Democratic challengers hold leads over Republicans in Mecklenburg commissioner races

CAMPAIGN 2018: Newly elected representatives

All three Republican incumbents on the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners were trailing their opponents Tuesday, in what would be a major shakeup for the board.

Democrats are poised to increase their 6-3 majority, and the county could have a board of commissioners with no Republicans. Besides district races, all three Democratic at-large members were set to win reelection, defeating the lone Republican candidate, Jeremy Brasch, in a contest that was an exact repeat of the 2016 election. With 143 of 195 precincts in, Pat Cotham was the top vote-getter with 29 percent, followed by Trevor Fuller and Ella Scarborough with about 28 percent. Brasch trailed with almost 16 percent

Three Democrats running for district seats didn’t have an opponent, so they automatically won. Longtime commissioners Vilma Leake, who represents District 2, and George Dunlap, of District 3, won new terms unopposed. Newcomer Mark Jerrell will replace Commissioner Dumont Clarke, who’s stepping down in District 4.

The only competitive races were in the three Republican-held districts. For the first time in six years, Democrats fielded challengers to all three Republican commissioners, including District 1 (which covers north Charlotte, Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson), District 5 (most of the southeast Charlotte “wedge” between Independence and South boulevards) and District 6 (much of south Charlotte, Pineville, Matthews and Mint Hill).

Commissioner Jim Puckett, who represents District 1, trailed Democrat Elaine Powell, a longtime Parks & Recreation commissioner in early returns, to 44 percent to 56 percent. Matthew Ridenhour, representing District 5, trailed Democratic challenger Susan Harden, a professor at UNC Charlotte, 49 percent to 51 percent. And Bill James, a longtime commissioner from District 6 who’s courted controversy with remarks about black people and gay people, trailed Democratic challenger Susan McDowell, 48 percent to 52 percent.

Although the county commissioners races drew far less money and interest than disputed congressional seats and hot-button amendments like voter ID on the ballot this year, voters’ choices will have far-reaching impacts for local residents. The county commissioners set the biggest share of property taxes, and with new home values coming out next year after the revaluation, the property tax rate is likely to be a major issue next year.

The county commissioners also oversee a $1.7 billion budget, provide a big chunk of the funding for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and oversee more than 5,500 employees in departments ranging from social services to parks.

At large

  • Jeremy Brasch 15.78%
  • Patricia (Pat) Cotham 28.91%
  • Trevor M. Fuller 27.69% 
  • Ella Scarborough 27.62%

District 1

  • Elaine Powell 56.49% 
  • Jim Puckett 43.51% 

District 5

  • Susan B. Harden 50.85% 
  • Matthew Ridenhour 49.15% 

District 6

  • Bill James 48.27% 
  • Susan Rodriguez McDowell 51.73% 

(143 of 195 precincts reporting)