With both south Charlotte City Councilmen not seeking re-election, some residents say they want their next representatives to give them a stronger voice on a majority-Democrat council.
Districts 6 and 7 historically have been Republican strongholds, and the only conservative voices on the council.
The turnover means these two districts could reshape the strategy for navigating the council as a minority voice.
Warren Cooksey, Republican councilman for District 7, announced July 8 that he would not seek re-election. Cooksey has served the district, which includes the Arboretum and Ballantyne, since 2007.
In January, Republican Andy Dulin announced he would not seek re-election for District 6, which includes Madison Park and Myers Park. Dulin has served as the District 6 representative since 2005.
“The new representatives will have to go in knowing they’re going to be in a minority,” said Dulin. “They’re going to need to be relationship builders.”
Soon after Cooksey’s announcement, two people filed as District 7 candidates. District 6 is the more hotly contested as of press time, with three candidates filing.
During the last two years, Dulin and Cooksey have been the council’s only two Republicans among 11 members. In 2012, the two helped block a proposed $926 million capital plan that would have resulted in an 8 percent property-tax increase. Along with four Democrats, the two voted to pass a smaller capital plan, later vetoed by Democratic Mayor Anthony Foxx.
Ultimately, the council voted 7-4 to scrap the capital program and maintain the property-tax rate.
Martin Doss, president of the Madison Park homeowners association, said three candidates already have approached him about speaking at a community meeting.
Doss doesn’t mind the attention; he said he thinks it will help residents pick the best candidate.
“We want somebody who listens to the neighborhood and works with us,” he said. “If they have a different opinion, let us know up front, because we don’t like finding out at City Council meetings.”
Many District 7 residents echoed frustrations of not getting a fair share of taxpayer dollars.
“They basically say, ‘You folks can afford to go private, so to heck with you,’ ” said Geraldine Martin, a resident of Providence Country Club. “It’s a problem when money is being spent that we have no say about and that doesn’t benefit us at all.”
Ray Eschert, organizer for the Ballantyne Breakfast Club (an open group that meets every other month to discuss issues that affect south Charlotte), said many residents do not think capital-improvement money is equally dispersed throughout the city.
In 2012, some south Charlotte residents lobbied to secede from the city because of what they saw as ever-increasing taxes that offered little return for the area. They discussed creating the town of Providence and an independent school district. The effort ultimately was dismantled after a consultant pointed out that de-annexation was more complex than residents originally thought.
The successful candidate will identify with these sentiments and work for more equality on the City Council, said Eschert.
Eschert also would like to see a candidate with a strong financial background who understands the long-term financial effect of decisions by the council, he said.
“We need someone who can say, ‘The path you’re thinking about taking is not financially astute. It’s incorrect and it’s going to cost us money,’ ” said Eschert.
Dulin said stormwater funding also is likely to become a big issue in his district. He said that, between 2005 and 2013, the department lost 100 employees because of budget cuts.
“I think the city needs to be spending more money on stormwater prevention,” said Dulin. “I hope they will throw some money at that.”
Eschert said he hopes the next District 7 council member continues to hold weekly coffee meetings with constituents, just as Cooksey did. However, he hopes the meetings are less political, he said.
“It’s something that needs to be continued,” he said, “but the meetings tended to be a Republican rally rather than something that was more inclusive of neighborhood issues.”
The Republican primary is Sept. 10, with the general election Nov. 5.
Eschert said he is planning candidate meetings and debates to help the public know the candidates running in south Charlotte.
“This primary season is going to be very interesting,” he said. “What’s important is that people know who these candidates are.”
Arriero: 704-358-5945; On Twitter; @earriero
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