Democrats dominated Charlotte’s election Tuesday, July 26, as they won the mayoral race and city council at-large seats despite an effort by a slate of young, urban Republicans. Most districted city council seats went to Democrats as well.
Democrat incumbent Mayor Vi Lyles easily defeated her Republican challenger Stephanie de Sarachaga Bilbao with 49,324 or 68% of the votes compared to de Sarachaga Bilbao’s 22,580 or 31%. The last time a Republican won the race for mayor was in 2007, when then-incumbent Mayor Pat McCrory won the race for his seventh term, making him the longest-serving mayor in city history.
Dimple Ajmera was the top vote-getter among Democrats for the city council at-large seats with 46,470 or 17% of the votes, followed by Braxton Winston with 45,771 or 16%, LaWana Mayfield, 42,323 or 15%, and James Mitchell, 42,263 or 15% of the votes. Ajmera is in contention for the mayor pro tem seat with the most votes.
Republican Kyle Luebke was the top vote-getter of the slate of young Republicans that tried to get a seat on the city council at-large, coming in fifth place with 28,502 or 10% of the vote, followed by David Merrill with 25,299 or 9%, Carrie Olinski, 24,921 or 9%, and Charlie Mulligan rounded out the slate with 24,619 or 9% of the votes.
The last time a Republican won an at-large seat was in 2009.
In the District 1 seat, Democrat Dante Anderson won unopposed.
In District 2, Democrat Malcolm Graham had the majority of the votes with 6,937 or 82%, compared to Republican challenger Mary Lineberger Barnett’s 1,512 or 18% of the votes.
In District 3, Democrat Victoria Watlington won with 4,982 or 77% of the votes over her Republican challenger James Bowers for the District 3 city council seat. Bowers had 1,465 or 23% of the votes.
In District 4, Democrat Renee Johnson won unopposed, as did Democrat Marjorie Molina in District 5.
In District 6, Republican incumbent Tariq Bokhari won with 9,851 or 51% of the votes compared to his Democrat challenger Stephanie Hand, who had 9,474 or 49% of the votes. In 2019, Bokhari had a much more comfortable victory — 59% to 41%.
Bokhari told Carolina Journal that is he grateful for all the hard work of the volunteers and the record-setting support they received from the national, state, and county Republican party and the voters who believed his voice was important to send back to a “deep blue urban Council in these trying times.”
“Part of me is heartbroken for the first-time candidates of the Republican slate who gave their absolute all,” he said. “The silver lining is that we have created a bench of incredibly talented leaders in Charlotte that will begin their own journeys, and we created an excitement and buzz that I haven’t seen for Republicans in this city in over a decade. When our time comes, we will be ready.”
In District 7, Republican Ed Driggs won reelection unopposed.
Turnout was light for the election, which was supposed to take place last November but was pushed back due to the census. Only 12% of registered voters, or 72,497 out of 604,267, voted in the election.
Bokhari told Carolina Journal in April that he put the slate together over the last nine months because he said Democrat Mayor Lyles and Democrat city council members have not been meeting the needs of city residents.
“They voted themselves pay raises, voted to extend the at-large and mayor race beyond when they needed to, even though the General Assembly gave them the authority to have it in November, voted to abolish single-family zoning, and threw the police under the bus by championing ‘defund the police,’” Bokhari stated. “The real reason they refused [to hold the at-large and mayor race in November] is they knew they had just done some very unpopular things [abolish single-family zoning, giving themselves raises] expecting to have more time to have people forget. There is this litany of examples, not just of not meeting needs but also proactively doing things that logical, regular voters are kind of scratching their heads over.”
Under the current city council, a lot has changed in the Queen City. Crime has increased. Total homicides in 2009 were 56, compared to 118 in 2020 and 98 in 2021. Affordable housing is hard to come by. About 1% of area rental apartments are priced under $1,000 per month in Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte.
Home purchase prices have also increased by almost 20%, and the city’s public transportation, the CATS bus system and LYNX light rail, are widely criticized for inefficiency. Some can face riding the bus for 1.5 hours to get across town.
Political experts say cities like Charlotte are staying blue in their voting patterns due to the influx of people migrating from areas like New York and New Jersey in the northeast and California in the west, bringing their way of voting when they move.