The fight for Charlotte City Council District 4 presents one of the most unusual races since the city went to single-member districts in 1977.
Democrat Greg Phipps, a retired bank examiner with the U.S. Treasury Department, is facing Michael Zytkow, an independent candidate who gathered more than 3,000 signatures to land a space on the November ballot. Zytkow’s petition drive to run as an independent is believed to be a first for Charlotte politics.
Phipps, 60, finished first in the September primary, but he was forced into a runoff because he fell two votes short of clearing. He won the runoff election easily.
The two men are trying to replace Michael Barnes, who is running for an at-large seat. District 4 covers much of northeast Charlotte, including University City.
In addition to District 4, there are three other races among the city’s seven single-member districts.
During a WTVI/League of Women voters debate that taped Tuesday and will air Sunday, Phipps cited his experience working inside and outside of local government as to why he is the best candidate. He briefly held the seat in 2005 when council members appointed him to finish Malcolm Graham’s term. He also has been a homeowners association president and has worked on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission.
Zytkow, 27, is perhaps best known for helping lead the Occupy Charlotte movement in 2011. During Tuesday’s debate, Zytkow said he has stood up against big business and against local government when it held “closed-door meetings.”
“When banks were foreclosing (on people’s homes), I stood up to them,” he said.
Zytkow said his run as an independent is part of a broader effort for political reform. He wants the city to switch to having nonpartisan elections, among other changes.
A major issue for District 4 is how the area will adapt to the completion of Interstate 485 next year and the Lynx Blue Line extension in 2017. The Lynx extension will connect UNC Charlotte with uptown; supporters hope it will spark new development similar to what’s been built in South End.
Phipps said he would work to ensure that the two transportation projects spur quality development, and that traffic issues along routes such as Prosperity Church Road are handled effectively.
Zytkow said he expects the two projects to have a “positive impact” on the economy. He added that the city should enact a higher minimum wage, or “living wage” as he calls it, to ensure the working class can thrive.
Phipps said a major issue for the area is keeping criminal activity out of hotels that line I-85. He said police sweeps can be an effective way of lowering crime.
Zytkow said he didn’t think a large police presence is a long-term solution. He said ensuring that residents have well-paying jobs will reduce crime.
Phipps said he supported the city’s 2030 Transit Plan, though he said he didn’t support using property taxes to pay for the streetcar. That’s the same position Barnes took in 2012 and 2013.
“As far as the proposal to use property taxes to pay for it, I’m not in favor of it,” he said.
Zytkow said he supports all parts of the 2030 plan, including the streetcar.
Zytkow did criticize the city’s decision, though, to give the Carolina Panthers $87.5 million for stadium improvements.
“The City Council only spends $7.5 million on sidewalks a year, but they gave $87.5 million for escalators for the stadium,” he said.