Charlotte mayor and council Democrats roll to reelection; Bokhari narrowly fends off challenger

Charlotte mayor and council Democrats roll to reelection; Bokhari narrowly fends off challenger

Mayor Vi Lyles speaks to reporters at the Democrat election watch party at Heist Brewery. Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

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A low turnout of Charlotte voters kept Mayor Vi Lyles and sitting Democrats in office this unusual summer election.

  • And they came close, but fell just short of flipping an increasingly purple south Charlotte district.

What’s happening: Tuesday’s election for City Council and mayor was pushed from November to July due to census delays and redistricting lawsuits.

  • Just 12% of voters cast ballots, per Mecklenburg County elections director Michael Dickerson. That’s lower than the 17% turnout in November 2019, the last municipal election.

Why it matters: Democrats continue to dominate local politics, even in this untraditional July election where Republicans thought they might have a shot to pick up a seat.

Results: Dimple Ajmera was the top vote-getter in the at-large contest, with 16.55% of the vote, followed closely by Braxton Winston, with 16.3%. LaWana Slack-Mayfield and James “Smuggie” Mitchell took home the other two seats, with 15.08% and 15.06%, respectively.

  • All four Democrats received over 40,000 votes. Republican Kyle Luebke finished fifth with 28,502.
  • Tariq Bokhari, the firebrand GOP council member from District 6 in south Charlotte, narrowly edged out his opponent, Democrat Stephanie Hand, by a margin of 377 votes.

    Between the lines: Ajmera is expected to be a likely contender for mayor pro tem, replacing outgoing Julie Eiselt, who did not seek another term. Traditionally the top vote getter is appointed to the role, but City Council has to vote on it.

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    • The official job duty is to fill in for the mayor, but those who have held it have often used it to build consensus on council. 

    What they’re saying: Ajmera said she would be “beyond humbled and just deeply grateful” to receive the appointment as mayor pro tem, but she prefaced there are still ballots to count. (Dickerson said there were about 100 absentee ballots that the board received Tuesday that need to be counted. More could come back before the Friday deadline if they were postmarked Tuesday, but he said most outstanding ballots likely won’t be returned.)

    • “I think our message resonated with community,” Ajmera told Axios. “Not grandstanding, but really working behind the scenes and delivering on the promises that we had made. And people recognize when someone grandstands, right? People recognize when someone is not being truthful or honest. The campaign of running on fear never works.”

    The other side: Everyone in the GOP slate Bokhari organized lost, and he told Axios his victory felt “bittersweet” as a result. But he said he was encouraged by the excitement in the party around the candidates.

    • “That’s the silver lining to me: We built a bench for the future of Charlotte,” he told Axios. “And that bench is going to keep fighting.”

    Here are the results for the mayor and seven district seats.

    Mayor’s race

    Incumbent Democratic Mayor Vi Alexander Lyles was reelected for a third term, defeating Republican challenger Stephanie de Sarachaga-Bilbao with 68% of the vote.

    Lyles was first elected mayor in 2017; she served on City Council before that.

    city council redistricting

    Charlotte City Council districts. Courtesy of the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections

    District 6

    This was the race to watch.

    Bokhari was elected to council as part of a millennial wave in 2017, and is one of just two Republicans on council. He spars frequently with the mayor and Democratic colleagues.

    Hand is a newcomer to politics who became interested in council after she was convinced last year to put her name in the hat for Mitchell’s vacated at-large seat.

    • Her well-rounded resume — with civic experience in affordable housing and expertise working on projects like Concord Mills — positioned her early on as a serious competitor against Bokhari.
    • In the final weeks leading up to the election, mayor Lyles donated $2,500 toward Hand’s campaign.
    • “This is a historical moment,” Hand told Axios on Tuesday. “This is the closest that anybody that falls under the category of Democrat has ever come to actually gaining this seat.”
    • Hand is undecided on running again next year.

    Bokhari, who easily won the seat in 2019 with 59% of the vote, described Hand as “the most legitimate candidate they could ever run in District 6 against me.”

    But he also believes the race was close because of the role he says he’s been forced to play over the last three years as a lone critic of major Democratic initiatives like the changes to single-family zoning.

    “That made me, to many people, Public Enemy Number One,” he said.

    Photo: Danielle Chemtob/Axios

    District 1

    Democrat Danté Anderson was unopposed, and won 95% of the vote. Anderson is a newcomer to council, replacing incumbent Larken Egleston, who ran at-large and came up short in the Democratic primary.

    District 2

    Despite spurring some Twitter debate recently, Mary Lineberger Barnett couldn’t come out on top over her district’s current officeholder. Democrat Malcolm Graham was re-elected to the District 2 seat with 82% of the vote.

    Graham is a former state senator who was elected to his district seat in 2019.

    District 3

    Democrat Victoria Watlington defeated Republican James H. Bowers with 77% of the vote to 23%. She’ll serve in her second term.

    District 4

    Democratic Incumbent Renee Perkins Johnson faced no opposition, and was elected to a second term with 95% of the vote.

    District 5

    Newcomer and Democrat Marjorie Molina did not have an opponent, and earned 95% of the vote.

    District 7

    Incumbent Ed Driggs, one of two Republicans on the current council, ran unopposed and won with 89% of the vote.

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