Vi Lyles upsets Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts in Democratic primary

CHARLOTTE, NC (Jim Morrill, Anna Douglas, Ann Doss Helms, and Ely Portillo/The Charlotte Observer) - Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles Tuesday upset Mayor Jennifer Roberts – a polarizing leader who made national headlines over House Bill 2 – and won the Democratic mayoral nomination without a runoff.

Lyles, a former city budget director and assistant city manager, won in virtually every corner of the city, from the northwest to the southeast. She carried African-American precincts off Beatties Ford Road as well as those in Myers Park and Dilworth. She faces Republican Kenny Smith in November.

State Sen. Joel Ford was a distant third, followed by Lucille Puckett and Constance Partee Johnson.

A crowd of Lyles supporters gathered around a small TV to watch Roberts' concession speech. They broke into cheers and chants of "Team Vi Lyles."

"I am extremely humble and grateful," she said, while thanking Roberts for her service.

Roberts told disappointed supporters she told Lyles she "ran a great race."

"I have enjoyed being in this campaign with her because she has been positive, and we are going to be positive with her, and we are going to make sure that Democratic values win in the city council and mayoral race in November," Roberts said.

Lyles said she will emphasize subjects such as affordable housing, the need for good jobs and the need for trust between the public and police department in the upcoming general election.

Meanwhile, City Council member Smith rolled past two rivals – Gary Dunn and Kimberley Paige Barnette – for the Republican nomination.

With 155 of 168 precincts in, Lyles had 46 percent of the vote to Roberts' 36 percent. Ford had 16 percent.

Lyles had the support of the Black Political Caucus as well as establishment leaders such as former Bank of America Chairman Hugh McColl Jr.

While her two main opponents attacked each other, Lyles was less often a target. She cast herself as a conciliator who could bring people together.

Lyles overcame a big financial disadvantage.

Through August, Roberts raised $468,000, far more than her rivals. That helped her stay on TV consistently since Aug. 21, while none of her Democratic opponents aired a single ad.

Roberts, who ran a Spanish-language TV ad, tapped into her connections with Charlotte's immigrant community. Recent donors included Hilda Gurdian, publisher La Noticia, and Astrid Chirinos, chief executive of the Latin American Economic Development Corp.

The mayor who became the face of the anti-discrimination ordinance that prompted HB2, also found support from the LGBT community.

Ford's supporters included legislators from both sides of the aisle. His donors included at least nine GOP lawmakers. And Ford, who once chaired the Mecklenburg Democratic Party, encouraged non-Democrats to change their registration so they could vote for him in the primary.

Lyles appealed to Democrats such as Addie Pettice, 81, a retired city employee.

"I think she needs an opportunity to let the city know what she can do and what she's capable of," said Pettice.

Ford was the most aggressive of the Democrats.

He consistently hit Roberts for her leadership, especially in the wake of last year's police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and the violent protests that followed. He accused the mayor of throwing Police Chief Kerr Putney "under the bus" when she called last fall for more transparency in the release of police body cam videos after the Scott shooting.

Roberts disputed the charge. During a debate last week, Roberts called her opponent's characterization of her relationship with Putney "as fictional as (Ford's) crime-fighting plan."

She also said his "baseless attacks show that his campaign is desperate."

Until the debate, Lyles had generally avoided being attacked. But Roberts questioned why she voted against two ways to put more money in the city's Housing Trust Fund. Lyles recently opposed a plan by Republican Ed Driggs to use hotel/motel tax money to pay for improvements to Bojangles' Coliseum. That could have freed up to $18 million for affordable housing.

Though she and Roberts agreed on many issues, Lyles argued that she would be more effective.