In an increasingly Democratic city, Charlotte City Council District 6 remains a Republican enclave.
When four-term council member Andy Dulin decided not to run for re-election, his departure attracted four Republican candidates who are competing in the Sept. 10 primary. The winner will get a spot on the City Council, as there are no Democrats or candidates from other parties in the race.
Early voting started Thursday.
The four candidates – Ken Lindholm, Kate Payerle, James Peterson and Kenny Smith – have covered much of south Charlotte with their lawn signs, a sign of how contested the race has become.
The winner is likely to be in the minority. Democrats have a 9-2 City Council majority, with the two Republicans coming from the SouthPark-area District 6 and Ballantyne-area District 7.
Payerle, an attorney with Robinson Bradshaw, and Smith, who is in commercial real estate with New South Properties, have raised the most money. Payerle has raised $67,150 and Smith has collected $63,157. That’s more than some candidates who are running for citywide at-large seats.
All four candidates are either opposed to the city’s recent $816 million capital improvement program, or have some reservation about the size of the spending program and how the city is moving forward.
The capital program is funded by a 7.25 percent property tax increase. Most of the money will be spent outside District 6, in less affluent areas of the city that City Council believes need help.
Payerle, of Cotswold, said the capital program was “reckless” in that the city didn’t do a cost-benefit analysis to see whether the proposed projects would deliver the projected economic impact.
“A private investor would do a cost-benefit analysis. The city never did any analysis,” Payerle said. “The result could be a tax increase followed by a second tax increase. It was not a well-thought-out plan.”
When asked whether there was a capital plan that she could support that would require a property tax increase, Payerle said it’s unlikely. She said the city’s ability to find $63 million in matching funds to build a streetcar shows that there is money in the budget for capital projects.
She said she is running to bring back what she calls the “culture” of having professionals serve on the council, while holding full-time jobs. She said she isn’t a “fist-pounder,” and will work with members of both parties.
Earlier this year, the City Council voted to give the Carolina Panthers $87.5 million for improvements to Bank of America Stadium. Payerle said she isn’t in a position to say how she would have voted on that subsidy, though she criticized council members for holding a number of meetings in closed session.
“I would have encouraged council to avoid the secrecy,” she said.
Payerle said she believes the 13-member commission to run Charlotte Douglas is a good “compromise” that retains the city’s ownership of the airport.
Smith, of Barclay Downs, said he has considered running for City Council for a decade. His “fiscally conservative” viewpoint is underrepresented on the council, he said.
“Too many members of current council think your money is theirs to spend,” Smith said.
Like Payerle, Smith said he would have voted against the capital improvement program. He also criticized recent council decisions to give the Panthers $87.5 million and to buy the old Eastland Mall for $13.2 million.
“What you hear in District 6 is that people are fed up with reckless spending,” Smith said. “Your average taxpayer has a hard time understanding why the Panthers need $87.5 million. I think a lot of voters feel detached from the uptown crowd.”
Smith has been president of his neighborhood homeowners association. He said he worked with the city to get pedestrian crossing lights at Runnymede Lane and Barclay Downs Drive.
He said he would model his council tenure similarly to Dulin’s tenure. Dulin was known as being accessible to residents.
“(The voters) want to know you will be there to serve them,” Smith said. “Andy has done a great job with constituent services.”
Smith said he does not oppose an airport authority, but he said he believes “local decisions should be made at the local level.”
Lindholm and Peterson have considerably less money. Peterson has $3,164 and Lindholm has raised $1,700.
Peterson, who lives in Barclay Downs, said residents tell him there is a large disconnect between residents and local government. He said the city has too many unnecessary rules and regulations that deter developers.
“It takes weeks or months to go through the process,” said Peterson, who works in financial services. “They spend thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. It comes back to the person building the townhome or apartment.”
He praised Dulin’s record of working with residents to solve problems. He also praised Democrat Pat Cotham on the Board of County Commissioners, and said he would act quickly to enact change if elected.
“She’s done a tremendous job in trying to straighten things out,” Peterson said.
He said he would have voted against the capital program. He also said he thinks construction projects should be paid for with existing revenue, rather than a tax increase.
Peterson, who has previously run for county commissioner, said he generally opposes giving taxpayer funds to private businesses such as the Panthers.
But he said he felt it was important for the city to create a “tether” to keep the team in Charlotte.
“That has pulled me in both ways,” he said. “I’m not sure of the resolution.”
Lindholm, who lives in Park Crossing, had run for county commissioner in 2012. He said the capital improvement program could have been improved, possibly scaling back items such as the millions of dollars slated to remake Bojangles’ Coliseum for amateur sports.
“Do we need to build Taj Mahal police and fire stations?” Lindholm said. “Could we have saved some money?”
When asked whether he could support a possible plan that would have a tax increase of any size, Lindholm said he couldn’t say definitively.
“My answer is that it’s irresponsible of any council member – Republican or Democrat – to say they won’t support a tax increase,” Lindholm said. “I can’t say I would vote against something or for something if you don’t know the circumstances.”
He said he would have voted against the city’s deal to give the Panthers $87.5 million.
“Those funds were earmarked for the Convention Center,” Lindholm said.
He said money used for the Panthers or to build a streetcar could have built “hundreds of miles of sidewalks.”
“How do you look someone in the eye on West Tyvola Road and tell them you are giving money for the baseball stadium?”
Lindholm had been a residential home developer, though the recession ended his business. He is now a high school teacher.
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