Meet the new Democratic members of Charlotte City Council

Pictured Above: New Councilmembers (l-r) Larken Egleston, Justin Harlow, Matt Newton and Braxton Winston.

The November 2017 election was historic, sweeping eight transgender candidates into office nationwide and electing a wave of Democrats. Many saw it as a response to the Trump administration, and the Republicans that are controlling the federal government.

Charlotte also saw Democratic wins, with Vi Lyles beating out Republican Kenny Smith, becoming the city’s first African American female mayor, and the Charlotte City Council maintaining a 9-2 Democratic control.

qnotes caught up with the four new Democratic members of City Council to find out what drew them to office, what they plan to do with their newfound influence and their initial impressions of the job.

Larken Egleston, District 1
Age: 35
Place of birth: Winston-Salem
Where were you raised: Winston-Salem

How long have you been living in Charlotte?

Since late 2004. I went to Appalachian State and came to get a culinary degree at Johnson & Wales…I was part of their first class.

What do you do for a living?

I work for Republic National Distributing Company, which is an alcohol distributor.

What made you want to run for City Council?

I didn’t grow up thinking I was going to run for office one day. My parents were always very civically active and certainly kept up with politics, but neither of them were ever considering running for office and we didn’t talk a lot about politics growing up.

My political interests probably came more once I moved to Charlotte…The more civically engaged I got, the more I saw where the politics influenced a lot of the outcomes in the areas that I cared about. Whether it’s transportation, or housing or historic preservation – these things I became more interested and educated on through my civic involvement allowed me to realize that involving myself in the political side of all that could give me more of an opportunity to make an impact in those realms.

What are the main issues you wish to see addressed through Charlotte City Council?

In addition to those three issues – affordable housing, a better public transportation system, historic preservation – human rights issues, in as much as at a city government level we’re able to impact those, as well as the environment.

Part of the, I guess, curse of being in municipal government in North Carolina, is on things like the environment, human rights, and housing to some extent, there’s only so much that we get to do unilaterally, without the blessing of the folks in Raleigh, which we don’t frequently get these days.

What do you plan to do to see this happen?

The three committees I got assigned to are the Environment Committee, which I was named vice chair of, the Housing and Neighborhood Development Committee and the Transportation and Planning Committee. So those will be the three areas where, through my committee work, I have the most ability to make an impact I think.
On things like historic preservation and human rights, and things that maybe aren’t as day-to-day topical on City Council issues, I think myself and a lot of my new colleagues will look for opportunities where those intersect with things we are charged with handling and try to bring them to the forefront.

What are your initial impressions of the job?

I think, we’re five weeks in, we’re four meetings in…I think as a group we haven’t had much of a chance to be all together, and we haven’t started our committee meetings yet either. So it will be interesting to start our committee meetings in February and see how the leadership of each of those committees, what issues they’re prioritizing, how we work together in those smaller groups and as a larger group. I think that will dictate how much progress we can make in all of those areas.

But I am encouraged by the fact that, in general terms, the 11 of us and the mayor, making 12, we all get along, we all like each other. There’s a lot of congenially so far, and I think that puts as at an advantage. When you look at some other elected bodies that clearly don’t get along as well individually, I think that prohibits them from making as much progress legislatively [as they could].

Would you vote in favor of a complete LGBT non-discrimination ordinance like the one we had that was nullified by HB2 and later repealed in an attempt to get a compromise?

Absolutely. I’m completely in favor of equal rights for the LGBTQ community.

My hope would be that by the time that kind of moratorium on local ordinances is up [in 2020], that we, the community and the state, would have done the work to put some new folks in Raleigh who will not have such a drastic overreaction like the past administration of Gov. McCrory and the General Assembly did when Charlotte passed the ordinance the first time…I think a nondiscrimination ordinance is a no-brainer for our city, and I’d like to see that expanded statewide as well.

Justin Harlow, District 2
Age: 29
Place of birth: Atlanta
Where were you raised: Atlanta

How long have you been living in Charlotte?

Three and a half years.

What do you do for a living?

General Dentist – Owner of Harlow Dental at Steele Creek.

What made you want to run for City Council?

Since moving here, I’ve always been an involved community stakeholder. I joined my neighborhood association, Biddleville-Smallwood Community Organization, and eventually served two years as President of the organization. I believe our people and their experiences are our greatest assets.

However, not everyone has the same experiences in Charlotte. We have large disparities in housing, city contracting and economic development, along with unequal access to quality schools and services. As a neighborhood leader and a member of community boards like the Historic West End Advisory Committee, I was able to start forming relationships with other community leaders, elected officials and business leaders. I realized that one of the best ways to be a change agent was to help educate my community of the city services and resources and to be at the public policy decision making table.

What are the main issues you wish to see addressed through Charlotte City Council?

We must get serious about our affordable housing crisis. It is imperative we ask voters to approve an increase to our Housing Trust Fund – I like $50 million at minimum – and also earmark at least 70 percent of those approved dollars to only fund affordable housing projects … for residents that make less than 60 percent AMI. This is our biggest need.

I’d also like to do what we can to share in the solutions-based approach to increase economic mobility in our city, especially for minorities and women. We have lots of minority-owned small business enterprises in Charlotte, but many are not registered or certified vendors with the city. I look to increase awareness in registration and certification for these businesses with our Charlotte Business INClusion and MWSBE initiatives. I will lobby that we dedicate more focus to increasing participation in the MWSBE contractions while also increasing our subcontracting goals in our city bid process. If we can increase utilization, grow the workload and access to capital for Charlotte’s minority businesses, we can put a dent in our economic mobility issue.

What do you plan to do to see this happen?

As a member of the Housing and Neighborhood Development Committee and the Economic Development Committee, I will be a fearless advocate in introducing the initiatives mentioned above. I will also work to gain community support around these initiatives to make it easier for council to be accountable to constituents.

What are your initial impressions of the job?

Literally thought, Wow, this city government is a vast organization. There was/still is so much information overload in the time between the General Election and being sworn in, especially around learning about all of our city departments and divisions.

Some of that still exists today, but with all the information and emails/calls from constituents, I’ve learned that we have some really great city staff to help us navigate all the issues we are asked to solve.

Would you vote in favor of a complete LGBT non-discrimination ordinance like the one we had that was nullified by HB2 and later repealed in an attempt to get a compromise?

Yes, I would’ve voted for the original ordinance. I simply believe that our city has to take stances for things that are right. In my opinion, only discrimination can stem from this ordinance not being on the books. Human rights, civil rights and self- expression should never be negotiable.

Matt Newton, District 5
Age: 38
Place of birth: Wilmington
Where were you raised: Here in Charlotte. I am fourth generation Charlottean.

What do you do for a living?

I am an attorney with my own law firm, Newton & Arroyo, PLLC.

What made you want to run for City Council?

I wanted to make a difference in my community. My district, in East Charlotte, has the lowest median incomes and property values, which are a reflection of our lack of local jobs, quality infrastructure, and transportation options. I felt like I was uniquely situated, given my background and pre-existing relationships, to address these issues and create positive growth for the eastside.

What are the main issues you wish to see addressed through Charlotte City Council?

For my district, job creation, transportation growth and infrastructure improvement are very important. More specifically, developing Eastland and rebranding East Charlotte are top priorities.

What do you plan to do to see this happen?

Solicit and support economic development that will serve as a catalyst to job creation, transportation growth and infrastructure improvement in my area. Also, create an open dialogue and line of communication between the community, city, and developers to ensure that whatever is built at Eastland is something we will all benefit from and can be proud of; and, explore the creation of an eastside municipal service district to promote the rich cultural diversity, safe neighborhoods and entertainment options we possess in East Charlotte.

What are your initial impressions of the job?

It’s definitely more than a part-time job, but I enjoy it. I have the opportunity to help my neighbors succeed in both a micro and macro way. That is very rewarding.

Would you vote in favor of a complete LGBT non-discrimination ordinance like the one we had that was nullified by HB2 and later repealed in an attempt to get a compromise?

Absolutely. I will not condone discrimination in any way, shape or form. That is non-negotiable. As we strive to become a world-class city, we must be accepting and inclusive of all people. It makes sound economic sense, but is also a moral imperative.

Braxton Winston, At-Large
Age: 35
Place of birth: Camp Lejeune
Where were you raised: Brooklyn

How long have you been living in Charlotte?

Came to Davidson College in 2001, Charlotte in 2004, moved out to L.A. and New Jersey for a couple of years, returned to Charlotte in 2011.

What do you do for a living?

I’m an entertainment production professional. I’m a professional stagehand as well as a freelance camera operator.

What made you want to run for City Council?

It has really just been walking in the path of purpose, trying to figure out how I can work towards a more equitable city. The desire to spread information and facts so people can determine their own truth, the desire to advocate for marginalized groups – and the knowledge and understanding that, not just in Charlotte but in America, we exist in a culture of laws and policy, and to affect change, in any sense, you ultimately have to do it in the halls of government. The quest to synthesize those things lead to this decision and this path.

What are the main issues you wish to see addressed through Charlotte City Council?

I think the biggest problem we have is upward economic mobility. But when you look at what that actually means, it really is an umbrella that encompasses so much. It encompasses and speaks to so many different social conditions, and systemic social inequities. Whether that be around providing good paying career path jobs that have benefits, so families can build wealth and be participants in family life, including children.

[These jobs should] provide equal pay for equal work, for all people, regardless of who they are, where they’re born, who they love, where they come from.

Access, as it relates to physical transportation access as well as digital access to information.

Also the interconnection of making sure that government is working on different levels towards the same or similar goals, as well as supporting folks who are doing the work in our community to address these issues already so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

What do you plan to do to see this happen?

My approach on the outset, and where we are right now, to how I think I can affect that through City Council, is one, learning how to be a councilmember. Learning how to run a city, and learning what questions to ask and where to go for them so that can be done in a quick and effective manner.

Secondly, I think it is really imperative to continue to include more people in the conversation. I think democracy is the way to address these issues, and democracy works much better when more people are involved.

So how can I facilitate bringing more people’s voices to the tables where these conversations and decision making is happening.

What are your initial impressions of the job?

I think there’s a lot of energy. I think there are a lot more people paying attention to the effects and processes of municipal government. But I think we have a long way to go in terms of changing different cultures. And I look at culture as how we do what we do. So, the culture of decision making in this city, the culture of what transparency and access to one’s government means.

There are, I want to say serious challenges, that’s not necessarily a negative thing. But that we have to really look ourselves in the mirror and not only accept what we see, but changing it…You’d like to just change something, you know wake up the next day and it changes because you said it and you acknowledged it, but it takes much more work than that.

Would you vote in favor of a complete LGBT non-discrimination ordinance like the one we had that was nullified by HB2 and later repealed in an attempt to get a compromise?

Yes, I believe that at the root of all things is equal protections under the law for all people. I think that’s imperative. One of my biggest disappoints in my municipal government was the negotiation that finds us where we’re at right now, and it was part of the fuel to my fire to continue to advocate and agitate for changes in government.

Editor’s Note: qnotes attempted to interview the lone new Republican member of Charlotte City Council, Tariq Bokhari. He did not respond by press time.

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About the author: Jeff Taylor is a journalist, artist and social media editor. In addition to QNotes, his work has appeared in publications such The Charlotte Observer, Creative Loafing Charlotte, LGBTQ Nation and The Pride L.A. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport and has lived in Charlotte since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @jefftaylorhuman.

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