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With Anthony Foxx leaving, issues stack up for Charlotte mayoral candidates

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Just like the city itself, Charlotte’s next mayor faces many challenges.

As former City Council member and mayoral candidate John Lassiter puts it: The next mayor will have to confront issues like a fractured City Council, strained relations with the governor and the legislature, and “a (new) city manager still trying to figure out which Queens Road he’s on.”

“It’s a daunting task,” said City Council member Andy Dulin.

The mayor’s seat is suddenly wide open after Democrat Anthony Foxx announced Friday he will not seek a third term. Foxx, a Charlotte native, served two terms on City Council before becoming mayor in 2009.

Filing for local offices won’t open until July. But more than a dozen people have already said they plan to – or are at least thinking about – running to succeed Foxx. That includes at least four current members of City Council.

The mayor is, technically, a part-time position and she or he won’t vote on most issues that come before the council. But in many respects, the mayor is the round-the-clock face of Charlotte and can set the tone and agenda for the city.

“The mayor has a bully pulpit,” said at-large City Council member Claire Fallon. “He is really charged with bringing people together so they understand what has to be done and why it has to be done and how do we get it done.”

The profile of Charlotte’s mayor has grown in recent decades. Foxx’s predecessor, seven-term mayor Pat McCrory is now governor, and Foxx has been rumored for an Obama administration cabinet post.

State Sen. Malcolm Graham, a Democrat who is pondering a run as mayor, said the position has grown significantly more important during the last 10 or 15 years as the city’s power structure shifted.

Before, he said, the corporate community set the vision for Charlotte. Now that has moved to the mayor and city manager. Last week, Ron Carlee just started as Charlotte’s new city manager.

The mayor and city manager, Graham said, are now “not only required to set the vision for the city and the community but (are in charge of) finding ways of carrying it out.”

Several leaders interviewed Saturday said the next mayor will have to be able to bring people of all sectors in the community together, to communicate well and work alongside those in and outside of Charlotte.

Butting heads with lawmakers

A commonly-cited area that needs attention, leaders said, is the relationship between Charlotte and lawmakers in Raleigh.

In recent months, city and state leaders have butted heads on a number of issues, including a proposal to shift control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport from the city to a regional authority. The city also has been unsuccessful in getting a tax increase or state aid for renovations to Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers.

State Rep. Bill Brawley, a Republican from Matthews whose district includes part of Charlotte, said a lot of the problems the city has with the General Assembly are self-inflicted. He said it can be difficult for lawmakers to get answers from city leaders on issues, or can face criticism when they don’t go along with what the city wants.

“We have to work hard to get the votes for some of the things Charlotte wants,” Brawley said. “And when Charlotte insults the General Assembly (after we get the votes)... it does make the relationship a little tense.”

Tensions on City Council

Ray Eschert, president of the Ballantyne Breakfast Club, said the next mayor also will need to establish rapport within City Council.

Tensions ran high last year when a council majority, including some Democrats, rejected a $926 million capital plan pitched by former City Manager Curt Walton. The council still hasn’t approved another plan, with a proposed streetcar expansion being the major dividing point in talks.

Business leaders behind the airport authority push have said the city’s failure to pass a capital improvement plan, which would add roads around the airport, helped push the move to take Charlotte Douglas away from city control.

Eschert said the new mayor will need to juggle improving relations with both the state and City Council.

“You have to firm your base up in Charlotte so that when you go to the state legislature, you’re speaking with one voice, ” he said. “If I was a state legislator looking at the dysfunctionality that happens sometimes with City Council members, I don’t know how agreeable I would be.”

Council member Dulin called the streetcar “the barbed-wire dividing line in our community” and said the fight likely contributed to other problems the city now faces. He said removing the streetcar from discussions would allow the mayor and council to move forward on other issues they face.

Other vexing issues

Some of those other issues include finding ways to pay for other transportation projects and figuring out how to encourage economic development in the community.

Aisha Dew, chair of the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party, the council and next mayor must look for ways to boost small and women-owned businesses, and redevelop lagging areas of the city. She and Graham said revitalizing city corridors is especially important since Charlotte has annexed nearly all areas along its borders.

Eschert said a strong relationship with the Charlotte Chamber also will be key for the next mayor to attract and support businesses.

Edwin Peacock, a Republican and former City Council member who announced he’ll run for mayor, said resolving the Panthers stadium renovation and airport issues – in addition to tackling the budget and capital plans – are the most urgent issues facing the council in the coming months. He said those issues will almost certainly spill out onto the campaign trail.

Crowded primary season

Dew said the prospect of a crowded primary for city races – she knew of 16 possible City Council candidates before Foxx’s announcement – is exciting. She predicts candidates will be more focused on explaining their views on issues and what they’ll do while in office.

Dew said in the past year the Democratic National Convention dominated the attention of many Charlotte leaders.

Now, Dew said, “Politics will be the domain of our local officials again. And it’s good to have many people who are engaged.” Staff writers Ely Portillo and Michael Gordon contributed.

Bethea: 704-358-6013. On Twitter:@AprilBethea
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