CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The two protagonists in the battle over LGBT rights in North Carolina are now out of the political picture after a surprise in a mayoral primary on Tuesday.
Charlotte Mayor Pro Tempore Vi Lyles captured the Democratic primary, defeating Mayor Jennifer Roberts with 46 percent of the vote. Roberts got 36 percent of the vote, with State Sen. Joel Ford finishing third at 15 percent.
Roberts squared off with former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the state legislature over the city's ordinance protecting LGBT rights and lawmakers' decision to block its enforcement. McCrory, who defended the measure known as House Bill 2, lost his re-election bid last November to Democrat Roy Cooper.
Democratic consultant Dan McCorkle said Lyles may have benefited from voter fatigue of Roberts, whose one term was marked by the battle over House Bill 2 and the subsequent fallout, as well as her handling of the violence that erupted after the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott by a police officer last September.
"I think it was having an eroding effect on her supporters," McCorkle said in an interview. "People wanted a calmer path." Ford also weakened Roberts with his criticism, McCorkle added.
Lyles will face City Council member Kenny Smith, who easily won the Republican primary.
Smith, who faced two little-known candidates, will enter the general election campaign with a fundraising advantage over Lyles, who got support in the primary from local business leaders and the city's Black Political Caucus.
Gay rights groups endorsed Roberts for re-election, a reflection of their steadfast support for her as she stuck out her neck for the LGBT community. Lyles voted on the city council for the non-discrimination protections pushed by Roberts that led the GOP-controlled General Assembly to approve HB2, a law that limited LGBT protections and which public restrooms transgender people can use.
Roberts "has been a champion for the LGBTQ community even before her first campaign for Charlotte mayor," Equality North Carolina Interim Executive Director Matt Hirschy said in a release also congratulating Lyles. Countering any belief that Roberts' defeat was a major setback for gay rights, Hirschy said almost 85 percent of Democratic primary voters chose candidates who "fully support LGBTQ inclusive protections."
Tami Fitzgerald with the socially conservative North Carolina Values Coalition, which backed HB2, said Tuesday's results show "voters have grown tired of Roberts' championing of national issues that are divisive" and for carrying the water for the Human Rights Campaign. But Fitzgerald said there is little difference between Lyles and Roberts on their voting records and advocacy for "extreme LGBT issues."
In her concession speech, Roberts said she would support Lyles.
"I have enjoyed being in this campaign with her because she has been positive," Roberts said. "And we're going to be positive with her, and we are going to make sure that Democratic values win in the city council and mayoral race in November."