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WFAE's reporters, editors, producers and hosts worked tirelessly throughout 2021 to tell the stories that mattered most in the Charlotte area. Here's a look at some of our best work.

Charlotte and NC politics in 2021: redistricting, a Senate race, arts funding and transit


First things first: No, 2021 wasn’t quite as eventful a year in politics as 2020. But it was hardly slow. For starters, things kicked off with a major political story: a sitting president still challenging the results of an election that he lost nearly two months earlier and a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol carried out by some of his most radicalized supporters.

And as the U.S. began to navigate a post (kind of)-Trump political landscape, North Carolina began laying the groundwork for the fights to come in 2022. The big stories here: an open U.S. Senate seat and redistricting. Incumbent U.S. Sen. Richard Burr decided not to seek another term, leading to a free-for-all contest to replace him. On the Republican side, that’s proving to be a battle of the traditional wing of the GOP vs. the Trump wing. On the Democratic side, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley is gaining momentum as the likely favorite.

And then there’s redistricting.

A growing population means North Carolina picks up a 14th U.S. House seat. Delays in that 2020 census data, though, meant that many cities — Charlotte included — delayed their municipal elections until 2022. And the GOP-controlled General Assembly once again got the steering wheel when it came to drawing legislative and congressional maps. As was expected, their maps were promptly challenged in the courts, and as of now, judges have delayed the 2022 partisan primaries and halted candidate filing for state and federal offices that use those maps.

WFAE political reporter Steve Harrison did a great job of breaking down what it all means earlier this month. (And here’s a look at how those maps changed districts in the Charlotte region.)

We’ll be following those stories as they bleed into 2022. In the meantime, here are a few other big political stories we covered in 2021.

A Charlotte City Council member resigned after taking a job at a company that was awarded city contracts

Longtime Charlotte City Council member James Mitchell became co-owner and president of R.J. Leeper Construction. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, but the firm is a major player in Charlotte’s construction industry — including as a recipient of contracts awarded by the city government. While Mitchell claimed there would be no conflict of interest, state law held that the firm couldn’t be awarded new city contracts while Mitchell was on council. After WFAE published a story on the law, Mitchell resigned from his elected office.

‘He’s lying’ vs. It’s ‘on them’: The last-minute negotiations over Natasha Marcus’ fate

You know how we mentioned redistricting was controversial? One of the biggest impacts in the Charlotte area was on the General Assembly level, when Mecklenburg County state Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Democrat, had her district redrawn in a way that all but assures she’ll lose in 2022. In his Inside Politics newsletter, Harrison took a look at the back-and-forth between lawmakers over the district’s fate.

And if you want to read more behind-the-scenes stories like that, be sure to sign up for Inside Politics. It’s free

NC Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson does not apologize for calling the LGBTQ community 'filth'

The second most powerful person in North Carolina repeatedly made headlines this year for homophobic and transphobic remarks. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a Republican, was widely criticized for his remarks — with Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, saying Robinson “does not speak for North Carolina.” Still, Robinson wouldn’t apologize and says he’s likely to run for governor in 2024, when term-limited Cooper won’t be on the ballot.

Are CATS' financial projections too rosy?

Harrison is WFAE’s political reporter, but he’s also a contributor to Transit Time, a weekly newsletter produced by our partners at The Charlotte Ledger. In August, Harrison looked at Charlotte Area Transit System’s financial projections for its long-term plans to expand public transportation in the county. Sure, that might not sound all that political, but transit infrastructure is a huge component in quality of life — and these plans require input from elected officials and even voters when tax hikes are involved. Harrison ran us through some CATS history and posed a few tough questions about the future.

YouTube deletes a school board video over mask comments — then reverses itself

There’s been a big debate during the pandemic about misinformation. We saw tech giants take harder when it came to the spread of potentially dangerous misinformation on social media channels. But as Harrison and education reporter Ann Doss Helms found out, that created a bit of a dilemma for government bodies required to hold public meetings. Many use services such as Facebook or YouTube to stream their meetings — but YouTube took down a Union County Public Schools board meeting video because of comments made by a resident during a public comment period. For a government body that was relying on YouTube to be an archive of its public meetings, that was a problem.

Plans for Charlotte’s future — and for its artists — prove controversial

While the biggest political news happened in Washington and Raleigh, the things that matter most to residents are often decided at the local level. In Charlotte, that meant planning for the city’s future. Harrison checked in on the city’s 2040 comprehensive plan repeatedly as City Council members furiously debated it. One of the most controversial parts of the plan was a push to eliminate exclusively single-family zoning. In the end, the plan passed. And in another big move, Charlotte decided to stop giving as much money to the nonprofit Arts and Science Council, which for many years was responsible for divvying up public funds to arts and culture organizations. Now, there’s a city-funded arts and culture officer position.

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