Charlotte City Council
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts counts hands as Charlotte City Council voted to rescind the LGBT ordinance that prompted House Bill 2 in Devember 2016. A recent Elon University poll found only two percent of Charlotte voters said HB2 was the most pressing issue for the new mayor. - Davie Hinshaw

By Steve Harrison, The Charlotte Observer

A year after House Bill 2 and LGBT rights made international headlines, the issue barely registers with Charlotte voters.

In an Elon University/Charlotte Observer/WBTV poll, only 2 percent of Charlotte voters said HB2 should be the top priority for the new mayor, who will be elected in November.

In February 2016, the Charlotte City Council expanded its nondiscrimination ordinance to give legal protections to the LGBT community, including allowing transgender individuals to use the bathroom that matched their gender identity. The General Assembly then passed HB2, a law that nullified Charlotte’s ordinance and led to widespread boycotts of the state.

In April, legislators overturned the law, but put in place a three-year moratorium on cities and towns from passing new non-discrimination ordinances. The next mayor – either Democrat Vi Lyles or Republican Kenny Smith – may wrestle in 2020 with whether the city wants to tangle with the General Assembly over the issue.

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Lyles voted for the LGBT protections. Smith voted against them.

In the mayoral primary earlier this month, Mayor Jennifer Roberts was the candidate mostly closely associated with LGBT rights, and she received the endorsements of the Human Rights Campaign and Equality NC, two gay rights groups. She finished in second place to Lyles.

The issue cited by voters as the most important is education. Seventeen percent of Charlotte voters said that’s most important for the new mayor.

In Charlotte’s system of government, the mayor and City Council have almost nothing to do with public education. Mecklenburg commissioners approve the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools budget, and the Board of Education sets education policy.

That question likely explains why mayoral candidates often focus on education during their campaigns. When Roberts was first elected two years ago, she talked repeatedly about improving schools during her campaign.

In 2017, however, neither Lyles nor Smith has discussed education much.

Crime was the fourth-most important issue to Charlotte voters, with 10 percent saying it’s the city’s most pressing concern. The city’s homicide rate has climbed significantly since 2015. So far this year, 67 people have been killed in Charlotte compared with 69 in all of 2016.

Smith has made crime one of his top issues and was endorsed by the local Fraternal Order of Police. He and Lyles have a similar voting record on issues such as police funding and trying to give more power to the Citizens Review Board, which investigates claims of police misconduct.

Race relations/diversity was the third-most pressing concern, with 11 percent of Charlotte voters saying it was the most important issue.

An overwhelming number of voters said they do not want the city to change the names of streets named for Confederate generals, like Stonewall Street in uptown. Sixty percent opposed renaming Stonewall Street; 27 percent favored it.

▪ Fifty-two percent of Charlotte voters said they would rather see new roads be paid for with new taxes instead of tolls. The N.C. Department of Transportation is considering whether it can alter or buy out a 50-year contract with the Spanish company, Cintra, which is building express toll lanes on Interstate 77 in north Mecklenburg.

▪ Voters also don’t want to spend public money on a new professional soccer stadium. Fifty-two percent of voters said they oppose using public money, while 38 percent are in favor of that.

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Marcus Smith of Speedway Motorsports has been trying to bring a Major League Soccer team to Charlotte for a year. But both Mecklenburg commissioners and the City Council are now cool to the idea of supporting a new stadium. A plan to build a stadium on the site of Memorial Stadium in Elizabeth was nixed by both governing bodies.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160@Sharrison_Obs

This article was originally published by The Charlotte Observer.

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