Channel 9 Primary Election Guide: Charlotte City Council At-Large candidates

CHARLOTTE — Ahead of the primary election on May 17, Channel 9 is asking candidates in several local races why they’re running and what they hope to accomplish if elected.

We sent all candidates contending for Charlotte City Council’s At-Large position six questions and asked them to respond in about 100 words.

READ MORE coverage from The Political Beat HERE

Six Democrats and five Republicans are running for Charlotte City Council At-Large. The incumbent At-Large representatives running for re-election are Dimple Ajmera and Braxton Winston. The top four candidates in each primary will move on to the general election. The election is citywide.

  • What is your occupation?
  • Why are you running?
  • If elected, what is your top priority?
  • What is a decision made by the current City Council that you disagree with?
  • What sets you apart from your opponents?
  • Should Charlotte City Council pursue a sales tax increase for transit? What project should receive priority?

Below are the complete, unedited responses of each candidate who chose to respond.

Democrat Candidates

Dimple Ajmera

What is your occupation? I am an At-Large member of the Charlotte City Council and a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

Why are you running? I am running for re-election because I want to continue to uphold the values instilled in me by my late father. As the daughter of immigrants, I have experienced firsthand the struggles of working families. I went from cleaning hotel rooms to pay for college to managing multi-million dollar budgets before I joined the public service.

If elected, what is your top priority? Our top priority is public safety, sustainable infrastructure investments, affordable housing, and economic development.

What is a decision made by the current City Council that you disagree with? I disagree with certain members of our party regarding de-funding our police.

What sets you apart from your opponents? I am a working mom, Certified Public Accountant, and a proven leader. A young mother’s perspective is critical to the decision-making that affects our working families every single day.

Should Charlotte City Council pursue a sales tax increase for transit? What project should receive priority? Charlotteans should have the opportunity to decide on a sales tax increase. If approved by voters, a reliable and efficient public bus system should be a priority, followed by long-term public transportation planning.

Patrick Cannon

What is your occupation? Program Manager for a Mental Health agency and Supplier of Division 8 and 10 specialty products

Why are you running? I’m running because of a genuine love for my native city, a love for the people that reside within it and a belief that it could utilize leadership that’s service-driven, result oriented and comes with a balanced perspective.

If elected, what is your top priority? Public Safety, Housing and Transportation are a part of my platform, but nothing ranks higher than Economic Development. Depending upon the report you look at, poverty in Charlotte ranks between 12% – 14.9%. That later percentage means that 1 out of every approximately 6 people are in poverty or that of a city of 800,000 citizens, over 121,000 are in poverty. We need to not have our city budget reflects as it does that of $718 million, only 0.9% or $6.3 million is only dedicated to economic development. If crime is to be lowered, we should back blue-collar job-skill training opportunities to create options for high school graduating youth, as well as young and older adults. If affordable housing is to be afforded, we should be heavily recruiting blue-collar manufacturers. Otherwise, we will have met the numbers of affordable housing and created an over saturated market with no individuals or families in affordable housing. If we want transit ridership up, then people need to be able to afford its cost. If upward mobility is to be truly intentional, economic development has to be and should be a major priority, not the least of priorities sitting at the bottom of the city’s budget chart.

What is a decision made by the current City Council that you disagree with? The 2021 General Fund Expenditures budget of $718.8 million of which Economic Development receives $6.3 m or 0.9% of funding, ranking it not even next to last, but dead last in priority funding.

What sets you apart from your opponents? I would say my platform priorities with my greatest emphasis and passion on economic development is what separates me. However, that doesn’t preclude that we still can’t work together on my not just what the people have said to me are their priorities in this area, but also my willingness to work with them on their areas of focus as well. Working together works and I believe that collectively, all of us want a better Charlotte now and for future generations to come. Additionally, the other thing that may separate me is that I believe that I am probably the only, or one of the few individuals that knows what it’s like to have the experience serving in a district, at-large and mayoral capacity.

Should Charlotte City Council pursue a sales tax increase for transit? What project should receive priority? If it involves language or action incorporating an anti-displacement policy similar or tweaked to what Austin, TX did, and also allows opportunities for women and minorities to be included in the ability to perform construction build-out on projects, yes. As far as to which projects get priorities, I remain open but would like to see what originally was to be a focus when we first looked to have light rail which was going East to West until politics got in the way and it went South. So I still think going East to West and/or extending the Gold Line further out Beatties Ford road is in order to at least consider.

Larken Egleston

What is your occupation? I am in sales for Republic National Distributing Company

Why are you running? I am running to continue the work I’ve done on the Charlotte City Council the last 4+ years advocating for more affordable housing options in our community, more efficient, effective, and safe transportation options for our residents, more opportunities for good-paying jobs and upward mobility in our city, and for equity and equality for all Charlotteans.

If elected, what is your top priority? Affordable housing and expanded transportation options are 1a/1b in my view, but forced to choose one, I’d say affordable housing must be the top priority. If folks cannot afford to live in our city, then very little else we do will matter.

What is a decision made by the current City Council that you disagree with? As part of the current council, and part of the prevailing side of most of the votes we have taken, there aren’t many of those decisions I disagree with. I do, however, wish we had taken the opportunity while we were going through the required redistricting process (which must be completed after each census) to more deeply examine additional recommendations of the citizen committee the Mayor formed to explore best practices in governance structure (i.e. adding an eighth district, four-year terms etc.)

What sets you apart from your opponents? I believe I have demonstrated the ability to lead on difficult issues during my time on council (i.e. immigration, police reform, expansion of the non-discrimination ordinance) and the ability to work across ideological divides to achieve agreement and compromise. I have also continued to be visible in, and accessible to, the community that elected me.

Should Charlotte City Council pursue a sales tax increase for transit? What project should receive priority? Yes, the city should pursue a transit tax and as a current councilmember, I’ve been a champion of that effort. The projects that tax would fund must take an ‘all of the above’ approach - bus, rail, greenways, sidewalks, road improvements, etc. - but I believe our top priority should be investing in and improving our bus system. A majority of our transit users in Charlotte are bus riders, and we owe them a safer and more reliable transportation option than we currently provide them.

James “Smuggie” Mitchell

What is your occupation? Founder/CEO of 5-Star Supply Company, LLC

Why are you running? I would like to serve on City Council to bring solutions to some of our top issues like Affordable Housing, Public Safey, and Economic development. My ability to listen to our citizens, and build consensus among City Councilmembers has been an asset to move our city forward..

If elected, what is your top priority? My top priority is Economic Development. Develop an Upward Mobility Strategy, additional funding for Corridors of Opportunity,, new access to capital program for start-ups companies, and new workforce development program.

What is a decision made by the current City Council that you disagree with? I think the process on the 2040 plan. I would have pushed for more engagement with our citizens but I know COVID was part of the problem.

What sets you apart from your opponents? My past accomplishments, my ability to listen to our citizens and provide solutions, My leadership style of being a consensus builder among City Council. And, my only agenda is to do what’s best for Charlotte and NOT my personal agenda.

Should Charlotte City Council pursue a sales tax increase for transit? What project should receive priority? The Council should pursue an increase in the transit once we have had conversation with our Mecklenburg delegation in Raleigh, and Council has received input from our Citizens on the priority for the transit.

LaWanna Slack-Mayfield

What is your occupation? Fulltime student

Why are you running? I love this City first and foremost. I am running to re-engage community in policy decision making as projects that are proposed have created both business and residential displacement. We need better trasportation connectivity, a focus on local employment and stronger environmental controls as members have continued to allow clear cutting of trees which is creating more environmental concerns.

If elected, what is your top priority? Re-engaging the community. I have heard from residents over the last few years that they do not know what Council is approving in their neighborhoods. They have not seen their Elected body outside of a ribbon cutting and feel it is too difficult to search online proposals and their impact on the community.

What is a decision made by the current City Council that you disagree with? Approving the raises for general employees minimal full-time pay to $38,090. Recent reseach shows you need to earn about $56,000 to afford a 1-bedroom apartment today, this rate should start at $50,000. I also do not agree with Council pursuing $110 MILLION for Major League Soccer without clear tax payment committments from a BILLIONAIRE.

What sets you apart from your opponents? Along with being the only African American female running for At-Large I am the ONLY forrmer elected who voted Against the RNC being hosted in Charlotte while the party was led by an individual that stocked racism fires across the Nation. I also have long-standing relationships with many members of our Interrntional community and show up to hear their concerns. While not on council I continued volunteering, promoting small businesses and educating residents on policy and procedure. I have not disappeared only to return when election season re-started.

Should Charlotte City Council pursue a sales tax increase for transit? What project should receive priority? I need more information on what is the financial commitment from our neighboring towns before committing to Charlotte residents adding an addittional tax to families that are already experiencing financial hardships. Transportation, Housing, and Jobs connected together is the priority in my opinion.

Braxton Winston

What is your occupation? Charlotte Liaison for Delaware College Scholars program.

Why are you running? I want to continue to serve as an At-Large member of Charlotte City Council with a goal of developing a city that is more equitable, accessible and interconnected. The Charlotte community has been working to change the direction of the historical inequities that have defined our growth. I believe good governance and leadership from our Council-Manager form of government is integral to achieving our goals.

If elected, what is your top priority? The continued implementation of the 2040 Plan. If the UDO stays on track the new City council and community will be getting into smaller community area planning and mapping processes. Community area planning is intended to provide more coordinated, efficient and effective structures for neighborhood planning to protect and enhance Charlotte’s neighborhoods.

What is a decision made by the current City Council that you disagree with? It was a mistake for the Council to decide not to work on an outreach strategy in our committees to meet and listen to the community and other elected bodies in our region around transportation.

What sets you apart from your opponents? I am a single father of 3 who range from kindergarten to 9th grade. I work multiple jobs, some with hourly wages to make ends meet. I rent housing and have moved 3 times in the past 3 years. I know the difficulties of trying to afford to live in this city in the middle class.

Should Charlotte City Council pursue a sales tax increase for transit? What project should receive priority? We should present a transportation plan that helps to relieve our current transportation needs and presents opportunities for future transportation improvements and pay for it. The Transformational Mobility Network is a good plan that will better connect residents to jobs and services.There should be a mix of funding sources including a sales tax. We should also fund a study for the creation of a regional transit authority to deal with the immense regional transit decisions that must be made and funded.

Republican Candidates

Kyle Luebke

What is your occupation? Lawyer

Why are you running? I am running to provide a fresh perspective on our Council and be a voice for those that have been left out of the process for far too long.

If elected, what is your top priority? We *need* to figure out how to deal with our housing crisis. Many people cannot afford to purchase homes in our community, including many of our heroes (our teachers, police officers, firefighters, etc.). So many people want to be invested in our City and community, but are having to live in Gastonia or Concord because that is where they can afford to buy a home. We need to incentivize the building of homes to own and we need to ensure that Charlotteans are not being displaced from their homes on account of high property taxes.

What is a decision made by the current City Council that you disagree with? The 2040 plan was approved by Council on a narrow 6-5 vote. I would have been opposed to the plan in its current form and its goal of allowing triplexes on all lots in the City of Charlotte. I believe this was shortsighted, that a better policy would have been to up-zone certain high transit corridors, and that this decision will increase displacement and gentrification in our most vulnerable communities.

What sets you apart from your opponents? I bring results and I demand accountability. I don’t just do things for the camera, but roll up my sleeves and get stuff done. The best example of this was the LGBTQ+ non-discrimination ordinance. The Democrats on Council waited for nine months before passing any sort of non-discrimination ordinance, while other cities around the State sprang into action to protect the LGBTQ+ community. It was not until the Republicans took matters into our own hands and drafted a LGBTQ+ non-discrimination ordinance that the Democrats *finally* set a date to protect my community.

Should Charlotte City Council pursue a sales tax increase for transit? What project should receive priority? No. We have other financing tools in our toolbox (like tax increment financing) for large scale transit projects that we should be utilizing. If the City Council does propose putting a sales tax on the ballot, I will vote against that motion. But this gets us to a broader point that should be addressed. Right now, we are prioritizing shiny transit projects like the Silver Line light rail. These are projects which are not benefiting those of us who actually use and depend upon our transit system. We should instead be focusing on ensuring that our buses come on time, that no one has to wait an hour for a bus, and that our bus system covers all of Charlotte.

David Merrill

What is your occupation? National Sales Director, Executive Solutions (Sales for a software company)

Why are you running? I believe that the current and previous City Councils have voted on what was popular at the time but not what was right for the community. CMPD is being starved of the resources that they need to keep us safe. The city is doing a poor job helping ensure the availability of affordable housing and economic mobility and we do not provide safe, adequate, and reliable public transportation to our citizens.

If elected, what is your top priority? My top priority will be improving economic mobility but that has to start with a foundation of public safety, housing stability, and early childhood education for long-term success. We can not keep making a grand public gesture of placing band-aids on critical topics. We need to get to the root cause of our major issues. We need to fully fund CMPD making them an employer of choice and ensure they have the training and resources they need to keep ALL Charlotte citizens safe. We need to overcome the hurdles preventing so many from having affordable places to rent and help guide our residents along the path to homeownership. As we achieve housing stability, we need to invest in year-round early childhood education to help solve the problems of child care and our kids falling behind.

What is a decision made by the current City Council that you disagree with? The current city council and mayor voted to give themselves a nearly 50% increase in their pay and lengthen their term while the city was locked down and many were unable to go to work. The city council nearly doubled their auto expense allowance while Charlotte doesn’t have safe, reliable, and frequent enough public transportation. The city council nearly doubled their technology allowance while our parents were struggling to help their kids learn via distance education.

What sets you apart from your opponents? My opponents are the status quo, long-term politicians, in the city that have said they want to fix issues but have not yet taken the time to understand them. I have a deep understanding of affordable housing, what is driving up the current costs, and how to make renting and homeownership more affordable. I have relationships in the housing industry, and a plan to keep Charlotte residents in their homes.

Should Charlotte City Council pursue a sales tax increase for transit? What project should receive priority? No. You can’t have economic mobility without mobility and transportation but our $2,700,000,000 budget is enough to accomplish our goals. We need to be more financially responsible and spend our taxpayers money on the areas of greatest impact to the highest number of our citizens and those in the most need. Additional funding for transit should come from the federal, state, and county governments, from the municipalities that wish to connect to our system, and from fares.

Charlie Mulligan

What is your occupation? I am a tech entrepreneur that co-founded a startup right here in Charlotte! Now I work with various organizations in the city to help provide long-term structural solutions for the issues in our labor market and fight the digital divide.

Why are you running? I have lived in Charlotte my entire life, and for too long, I have felt like our leaders have not articulated a clear vision for what our city should be. MY vision is a Thriving, Multicultural, and Southern city. What’s the situation now? There are plenty of resources here, yet far too many of communities are far from thriving. I’ve lived here 30 years, and we are more segretated along racial and class lines than ever. And finally, I think we struggle to define our “soul” as a city. I want to restore that, and that’s why I’m running.

If elected, what is your top priority? We have a wealth of resources here in the city of Charlotte, yet somehow we rank LAST in upward mobility. This is a well-known fact, yet we don’t seem to have a coherent strategy to change it. I do have a strategy, and Upward Mobility is my top priority. We will fix this by 1.) really getting serious about our affordable housing crisis by really incentivizing inexpensive and middle-income housing, 2.) truly supporting our minority-owned small businesses and 3.) increasing safety in our neighborhoods, especially those most vulnerable.

What is a decision made by the current City Council that you disagree with? Where do I start? I don’t doubt the good intentions of the current Council, but sometimes I wonder if we think through the execution of our plans at all. The 2040 plan is a disaster because it will lead to Urban Renewal, part 2--- getting rid of zoning restrictions without addressing housing covenants in affluent neighborhoods means that we will be simply bulldozing historic communities all over town- what are we thinking? We created a plan for helping elderly residents with property taxes and then didn’t tell anyone about it, meaning only 5% of a $1.5mm program (Aging in Place) was spent. The Council gave itself raises while continuing to blow off CATS, Sanitation, Fire and Police. I am a huge criminal justice reform advocate- but Council has sat back and watched as a culture of lawlessness has formed in this city, impacting low-income neighborhoods the most. Meanwhile, good-faith efforts like the current inter-departmental cooperation talks between CMS, the City and Mecklenburg have broken down into petty squabbles. In short, I’m not sure if the current Council is serious about addressing the multitude of problems this city faces. We like ribbon-cuttings, ground-breakings and shiny new initiatives, but our community is looking for leaders that are serious and will stick around after the press release.

What sets you apart from your opponents? I’m serious, and I am here to do the work. My background is in the startup world, and there, we care about results. That’s what I’ll bring to Charlotte. For too long, we’ve been a “no” city- when the community comes with problems, the answer is always “it’s not us” or “that’s too expensive” or “we’ll form a task force”. Our neighborhoods have been waiting far too long on that type of nonsense. When I get elected, I’ll only have 15 months before the next election. The City should be prepared for the most impactful 15 months it has ever seen.

Should Charlotte City Council pursue a sales tax increase for transit? What project should receive priority? I am against any sales tax increase, as it would be regressive, meaning falling the most on the least fortunate. The city, however, must use its funds to invest in transportation- not on fancy projects like the Silver Line that benefit affluent communities, but in safety, frequency and reliability of our bus system. Working class folks ride the bus. Why don’t we have their back for a change? We have some great ideas in the 2030 Mobility Plan- let’s fund those!

Carrie Olinski

What is your occupation? Physician Assistant

Why are you running? I love Charlotte. I am running to help create and foster a more balanced, safer, and healthier city keeping towards the mid-size city feel of comfortability while still offering big city opportunity. To do this, it is important to have a diversity of opinions in decision-making groups. I believe there needs to be a conservative voice represented in the At-Large seats. Right now, there are no “checks and balances.” If it were more evenly split, people would have to compromise more, which is better for all the people. In addition, as a new mom, it has been concerning for me to see the rise in crime across our city just over the last few years.

If elected, what is your top priority? It is an easy question to ask but hard one to answer. There are many priorities and they are all interconnected. All are needed. It is all about investing in people. With that said, public safety is my top priority. We have seen a decline in the number of our first responders for various reasons, but a big reason is the lack of respect from city leaders. Our responders should feel heard and respected because they are on the streets trying to keep our citizens safe. This combined with the rise in crime across all categories is more than concerning and should have our utmost attention. With about 100 people moving to Charlotte daily then our first responders will be even more at a disadvantage. If people don’t feel safe, then nothing else matters.

What is a decision made by the current City Council that you disagree with? I don’t agree with the 2040 plan as a finite plan. Ultimately, as we grow, whether that be in population, economically, or technologically we will need to adapt to those changes. We need room for these changes that will undoubtedly occur. If it was a good plan, then it shouldn’t have been split so closely with a 6-5 vote. There are adjustments that need to be made to the current plan. Such as, the Far East area doesn’t have much noted in the way of infrastructure. It will be hard to reach 10 min neighborhoods here without the infrastructure to support it. Or, the elimination of single family zoning, although sounds good on the surface because it’ll allow more residential units. It doesn’t give way to home ownership. Therefore, it has the potential to speed up gentrification further exacerbating displacement. More analysis or comparative data with other cities would be beneficial to see the possible outcomes.

What sets you apart from your opponents? I would consider myself a political outsider. That may seem less favorable to some, but I bring to the table an unbiased outlook. I am here to help find solutions and fix a problem. In my medical career, I have in-depth discussions with my patients to help get to the root of their problems. We work together to address chronic, multi-symptom conditions by getting back to basics whilst still thinking outside the box. I will bring that to the City Council. Ultimately, I am here to serve the people and only them.

Should Charlotte City Council pursue a sales tax increase for transit? What project should receive priority? No, it shouldn’t. We need to build one thing at a time and pay for it as we go along. This will allow us to make changes to any mistakes made and adapt to technological changes of the future. Right now, we need to put our immediate attention to improving the efficiency and safety of our bus system before we undergo another huge project. The death of CATS driver, Ethan Rivera is a tragic incident amongst so many others in recent news. We need to address the safety of our current city employees and residents STAT.

David Michael Rice

What is your occupation? Real estate Investor/Federal Theocratic Government Contractor

Why are you running? Uptown lawlessness, crime, violence

If elected, what is your top priority? Affordable Housing

What is a decision made by the current City Council that you disagree with? Enforcing criminal law uptown

What sets you apart from your opponents? Focus on American ideals. Life, liberty, justice, family, rule of law

Should Charlotte City Council pursue a sales tax increase for transit? What project should receive priority? 2023 vote next year, get public response / Affordable Housing, Medicare