City Council at-large candidate Dimple Ajmera greets voters outside the Oasis Shrine Temple on Doug Mayes Place early Tuesday morning. Davie Hinshaw dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com
City Council at-large candidate Dimple Ajmera greets voters outside the Oasis Shrine Temple on Doug Mayes Place early Tuesday morning. Davie Hinshaw dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Politics & Government

Democrats keep 9-2 majority. But City Council is being upended by newcomers.

November 07, 2017 10:22 PM

Democrats won all four Charlotte City Council at-large seats Tuesday, continuing their 9-2 stranglehold on the governing body.

But while the political makeup of City Council remains the same, it is undergoing massive change, with five newcomers joining. All of them are under 40, bringing youth into a governing body that’s been dominated by retirees and late-career professionals.

In the at-large race, incumbent Julie Eiselt was in first place, with 164 of 168 precincts in. Newcomer Braxton Winston was in second and James “Smuggie” Mitchell was in third.

Winston, 34, a fierce critic of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police, was a community activist during and after the Keith Scott protests. He attended numerous council meetings, usually live-streaming speakers and events through his cellphone.

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“Initially I was looking to promote other people and other ideas,” Winston said. “But as I was having conversations, it became clear that the leader we were looking for was me. The biggest way to change the culture is through government.”

Braxton Winston
Alvin C Jacobs Jr

Dimple Ajmera, 31, who was appointed to a council seat earlier this year to replace John Autry, was in fourth. Ajmera was a little-known council member until she said this summer that people who voted for President Trump should have no place on City Council or in the mayor’s race. State and local Republicans criticized her, but the backlash apparently didn’t hurt her on Election Day.

Dimple Ajmera.
Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

After the Democrats, Republican John Powell was in fifth place. But with almost all precincts in, Ajmera had 59,733 votes to Powell’s 47,325 votes.

This is Powell’s second time running, and many in the GOP believed he had a good chance of becoming the first Republican to win a citywide race since 2009. Two years ago he finished fifth, losing the fourth at-large seat to Mitchell by just 248 votes.

Parker Cains, the other Republican endorsed by the county party, was in sixth place.

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The at-large candidate who finishes first is often in line to become mayor pro tem, a largely ceremonial role. But being mayor pro tem can be a springboard to an eventual run for mayor. Vi Lyles, who won Tuesday’s mayoral race, was named mayor pro tem two years ago.

Eiselt said Tuesday night the new council members will be surprised at how much work the part-time job entails.

“I think the big challenge is going to be for the newcomers who work full time – they will be surprised at how much time we spend trying to understand the issues and different policies,” Eiselt said. “But it’s exciting to have younger voices.”

Julie Eiselt
James Mitchell

Of the seven district seats, four will have a new member.

In District 1, Democrat Larken Egleston, 34, defeated Patsy Kinsey in the Democratic primary. In District 5, Matt Newton, 38, defeated Darell Bonapart in October in a run-off election for the Democratic primary. And in District 2, Democrat Justin Harlow, 29, was leading Republican challenger Pete Givens.

Al Austin, who won the seat two years ago, stepped down earlier this year to take a job with the N.C. Department of Transportation.

In District 6, Republican Kenny Smith has vacated the seat to run for mayor. Republican Tariq Bokhari, 37, is ahead of his Democratic and Libertarian challengers.

Incumbents LaWana Mayfield, a Democrat, and Ed Driggs, a Republican, are also set for re-election.

Winston and Newton could change the conversation around public safety, specifically CMPD.

Winston was perhaps the most widely known leader during the Keith Scott protests. And Newton, who already won the District 5 seat, has also been a CMPD critic and has pushed for changes to the Citizens Review Board, which investigates allegations of police misconduct.

Eiselt chairs the public safety committee, which oversees CMPD.

“Having healthy skepticism – there is nothing wrong with that,” she said. “I think they will raise questions that we haven’t thought of, but as long as they are willing to understand the entire issue.”

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

Results

City Council at-large

Dimple Ajmera 14.51%

Julie Eiselt 17.25%

James (Smuggie) Mitchell Jr. 16.38%

Braxton Winston II 16.45%

Parker Cains 10.47%

John K. Powell Jr. 11.46%

David Michael Rice 8.24%

Steven J. DiFiore II 5.09%

District 2

Justin Harlow 80.29%

Pete Givens 19.5%

District 3

LaWana Mayfield 73.17%

Daniel Herrera 26.75%

District 6

Sam Grundman 32.08%

Tariq Scott Bokhari 62.53%

Jeff Scott 5.29%

District 7

Sharon Roberts 37.92%

Ed Driggs 62.03%

165 of 168 precincts reporting