So will Charlottes next mayor be better or worse off than Mayor Anthony Foxx was on his first day on the job?
Foxx took the gavel in December 2009, just after the Great Recession gripped its tightest on Charlottes throat. He presided over and helped guide a recovery from those depths. But Foxx announced Friday that he will not seek a third term, and his successor will face a long list of troubles. Some are urgent but episodic; others are long-term challenges that threaten the citys future.
The most fundamental is one Foxx and former City Manager Curt Walton identified last year but failed to address: Charlotte has matured as a city to the point where it can no longer significantly grow its tax base through annexation. So as a larger and larger population crams into its borders in coming years and demands public services, the city will be pressured to find more revenue. The only way to avoid a spike in taxes will be to generate economic growth throughout the city, not just in certain pockets.
Foxxs solution? A $926 million capital improvement plan that included investments across the city. But Foxx sold it inadequately to the public and to City Council members, who killed it last summer. Regardless of what happens in budget talks this spring, the next mayor will likely have to help mold an ongoing solution to this underlying new reality. If the City Council in coming months fails a second time to approve a capital investment plan, these demands on the new mayor will press even harder.
Foxx announced his impending departure as Charlotte navigates unusually rough waters. N.C. Sen. Bob Rucho and N.C. Rep. Bob Brawley are championing a legislative effort to strip Charlotte Douglas International Airport from the citys control. Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson seeks $144 million from city taxpayers for stadium renovations and other needs. And a years-long debate over Foxxs favorite project a streetcar connecting the eastern and western parts of the city could come to a head in coming weeks. In addition to the airport fight, the legislature has balked at the Panthers request and Gov. Pat McCrory issued what many saw as a threat to strip millions in state money from the city if it proceeded with the streetcar plans.
The next mayor, then, will be compelled to dance with a state government apparatus that has been hostile to cities generally and to Charlotte in particular. Its hard to imagine any Democrat, except possibly Sen. Dan Clodfelter of Charlotte, being able to do that successfully with the current legislature. Thats ironic, given that Charlotte and the surrounding area have perhaps never had more power in the state capital.
Add to all that the future of the old Eastland Mall site, ongoing challenges of homelessness and seemingly insurmountable questions around funding the citys long-term transit plan, and maybe no one will want the job.
Actually, more than a dozen names had been floated within hours of Foxxs announcement, including by the candidates themselves. Heres hoping they have serious thoughts about consequential matters.
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