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Incumbents, Tiawana Brown Cruise in Charlotte City Council Primaries

Voter turnout under 5% in Democratic primary

Charlotte City Council members Renee Johnson and Victoria Watlington laugh during a 2019 swearing-in ceremony.
Council members Renee Johnson (left) will keep her seat on Charlotte City Council while Victoria Watlington is one step closer to an at-large seat. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Results of the Democratic mayoral and Charlotte City Council primary elections rolled in Tuesday night, with incumbents cruising to victory — including one who’s hoping to step up from district rep seat to an at-large large seat.

Tuesday’s primary, which included only voters registered as Democrat or unaffiliated, saw a turnout of under 5% — or 23,676 out of 482,577 possible voters.

With 100% of precincts reported, incumbents Dimple Ajmera, LaWana Slack-Mayfield and James “Smuggie” Mitchell Jr. were the top three vote getters in the at-large race, with current District 3 rep Victoria Watlington coming in fourth place for the final at-large seat.

Though a general election will still be held in November, with independent candidate Steven J. DiFiore II running to fill one of the four empty seats, Tuesday’s four top vote getters will likely cruise to victory in November.

Dimple Ajmera speaks in the foreground while Braxton Winston smiles behind her while sitting at the dais.
Dimple Ajmera (left) declined a motion to make her mayor pro tem during the 2022 swearing-in ceremony to avoid conflict on council. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

One thing to watch following November elections: Dimple Ajmera was the top vote getter in the at-large race on Tuesday, just as she was in last year’s general election. While that oftentimes makes one a shoo-in for the mayor pro tem position, it wasn’t in the cards for Ajmera in 2022, as council voted No. 2 vote getter Braxton Winston into the honorary position.

In the lead-up to last year’s swearing-in and mayor pro tem vote, Slack-Mayfield was the loudest in opposition to Ajmera getting the nod for the position, tweeting in late August 2022, “I will NOT support any person who I have watched lie, manipulate & play politics.”

If Ajmera once again earns the most votes in November’s general, it will be interesting to see if she’ll garner the votes for mayor pro tem from fellow council reps or once again face opposition from Slack-Mayfield, who was the No. 2 vote getter on Tuesday.

District races

Two other races down the ballot had interesting storylines on Tuesday. In District 3, Watlington’s move to an at-large campaign meant council was guaranteed at least one newcomer. Tiawana Brown won the race easily, more than doubling the vote count of her closest competitor, former council member Warren Turner.

Turner raised eyebrows early this month when his campaign sent out an email shaming Brown for her criminal past. For her part, Brown has been extremely public about her time served in prison, making it the centerpiece of her work in the community helping to house women as they exit incarceration.

Learn more on Nooze Hounds: Tiawana Brown, founder of Beauty After the Bars

Turner, on the other hand, has been mum on his own history as a city council rep, which concluded after an investigation unveiled allegations from at least six women who claimed he had made sexually inappropriate comments to them dating back to the 1980s.

In District 4, which includes University City and other parts of northeast Charlotte, incumbent Renee Johnson was able to ward off a run by Wil Russell, whose campaign earned a rare endorsement from Mayor Vi Lyles.

It’s unclear just what drew Lyles to engage with the District 4 race and publicly oppose Johnson, though it may relate to Johnson’s repeated efforts to roll back aspects of the Unified Development Ordinance that relate to density — efforts that began shortly after the ordinance was approved by council in 2022.

Johnson will serve a third term on Charlotte City Council, as she faces no opposition from other parties.

Elsewhere on the ballot, Mayor Vi Lyles soundly beat primary challenger Lucille Puckett on Tuesday. She will now face Republic Misun Kim and Independent Rob Yates in the general. Other winners Tuesday include Malcolm Graham, who will not face any further opposition in District 2, and Marjorie Molina, who will also serve another term in District 5.

Learn more about upcoming races in our 2023 Election Guide. 

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