Mayor-elect Vi Lyles reflects on the day after her historic win

Democrat Vi Lyles easily defeated Republican Kenny Smith on Tuesday to become Charlotte’s first African-American female mayor.
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Democrat Vi Lyles easily defeated Republican Kenny Smith on Tuesday to become Charlotte’s first African-American female mayor.


Vi Lyles was tempted to go negative on GOP’s Smith. ‘But you have to be who you are.’

November 08, 2017 11:32 AM

A day after being elected as Charlotte’s first black female mayor, Democrat Vi Lyles said she was upset by the negative ads used by Republican opponent Kenny Smith and outside groups like the NC Values Coalition.

“When I saw those ads I was very disappointed that I was portrayed that way,” Lyles said at a Wednesday morning news conference. “When my kids Google my name, those ads come up. Did it bother me? Yes. The thought does cross your mind (about responding negatively). But I was committed to a positive campaign. You have to be who you are.”

Smith’s campaign said Lyles was “lining her own pockets” by voting for a Convention Center construction contract that included a firm that employs Lyles’ son. The city attorney said Lyles did not have a conflict and could not have recused herself under state law.

Smith’s campaign also hammered Lyles for raising taxes and fees, even though Smith had voted for a budget that also raised fees.

The N.C. Republican Party blamed Lyles for the city’s rising homicide rate, and the conservative NC Values Coalition released a digital ad that criticized Lyles for supporting the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance that allowed transgender individuals to use the bathroom that matched their gender identity. The ad showed a man entering the bathroom stall occupied by a young girl.

Lyles easily defeated Smith Tuesday, getting 59 percent of the vote to Smith’s 41 percent. The size of the margin stunned Smith and Republicans, and even Lyles. In October, a Spectrum News poll showed the race essentially tied.

She said her own polling had her ahead – but not winning by nearly 20 percentage points.

“I put the same stock in the Spectrum poll as I did in the Joel Ford poll during the primary,” Lyles said.

In the Democratic primary, Ford’s campaign released a poll showing he was ahead. He finished a distant third, after Lyles and Mayor Jennifer Roberts.

Lyles said the Spectrum poll may have benefited her campaign by giving her supporters a “wake-up call.”

In contrast to Smith’s aggressive campaign, Lyles ran a low-key race. She said she invested in mailers, in part because she didn’t have enough money for many TV and radio ads. She focused on meeting 500 voters a week.

Lyles would only occasionally engage Smith during debates. When criticized on a vote she took not to shift money in the city’s budget to place more money for affordable housing, Lyles pointed out that Smith voted against a rezoning to allow a low-income housing apartment complex in south Charlotte on Weddington Road.

But Lyles never attempted to link Smith to President Donald Trump. That was a strategy that Roberts would have likely used had she won the Democratic primary. She also didn’t try to turn Smith’s votes against LGBTQ protections against him.

The strategy worked. In winning, she collected more than 30,000 additional votes than Roberts did in 2015 when she defeated Edwin Peacock. Lyles had 71,876 votes. Roberts had 41,749 votes two years ago.

It was the most votes a mayoral candidate had received in at least 30 years, and probably in the city’s history. In 2001, Pat McCrory got 62,378 votes when he defeated Ella Scarborough with 67 percent of the vote.

Lyles said she didn’t think Democrats were motivated by anger toward the president.

“I would hear people complain about the president, but no one ever said to me, ‘I’m voting for you and against the president,’ ” she said.

Lyles said she thought the Spectrum News poll drove her supporters to the polls.

“And I think point those negative ads began to be too negative,” she said. “Sometimes they were offensive to people. People would say to me, ‘I can’t believe he said that about you.’ ”

Sam Spencer, who managed Roberts’ campaign that lost to Lyles in the primary, said he thought the president did spur some voters to the polls.

“Last night was not only a lot of people’s first opportunity to vote against the Trump agenda, but to vote for a progressive agenda,” Spencer said. “You saw that in that who was elected to council.”

During the campaign, Lyles said the city had enough plans and needed bold action. On Wednesday, she said she wanted to do something for affordable housing by making a “visible change.” She did not specify what that might be.

She also said that she would work with community leaders, the police chief and city manager to reduce the number of homicides.

“A mayor does not reduce the murder rate alone,” she said.

The General Assembly has said N.C. cities and towns can’t pass LGBTQ legal protections until 2020. Lyles has said that Charlotte must move forward with other cities simultaneously if it pushes ahead.

On Wednesday, she said she would meet with other mayors during her first term, but the protections “won’t be the specific topic on the agenda.”

“And (any action) is delayed until 2020,” she said. “We have some time.”

Lyles will be sworn in during the first week of December.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs