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Charlotte Talks: Mayoral Candidates Vi Lyles And Kenny Smith Pitch Their Visions To Voters

Chris Miller / WFAE

Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017

Republican Kenny Smith and Democrat Vi Lyles, the nominees for Charlotte mayor, sit down with Mike Collins to discuss the challenges that will face the next mayor, from affordable housing to public safety, in a live conversation at Spirit Square's McGlohon Theater.

The revolving door leading to the Charlotte mayor’s office is about to take another spin. For the sixth time in less than a decade, a new occupant will be moving into the 15th floor corner office at the Government Center in December.

Charlotte voters are two weeks away from deciding whether that occupant will be Democrat Vi Lyles or Republican Kenny Smith.

Voters have already signaled they want change in city government. Lyles defeated incumbent Jennifer Roberts in the September Democratic primary, making Roberts the first elected incumbent in 30 years to be voted out of office. Smith easily secured the Republican nomination in September.

But the new arrival will inherit ongoing challenges for the city, such as wrestling with affordable housing and economic mobility. The next mayor will also deal with efforts to patch relationships between police and minorities, and with a murder count on track to be the city’s highest since the 1990s.

All of it is heavy work for what is, on paper, a part-time job.

What are Kenny Smith and Vi Lyles’ plans for these challenges? They share their visions and answer your questions, live from Spirit Square's McGlohon Theater.


Mayor Pro-Tem Vi Lyles, Democratic nominee for mayor (@ViLyles)

City Councilman Kenny Smith, Republican nominee for mayor (@KennySmithCLT)


What are the biggest challenges facing Charlotte and the next mayor?

Smith: "You've seen the spike in murders. You can't walk anywhere in this city and not have that conversation come up. Beatties Ford Road should be just as safe as Barclay Downs Drive. We're 50th out of 50 on economic mobility. That's not a Democrat problem, a Republican problem. It's a Charlotte problem. We need infrastructure. That's one we see everyday, whether you're stuck in traffic or looking at new development."

Lyles: "One of the things I think about... is the work that the community has done about the economic opportunity report. I grew up in the segregated South, and they talk about the vestiges of segregation. We need to look through a lens of how our policies and programs and activities have been caused by some of that. It's important to... implement those things that we need to do locally to make a difference in everyone being able to work in our city and live in our city."

What can a city or a mayor do to lessen gun violence?

Smith: "The mayor can ride up to Raleigh, they can sit down with the legislature, and we can figure out how to make sure we have stiffer penalities for folks that obtain guns illegally and folks that distribute guns illegally. We can advocate for the DA's office to have more funds come back, so we can make sure that we have folks in those offices that can keep the folks that are doing really bad stuff off the streets."

Lyles: "A mayor can actually start talking loudly about guns in our city. The community policing effort has got to be intensified so that people can walk in and say, 'my neighbor is doing this, I'm uncertain about it, how do we actually resolve that?' And then where guns are being used in violent instances, how do we concentrate on actually real police work to get in there and dissolve that escalation of violence and crime that's taking place."

What would you have done differently during the Keith Scott unrest?

Lyles: "I would support our police department in a way that really said to them, we're in a crisis mode now, and we need to have our police department follow through and not be concerned with the idea of what we're saying on national television, but actually working with that crisis management team... so that people can have a safe environment."

Smith: "I would have had strong, calm leadership to help keep the city calm. It's sort of what I did. One of the nights of the protests, all the protestors came down to City Council. It was a night that was filled with intense anger, intense passion and feelings. At the end of that meeting, we had an opportunity to either walk out the back door, which would have been very bad for the city, or we had the opportunity to walk out there and try to start the healing and show that it's going to take all of us to fix the problems in our city."

What real solutions do you have for affordable housing?

Smith: "I've got a four-point plan. We need to establish a land trust. We need to get the philanthropic sector, the corporate sector and the faith community together to have seed money so that we can buy land throughout Charlotte. We need to have targeted rehabilitation (of existing units). We need to up the bond offering. A $15 million bond offering is not enough. And, finally, we need to reexamine the locational policy. If want to put a dent in the number of units that are out there, we can't take areas off the map."

Lyles: "We have action plans. All of those are important, and all of those are ready to move forward. The things I would add to that is that we have the opportunity to look at our rent subsidy endowment. Right now, we focus on rehousing for our homeless veterans and people in our shelters. What we've learned is that people are able to pay rents, but sometimes the rent, because of development, they're escalating faster than wages have in the past. That, and the acquisition of apartments that we can renovate and rent at affordable rates."