Latinos hope 2021 brings representation on city council

Latinos hope 2021 brings representation on city council
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Latinos make up a growing share of Charlotte’s population, but the city has never had a Latino member on city council.

Why it matters: More than 14% of Charlotte’s population is Latino. Over the past decade, they’ve easily outpaced other ethnic groups. Without representation on council, Latino community members say Charlotte risks leaving out the voices of a huge group of residents.

Driving the news: City council on Monday evening will choose a candidate to fill the open at-large seat James “Smuggie” Mitchell stepped down from this month. The person gets sworn in on Tuesday, and will serve out the remainder of the 10-month term.

  • It’s unclear how many of the 107 applicants are Latino; the application didn’t ask about ethnicity.
  • The next city council election takes place this fall.

By the numbers: Between 2010-2019, the Latino population in the Charlotte region grew by 36%. That’s more than twice as fast as the overall population (15.4%), Chuck McShane, SVP of economic research at the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, wrote in a recent UNC-Charlotte research article.

  • Mecklenburg County has 36,331 registered voters who identify as Hispanic, and they’re voting in large numbers. In the last election, about 62% of registered Latinos voted, surpassing their 2016 turnout by about 3,000 votes, according to the Latin American Coalition (LAC).

“We do need representation … not because you speak Spanish, or your portfolio is suitable enough, but because you do know the challenges yourself,” said Alba Sanchez, manager of LAC’s Immigrant Welcome Center. Sanchez is a native of Costa Rica and, after becoming a U.S. citizen in March, just voted in her first presidential election.

In an email to city council last week, Latino Civic Engagement Committee chair Leonardo Scarpati said that city government should reflect Charlotte’s diverse population. Scarpati urged council to promote Latino representation and support Latino candidates.

“This lack of representation of the second-largest minority group in the City is a limitation to your plan of building an equitable and inclusive city. It is not possible to build equity if all the voices are not represented at the table,” he wrote.

Some candidates in recent years have tried to become the first Latino council members.

  • Gina Navarrete ran unsuccessfully for a District 6 against Tariq Boqhari in 2019. Navarrete, a Democrat and co-founder of the Charlotte Women’s March, applied to fill the open at-large seat last week, but because she sent in her application past the deadline, the city deemed her ineligible.
  • Jorge Millares, the son of Cuban immigrants, tells me he is “actively thinking about running” for city council next fall. A Democrat, Millares is founder of the nonprofit Queen City Unity and a member of the city’s Community Relations Committee. He lost his race for an at-large seat in 2019.
  • “For the Latin American community, the one thing we need to be intentional about is how do we come together and support other communities of color?” Millares said. “We need to make sure we support all people of color who have a history of being oppressed.”

Go deeper: What’s next after James Mitchell’s abrupt resignation

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