Most of the time, local politics is about relationships. If you have the network, you can sometimes even skip fundraising and campaigning and keep getting re-elected.
But every once in awhile, there’s a single issue that defines and divides a city’s politics. Your position on it determines whether you get swept out of office in the next election.
- In the early 2000s in Charlotte, that issue was building an Uptown arena (ask Lynn Wheeler).
- In 2009 in Wake County, it was income-based busing.
- Three years ago near Lake Norman, the issue was toll lanes on I-77.
I have a feeling that the vote the Charlotte City Council just took to support bringing the Republican National Convention to the city in 2020 will be that type of issue.
I’m just not sure which direction it will go.
After hours of public debate, the council voted 6-5 to sign a contract to commit police resources and use of the Uptown arena in the event the Republican National Committee chooses Charlotte to host its next convention. All signs are that the GOP will pick Charlotte as soon as this week.
Should all go to plan, it’ll be a red event in a solidly blue city.
The City Council has an overwhelming Democratic majority, but its composition has recently been in flux.
For decades, Charlotte politics has felt fairly small-town, with candidates generally falling along centrist, pro-business, civic booster lines. Last year, however, several incumbents were swept out of office in favor of younger, more energetic — and more activist partisan — candidates. The winners were all sewn up in the Democratic primary.
Those shifting priorities were evident in Monday afternoon’s vote on the RNC. Mayor Vi Lyles and mayor pro tem Julie Eiselt were the strongest advocates for the convention, joined by elder statesmen James “Smudgie” Mitchell and Greg Phipps.
Most of the council newcomers — notably at-large members Dimple Ajmera and Braxton Winston — were opposed.
Charlotte has for years cultivated a reputation as a pragmatic, can-do city that puts city over party. But it was clear that that opposition was more about standing up to President Trump.
My prediction is that in 2019, voters will decide which direction the city will take.
There are signs pointing to either direction. Lyles won election as a more collaborative, sober politician in place of predecessor Jennifer Roberts, who frequently inserted herself in national debates.
Eiselt was the top vote-getter in the general election as a council member with crossover appeal.
But then there was the shake-up brought by Ajmera and Winston, who fit more snugly in the politics of a more prototypical liberal city.
The next municipal elections are just a year from now.
And this vote will almost certainly be a campaign issue.
Opponents of bringing the RNC to Charlotte have already threatened to target freshman councilman Larken Egleston, a Democrat who sided with his party’s leadership in supporting the convention. Same goes on the other side. Freshmen Matt Newton, Ajmera and Winston could also be vulnerable.
Will Charlotte continue down the path toward electing a liberal activist council? Or will the city fight to maintain its pragmatism?
Don’t be surprised if there’s another wave in local Charlotte politics next year. We’ll see which way the tide goes.