By Ely Portillo
Courtesy of Lake Wylie Pilot
The balance of power in the city’s seven districts stayed unchanged Tuesday, as Democrats won five council seats and Republicans took two, avoiding any upsets.
The election brings four newcomers to City Council, as incumbents James “Smuggie” Mitchell, Warren Cooksey, Andy Dulin and Michael Barnes did not run for their district seats again this year.
In the end, there were no surprises. Democratic candidates easily won the five districts where they have a majority, and Republican candidates won the city’s two majority Republican districts in south Charlotte without a struggle.
None of the winners racked up less than almost 67 percent of votes. In three of the seven districts, candidates ran unopposed. Mayor Patsy Kinsey, a Democrat, cruised back to her former District 1 seat. She gave up her seat to serve as mayor after former Charlotte mayor Anthony Foxx’s appointment to be U.S. Secretary of Transportation earlier this year.
Incumbent council member John Autry, also a Democrat, won his seat in District 5 without opposition. And in south Charlotte’s District 6, newcomer Republican Kenny Smith didn’t face an opponent in his bid to replace Dulin.
Tuesday’s election was the first time in 14 years that Mitchell wasn’t on the ballot in District 2, and Democrat Alvin “Al” Austin appeared set to easily win a seat on the council in Mitchell’s place.
The district skewed in Austin’s favor, with almost two thirds of voters registered as Democrats. In past elections, Mitchell often has won more than 70 percent of the vote. Mitchell gave up his seat when he unsuccessfully challenged Patrick Cannon for the Democratic nomination for mayor.
Austin, a major gifts officer at Johnson C. Smith University, defeated Republican Darryl Broome by a wide margin. Austin won just more than 80 percent of the vote, compared to Broome’s 19.9 percent.
Council member LaWana Mayfield, a Democrat, easily beat two challengers to win the District 3 seat for a second term. She faced Libertarian C. Travis Wheat and Republican Eric Netter in the election.
Mayfield, who was first elected in 2011, won 77.4 percent of ballots cast. Netter trailed with almost 18 percent, and C. Travis Wheat won more than 4.5 percent.
Mayfield, a community organizer, was favored to win District 3, in which almost two-thirds of registered voters are Democrats. The district covers much of west and southwest Charlotte.
Charlotte’s only independent candidate fought an uphill battle in District 4, as Michael Zytkow sought to defeat Democrat Greg Phipps in the race to replace Michael Barnes.
But Phipps, a retired bank examiner with the U.S. Treasury Department, won with more than two thirds of the votes cast in the district. Zytkow finished with about a third of the vote.
Zytkow, an activist who helped organize the Occupy Charlotte and Democratic National Convention protests, got more than 3,000 petition signatures to win a place on the ballot. His is believed to be the first such successful effort by an independent candidate since Charlotte adopted single-member districts in 1977.
There was no Republican candidate in the race. Still, Zytkow said he knew his campaign was a “David and Goliath” situation.
“If there’s a nail in the coffin, it’ll be straight-ticket voting,” Zytkow predicted Tuesday while shaking voters’ hands at a precinct. Out of the 74,010 registered voters in the district, 55 percent are registered Democrats.
As the results came in Tuesday evening, Phipps said he was driving around picking up his campaign signs. He praised Zytkow for his energetic campaigning.
“It made for a very lively campaign. Everywhere I was, even during the primaries, Mr. Zytkow was there,” said Phipps, who said he had signed Zytkow’s petition to get on the ballot. “I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him.”
Democrat Bakari Burton took on Republican Ed Driggs in the majority-Republican District 7. The final vote tally showed that District 7’s Republican majority gave Driggs a decisive win, as he finished with almost 72 percent of the vote. Burton won 28 percent of the ballots cast.
A retired banker and analyst, Driggs and Democratic challenger Bakari Burton were vying to replace Cooksey, who decided not to seek re-election.
For Driggs, the most competitive race was the primary, in which he faced two Republican challengers. Forty percent of the registered voters in District 7 are Republicans, compared with only 26 percent Democrats.
Louise Chamberlain said outside Olde Providence Elementary School that it had been a quiet race.
“It’s just like I haven’t heard a word about these guys,” she said. But Chamberlain, wearing an Eisenhower medal from her grandmother around her neck, said she would vote for Driggs because he is a Republican.
Driggs said he hoped he could work with the City Council’s Democratic majority while keeping a close eye on spending.
“My goal is to do the best possible thing for the taxpayers,” said Driggs.
“I’m hoping it won’t be such a sharp divide, and so adversarial along party lines,” he said. “Perhaps we can avoid some of the confrontations.”