs and wants to access housing along with wanting state language to free up municipalities to create programs that are sustaining.

Also the city has multiple empty retail spaces available such as those along the light rail that can be earmarked specifically for Black small businesses at reasonable costs, not market rate to give the businesses time to grow along with resources for them to be successful because we have the statistics that show the Black community has many more obstacles to gaining wealth. Finally, we need to expand our public transportation based on community input on how long it takes for them to leave home, work and return home along with proximity to their housing. We also need to have all repair work done locally which will create jobs.

District 2

City council member Malcolm Graham
Courtesy City of Charlotte

Malcolm Graham (D), incumbent: Over the next 5 to 10 years I will continue to work to build a Charlotte that works for everyone. A city that’s safe, affordable, transportation friendly and provides economic development opportunities for all.

In addition the city will continue to understand:

  • The delicate balance between the economic development and revitalization of our community and the impact and effects of gentrification
  • The dire need for action around affordable housing — doing something about it, not just discussing it
  • Making it easier to get around the city with reliable and affordable transportation
  • Ensuring that we’re focusing on public safety for everyone.

I will continue to support the Corridors of Opportunity Program that focus on community development along six key city corridors.

Additional funding for violence prevention programs throughout the city.

Leveraging city-owned land for affordable housing and supporting the recommendations of the Neighborhood Stabilization Committee.

A regional approach to our transportation planning and greater investment in buses, walkways, bike paths and sidewalks.

Courtesy Mary Lineberger Barnett

Mary Lineberger Barnett (R): City leaders have a vision of a city full of programs that discard the needs of lower income populations and budgets that neglect the real needs of struggling neighborhoods. I believe in a more conservative, people-first approach.

In addressing the challenge of affordable housing and the displacement of lower-income populations, I am opposed to the deleterious sections of the 2040 Plan, especially the removal of single-family zoning (editor’s note: the 2040 Plan approved last year allows for duplexes and triplexes in areas zoned for single-family). I believe this program will not address the very populations that it was intended to help. These vibrant and special communities of Charlotte need our resources to help them grow their neighborhoods from the inside-out. There is no need to break up communities, neighborhoods and houses where generations have lived for many years. I want to work with these neighborhood homeowners and renters to help build housing programs so they can thrive where they have lived for lifetimes.

Transportation needs from the city are regressing with the rapid rise of our populations. And the current trajectory of our city will leave behind many populations and communities that rely on public transportation. Again, I want to address this from within these communities to satisfactorily create transportation-safe zones and reliable schedules that smaller cities like Portland, OR, have. And I will push to protect our CATS drivers from any harm from bad actors that see them as easy targets of abuse and violence.

Have we really asked lower-income communities what they want to help improve their economic situations? Is it more technical or vocational programs near them? Do they need more retail and food stores closer to where they live to create long-term career positions? Solutions for working with these citizens will help them create higher living wages to enhance the quality of life in their communities.

District 3

Courtesy Victoria Watlington

Victoria Watlington (D), incumbent: Thank you for your inquiry. I am currently on vacation, but please visit http://winwithwatlington.com/issues to learn more about our vision for Charlotte and how we intend to get there.

Courtesy James H. Bowers

James H. Bowers (R): Currently the trajectory of Charlotte is leaning towards less affordable housing and protections for our current residents and a more favorable environment toward multi-family investment and construction. This single decision may well be the catalyst which redirects the inner-city approach towards an outer-city agenda. This is problematic because pressures will mount on the current transportation infrastructure and affordable housing initiatives. Even the 2040 plan which is going to be voted upon by council soon may well prove to be an ally to some of the unforced errors for a city which need its leaders to be “all in for Charlotte” (editor’s note: the 2040 plan was approved by council last year but the Unified Development Ordinance is up for a vote in August).

Of course all large cities have these systemic problems and generally those problems remain because of how our leadership is making decisions toward the future. Most of our residents are aware of the city’s various issues, but they all rely on the elected leaders to direct and protect our common interests positively. Yet seemingly, this is not happening and that is why I’m running for City Council for District 3.

During my tenure I plan to initiate the approach of “servant-leader” as a representative of the people of Charlotte. This approach entails re-directing current legislative decisions to support current residents and lessen the effects of gentrification. It also includes engaging with our neighborhood organizations and other local groups to channel more funds in our current infrastructure and cutting the fat out of uncontrolled spending for unnecessary city projects so that Charlotte will not become a ‘debt-ridden’ city.

District 6

Courtesy ​Tariq Bokhari

Tariq Bokhari (R), incumbent: Charlotte has an amazing opportunity to be one of the world’s great cities in the next 10 years. We are in such a unique position, and I see every day how so many other cities wish they were in our spot. But I also see every day how we squander our opportunity.

We continue to fail doing the basics: running bus systems, supporting our police department and bringing down crime, etc.

We also fail in our strategic decisions: we don’t invest in our infrastructure and roads while we chase pipe dreams of light rail and trolleys, we throw money at affordable housing like it’s the goal while we ignore the fact it’s only a tool in the broader mission of sustainable upward mobility.

So I could sit here and tell you all the things I’d do to get us back to the business of preparing our city for a glorious future … but I’ve fought to do that for the last 5 years and many of my colleagues are more interested in pandering to small groups of activists. So that’s why I put together a slate of first-time candidates that you can learn about at SummerIsComingCLT.com. We have a shared vision, and if you take a few minutes to look into it, I think you might just be interested in trying something new.

Courtesy Stephanie Hand

Stephanie Hand (D): I envision Charlotte in the next 5-10 years as a city we have safe communities in every zip code where we live, work, play, worship and shop. Communities where our teachers, police and fire employees, etc. can live, if they choose, where they serve.

  • One of the strengths of a city is strong economic development, which includes women and diverse people having access to better paying jobs and more career opportunities. As we create new economic opportunities, we will shift upward mobility from being last to becoming first. Therefore becoming a model city throughout the country for upward mobility.
  • It is important to bring even more solutions to the complex affordable housing crisis in our city. At the heart of the matter, as public servants, we must keep our hands on the pulse of the people as the city grows, to ensure our citizens have numerous housing options and are not displaced.
  • Finally, it is important to develop more efficient interconnected transportation options that reaches ridership needs in our communities. We should continue to evaluate and find actionable resolutions to meet the demands of our populations.

Other candidates

Districts, 1, 4, 5 and 7 are uncontested races. Here’s who will become the council members there:

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