The marquee race in North Carolina this year is undoubtedly the election for Mayor of Charlotte. A competitive Democratic primary and a potentially competitive general election is in the making. Tomorrow, State Senator Joel Ford will officially launch his candidacy, bringing the total number of candidates in the Democratic primary to three.
The Queen City has seen a slew of mayors since 2013, when Anthony Foxx was appointed to a position in the Cabinet of President Obama. He was replaced by Patsy Kinsey, who was succeeded by Patrick Cannon, who resigned after being arrested for corruption and bribery. He was replaced by Daniel Clodfelter, who lost in the 2015 primary to Jennifer Roberts, the incumbent.
Roberts, the fifth consecutive Democratic mayor (the last Republican being Pat McCrory), is a social justice warrior with few accomplishments other than angering the General Assembly with a transgender bathroom ordinance which led to the enactment of HB 2. While there have been no public opinion polls, the HB 2 debacle has probably harmed her popularity, especially with Charlotte’s pragmatic business community, which may be seeking an alternative to Roberts.
Ford, known to be less abrasive than Roberts, probably has the best chance to emerge as that alternative candidate. The other person running is Vi Lyles, a member of the City Council. Their path to victory will come from consolidating the black vote, a demographic which may be more focused on economic issues than the latest outrage sweeping Tumblr. (Charlotte ranks last out of 50 metros in economic mobility). From there – assuming the need for a runoff – they’ll go head-to-head with Roberts, and then on to the general election.
For Ford, groups representing the LGBT community could prove a potent obstacle. They take particular umbrage with his support of HB 186, the latest HB 2 compromise bill which they claim puts civil rights up to a vote. These groups apparently favor the alternative – no votes on civil rights, and no civil rights. (Which raises an interesting question: how do they think the 13th, 14th, 15th amendments and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and indeed the original Charlotte bathroom ordinance, came to pass?) The opposition of LGBT groups could cost Ford in white, more affluent parts of the city.
Given the potential for a divisive primary, Republicans would be wise to put up a strong candidate who could win the support of business leaders and who promises a less contentious relationship with the General Assembly. Regardless, there’s a distinct possibility that Charlotte will have its sixth mayor in as many years.