charlotte mayoral candidates
Charlotte mayoral candidates Roberts, Lyles and Ford faced off in their final debate Wednesday night. - Jeff Siner

By Steve Harrison, The Charlotte Observer 

In the last six months, Mayor Jennifer Roberts, Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles and State Sen. Joel Ford have criss-crossed the city, campaigning and debating – trying to distinguish themselves from one another.

Roberts and Lyles share positions on many of the issues at the center of the campaign. They usually differ on style – not substance.

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Ford, however, has often given voters a sharp contrast. He’s more conservative on LGBTQ rights. He has called the Interstate 77 toll lanes a “debacle” and wants to start over on a transit plan. He also criticized Roberts, and Lyles to a lesser extent, for their handling of the Keith Scott protests and riots.

Related: Watch the final Charlotte mayoral debate

The Democratic primary is Tuesday. If no one gets 40 percent, there will be a run-off.

On the Republican side, City Council member Kenny Smith is almost certain to win the primary.

Here are five issues, and how the Democrats are different and similar:

LGBTQ rights

Roberts is a staunch defender of legal protections for the LGBTQ community, including allowing transgender individuals to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. National, local and state LGBTQ groups are backing her.

Lyles also supports legal protections. She voted for the city’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance, which had the bathroom provision for transgender individuals. But Lyles was also willing to pass a modified ordinance in 2015 that would have provided legal protections to gay, lesbian and transgender people – but without the bathroom protection for transgender individuals.

Ford said he voted in favor of Amendment One in 2012, which prohibited the state from recognizing same-sex marriages. In 2015 he was one of two Senate Democrats who voted for SB 2, a Republican bill that allowed civil magistrates to recuse themselves from performing same-sex marriages.

Ford has said Charlotte needs a non-discrimination ordinance for the LGBT community, but he said during a debate Wednesday that the City Council and Roberts got the “politics and policy wrong” when they passed the ordinance. He opposes the provision that would have allowed transgender individuals to us the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

Related: Ford tries to sell himself off as an LGBTQ advocate despite record showing the opposite

Keith Scott and police accountability

Ford’s most common attack line during the campaign is that Roberts “threw the police chief under the bus” when she wrote a column saying the city needed to be more transparent after the Scott shooting. He said that he would “stand with the chief” on issues involving the police. He has said he would hire 100 additional police officers to fight the rising homicide rate.

After the Scott shooting, Roberts initially defended the city’s decision not to immediately release the body and dash camera footage of the shooting. But after intense criticism, Roberts said the city should have released the footage sooner. Roberts has said she has a good relationship with the police chief, and that it was OK to say the city needed to be more transparent. During one debate, she said her column showed she was willing to “speak truth to power.”

She also called for the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the shooting. That never happened.

She has said the city is already hiring additional police officers – 125 new hires in two years.

Lyles was upset by Roberts’s column, saying that it suggested she was speaking for the entire City Council. Lyles defended the city’s decision not to release the body and dash camera footage until four days after the shooting.

Days after Roberts’ column, Lyles and other council members wrote a “Letter to the Community,” in which they said they “support the police chief and men and women of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.” The letter says they will support CMPD’s efforts to improve, but it did not call on any outside oversight or investigation of the department.


Roberts and Lyles have almost identical stances on transit. Both support the Gold Line streetcar and the Charlotte Area Transit System’s plans to build between $5 billion and $7 billion of new rail lines. Because CATS has little money left, building those lines would almost certainly require new revenue, even if the city got state and federal help. Neither Roberts nor Lyles said in a debate that they would be willing to ask for a new sales tax to build the transit plan.

Ford said he believes the current transit plan is disjointed, and isn’t being developed with an overall goal. He said he would “immediately call for a halt to all transportation planning and initiate a new process of reaching a shared vision for our roads, rail and air.” He said he would create a “Blue Ribbon Commission made up of citizens, businesses and institutions to begin shaping that vision.”

He calls the toll lanes under construction on Interstate 77 a “debacle.”

Lyles supports the toll lanes. Roberts said she wishes the state had handled the contract better, but has not said she opposes the toll lanes or the city and state’s plan to build toll lanes on U.S. 74 and I-485 south.

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Lyles and Roberts support the city’s efforts to build more low-income housing. They also support a shift in which the city’s priority is to build housing quickly, instead of focusing on building it in affluent places where there is little affordable housing, like south Charlotte.

During a debate Wednesday, Roberts questioned two votes Lyles made against plans that would have put more money in the city’s Housing Trust Fund. One was a proposal by Republican council member Ed Driggs to use hotel/motel tax money to pay for renovations at Bojangles’ Coliseum. By using hotel/motel tax money, the city could have shifted as much as $18.5 million for housing.

Roberts, however, did not strongly urge her colleagues to support the Driggs plan either.

Ford is a former chair of the Charlotte Housing Authority. He would like to create a rent subsidy program to allow people to move into “opportunity-rich neighborhoods.”

Jobs and economic opportunity

Lyles and Roberts have almost identical positions on using incentives to attract companies to the city. Both support using incentives, and have voted in favor of using tax dollars to bring companies like Republic Services, the trash and recycling company, to Charlotte.

Last year, the city and county paid Republic Services $217,000 to bring a call center to University City.

They have also supported using tax dollars to attract companies that pay less than the area’s average salary. That’s designed to help lower-wage workers. In the past, the city only offered incentives for jobs that paid more than average wage.

But under their tenure – Lyles has been on council for nearly four years, and Roberts has been mayor for nearly two years – the city still struggles to convince companies to locate in areas like east Charlotte where there are few jobs. The companies that receive tax incentives usually locate in south Charlotte or the University City area. The city hasn’t attracted any private development to the Eastland Mall site.

On many issues, Ford has often offered a different plan than Lyles and Roberts. But on jobs, Ford said said the city “must address the systemic causes that keep people impoverished and address them with plans like the Opportunity Task Force.” That’s an almost identical position to Lyles and Roberts.

Ford said he wants to focus on bringing jobs to east and west Charlotte. He said the city hasn’t done enough to leverage the Norfolk Southern intermodal yard at the airport, and that he would work to bring spin-off businesses to the area.

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