A decade ago, writers were trying to figure out how low former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory’s approval ratings would go. A friend predicted less than 30 percent, because that was the percentage of the average rating of outgoing Mayors in cities that are run by Mayor-City Council arrangements.
But this isn’t just a typical Mayor-City Council operation in Charlotte. After voters pushed out Jennifer Roberts in the 2015 Democratic Primary, Charlotte residents have largely settled on what is usually described as ‘back room politics’ that are sometimes comparable to Eastern African countries. At the core of this is Charlotte’s current Mayor, Democrat Vi Lyles, who has been in office since 2017’s election win over Republican Kenny Smith.
Greg Phipps, the former District 4 representative of Charlotte City Council, was sworn in on February 2, 2021 for the at-large seat vacated by longtime city councilmember James “Smuggie” Mitchell, who resigned in early January as he made a career-changing move to become the co-owner and president of construction management firm RJ Leeper, which contracts with the city and other public entities.
The discussion between council was difficult and left some frustrated. Ultimately, Mayor Lyles had to cast a deciding vote with the tally for Phipps tied at 5-5. Councilwoman Victoria Watlington led a charge of several councilmembers who wanted to defer the vote and questioned the process of choosing the appointment.
Watlington said that certain procedures of the decision were only revealed to her hours before the meeting started. Councilman Braxton Winston decided shortly before the meeting that he would vote against all the candidates put forward, leading to a likely tie-breaker decision by Mayor Vi Lyles, which most wanted to avoid. Winston was interested in other applicants for the position, while Lyles preferred her longtime running buddy, putting friendship over qualifications. While Winston discussed different possible nominations with councilmembers, no coalition ever formed around any candidate other than Davis and Phipps (A total of 143 people applied to serve the remainder of Mitchell’s 2019-2021 term, which ended on December 6, 2021).
Jessica Davis will continue to be someone willing to serve this community and I am encouraged by her willingness to participate in the process. I hope that everyone in our community will recognize both of them as true servant leaders,” – Mayor Lyles (February 3, 2021).
Instead of being a defining moment that could convince the public that her administration can get its arms around tackling Charlotte’s pressing issues, the mayor’s speech was largely what Charlotteans have heard before: promises, pledges and retreating.
In any other city, this would have potentially been outlawed. But in the Queen City, this has become so common practice, it has resulted in a strong portfolio of annual tent-pole events swiftly departing the once-thriving city for pastures elsewhere.
Fast forward back to 2023: The affordable housing crisis in Charlotte has reached a point of no return. Rents are rising and salaries aren’t keeping up, and more people are ending up on the streets. Mecklenburg County recently released its 2022 State of Housing Instability & Homelessness Report. Right now, there are more than 3,000 people experiencing homelessness in the county, up 3% from 2021.
It’s a trend that’s been on the rise for several years.
Mecklenberg County says it is working on a broad list of solutions, one includes better organization street outreach to homeless neighbors. The average rent for an apartment is $1,325. That may be manageable in another city such as Nashville, but with most employers not even willing to offer applicants anymore than $8 an hour for work in the city, that average rent looks daunting to the everyday resident.
Charlotte has usually ranked either last or near the bottom in Economic Mobility since 2014.
The Queen City has not exactly been cleaning up on the war on crime. In 2022, there were 110 homicides in Charlotte, an 8% increase from 2021. Commercial burglaries were 2,067 compared to 1,603 in 2021. Vehicle thefts were 3,621 compared to 3,020 in 2021. Property crimes were 32,335 compared to 30,637 in 2021. Arsons were 149 compared to 131 in 2021.
CMPD has tried to alleviate gun violence through efforts like its Crime Suppression team, which has seized over 2,500 firearms during criminal investigations
Despite that, CMPD data shows 86% of homicides in Charlotte were committed with a firearm.
The city’s other residents looking at the murder rate and fiscal mess are asking: “What’s the matter with Charlotte?”
Governing is almost always more complicated than campaigning. There is no doubt that curbing crime is a complex, difficult task. We don’t expect the mayor, or even experts, to present the public with a magic bullet. Ending violence will involve addressing the societal roots — unaddressed for decades — that create crime, as well as the shortcomings of law enforcement and the criminal justice system in dealing equitably and effectively with crimes once they occur. So the blame for Charlotte’s crime problems doesn’t fall solely on the Mayor’s doorstep.
Even so, the mayor is responsible for determining a sensible, fair and effective pathway out of the problem, and for rallying city leaders around proven solutions.
That might just be too much work for Mayor Lyles and current Mayor Pro-Tem Braxton Winston, who’s “just vibes” style of politics may sway the average woman enamored with his signature locs hairstyle, but not with any sensible resident frightened at the prospect of the New York native one day becoming Mayor in the near future.
As Charlotte’s challenges have intensified over the last 2 years — the affordable housing crisis, the lack of support for recreational activities such as Arts & Culture, a spike in gun violence and homelessness — Lyles has continued to portray herself as both an empathetic progressive and a tough pragmatist. But she’s also delayed or backed away from many of her same promises and pledges. On safety issues in particular, she has fallen back on rhetoric and policies that have become the standard of Democratic women Mayors, promising enforcement crackdowns while blaming other officials she accuses of being soft on allowing for the taking of action.
In a time of crisis, in one of the most racially and economically segregated places in the country, the push to combat Affordable Housing and Crime have been largely met with a turning of the head in the other direction.
This isn’t the Mayor ignoring the issues in the city, it’s just business as usual.