The new Charlotte City Council’s first task is already a debate

The new Charlotte City Council’s first task is already a debate

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

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Ordinarily, swearing-in ceremonies are a time for glowing statements from the new council, expressing optimism about what’s to come and emphasizing unity amongst the fresh leadership.

  • That still may happen. But Charlotte City Council is rarely ordinary, and shots have already been fired among the new slate of elected officials before the new members have even taken their seats.

What’s happening: LaWana Slack-Mayfield, who was re-elected to an at-large seat this July, took to Twitter to remind Charlotteans of the mayor pro tem’s duties. She added: “I will NOT support any person who I have watched lie, manipulate & play politics. #ISaidIt.”

  • Slack-Mayfield did not identify whom she was referring to.

Context: Traditionally, the mayor pro tem position is bestowed to the top vote-getter in the municipal election, which in this case would be Dimple Ajmera.

  • Julie Eiselt is the current mayor pro tem, but she did not seek reelection to a fourth term.
  • The mayor pro tem is a figurehead of sorts, someone to fill in for Mayor Vi Lyles in her absence.
  • Sometimes they’re the consensus builder.

Why it matters: In practice, it doesn’t actually matter much who is mayor pro tem. But the controversy behind this otherwise predetermined decision signifies the next chapter of council could be just as rocky as the last.

  • Still, relatively speaking, the appointment of mayor pro tem is just one administrative task for the city, which with its multi-billion-dollar budget is tasked with addressing challenges in public safety and transportation, and makes decisions about development and equity policies.

Zoom out: Council has a history of squabbling, especially over the past year because of a single-family-only zoning policy that became the talking point of the election.

  • The commitment to host the Republican National Convention — which ended up being scaled back significantly because of the pandemic — was one of the most divisive debates in recent memory.
  • But tinier beefs about voting virtually also emerged out of COVID-19.

Flashback: Ajmera outscored at-large member Braxton Winston by 706 votes in the past election. Her margin ahead of Slack-Mayfield was larger at 4,169.

  • Ajmera’s top ranking this year was a climb from 2019 and 2017, when she made it onto council in the fourth spot by beating out Republicans with the odds against them.
  • In 2019 Ajmera ran for state treasurer. “Going into politics was not my plan. But our democracy is at risk. Access to healthcare is at risk. Retirements are at risk,” she said at the time.
  • Ajmera and Slack-Mayfield are both Democrats and campaigned together as a united front against the GOP slate in a summer press event.

Slack-Mayfield represented District 3 for eight years until she lost her shot as an at-large contender in the 2019 primaries. She had run into controversy the year prior for posting a 9/11 conspiracy on her social media and, again, for calling police “homegrown terrorists.”

  • While it has gotten her into trouble, her outspokenness also earned some voters’ endearment when she urged other council members not to accept the RNC.
  • “[I]n the midst of a summer that has seen Mayfield take some self-inflicted wounds, her words on Monday showed why, to many, she remains The People’s Voice on city council,”
  • QCityMetro wrote at the time.

By the numbers: An endorsement letter sent to Axios points out that Ajmera finished either first or second in nearly three-quarters of 121 precincts and “had tremendous support in all areas of Charlotte and with all demographics.”

  • Ajmera also received the most votes from absentees by mail and one-stop early voting, the letter highlights.
  • It was signed by Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl, Mecklenburg County Democratic Party chair Jane Whitley and former mayor Harvey Gantt, among other supporters.

What they’re saying: Slack-Mayfield denied an interview to elaborate on her Tweet. Instead, she shared a response via email: “I shared on Twitter the role of MPT and will be sharing my vote at the Council meeting Swearin-In ceremony.”

  • Ajmera, in lieu of an interview, shared a statement: “My strong showing in the City Council elections is proof that I should be the next Mayor Pro Tem. That has been the council’s procedure for decades. I see no need to change that now, though there may be some council members who think otherwise. I know it can be difficult to get a group as diverse as this council to agree unanimously on any issue.”
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