As students return to campus, sift through syllabi, buy textbooks, and shift back to academic life, UNC Charlotte seniors Gabe Cartagena and Cade Lee will be doing just that– while also campaigning for local office. 

Cartagena, a 21-year-old political science major and full-time bartender, is running for the District 4 seat of Charlotte City Council. Lee, a senior political science and international studies double major from Raleigh, is running for the District 3 seat of the Mecklenburg County Commissioners. 

The incumbent for Cartagena’s seat has stepped down, so he now faces 5 Democrats and 1 Republican for representation of the nearly half-Black district. Lee, however, will be running against an incumbent, a difficult challenger to defeat. Democrat George Dunlap has served six terms as a county commissioner and currently serves as the chairman.

Both students were inspired to run after the campus shooting on April 30, and both students have led activist groups for greater gun control. Cartagena started Real Change Now and Lee started the UNC Charlotte chapter of March for Our Lives. 

“The idea of Real Change Now was a response to a quote from Susan Harden, District 5 Mecklenburg County Commissioner, from the Rally for Remembrance. Susan said that in order for us to actually effect change, we have to get out and vote. I was mad at that statement. I sat there and I looked at five people whom I had voted for sit there and tell me that in order to solve my problems I needed to vote. My response was, well I did vote and I voted for you so what are you going to do about it?” said Cartagena about why he started the activist organization.

In a similar frustration with local elected officials, Lee said “It was mostly because after the shooting, the President of the [Charlotte] NAACP and I sent out emails to all local elected officials to discuss gun violence, but we didn’t even hear back from half… This year, [Charlotte is] expected to double the amount of homicides that occurred last year, and all but two so far have been committed with a firearm. It’s such a controversial topic that [elected officials are] afraid of how it’s going to affect their votes. We need progressive leaders that are not afraid to stand up for issues that are affecting our community.” 

Now, the two say younger voices should be in office. Cartagena’s major issues are affordable housing, transportation and jobs. Lee’s are political accountability, education, affordable housing and environmental policies. Both students are running as Democrats. 

If elected, Cartagena will join the mayor and 10 other councilors (all of whom are up for reelection this fall) to set policy, approve the financing, and enact ordinances, resolutions and orders for the city of Charlotte. 

If elected, Lee will serve on the nine-member Board of County Commissioners that acts as the governing body of Mecklenburg County. Six commissioners are elected by district and three commissioners serve at-large. The Board is in charge of the annual county budget, setting the property tax rate and establishing priorities on community needs.

Cartagena will first face a primary on Sept. 10, followed by a primary runoff on Oct. 8 and finally the general election for mayor and all 11 seats on November 5. Lee won’t appear on the ballot until the March 3 primary in 2020. If he wins that, he will move on to the general election on Nov. 3, 2020, coinciding with the U.S. presidential election. 

Megan is the News Editor for the Niner Times. She is a sophomore Political Science and Spanish double major. Megan is from Charlottesville, Virginia. She can be reached at