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Mitchell, Cannon spar over airport

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Democratic mayoral candidates Patrick Cannon, left, and James Mitchell, right.

Charlotte mayoral candidate James Mitchell has made Charlotte Douglas International Airport an issue in his Democratic primary fight with Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon, with Mitchell saying Cannon won’t “fight” for the city’s interests.

Cannon said Mitchell’s comments – which were also part of a campaign mailer this week – are a “total misrepresentation” of his position on the airport.

The Charlotte City Council has been divided over issues such as the streetcar, but council members have been unified against the GOP-led General Assembly’s efforts to transfer the airport to an authority or a commission.

Mitchell, a council member, held a news conference Thursday in which he said Cannon’s position was “the same” with Republican state. Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews, a co-sponsor of the airport legislation. In his campaign mailer, Mitchell said Cannon wouldn’t “stand up” to Republicans.

Cannon said that isn’t true.

“The senator is for an authority and I’m not,” Cannon said. “Nor does any periodical or broadcast suggest that. It’s a total misrepresentation.”

Most of the City Council’s discussions have taken place in closed session.

But Cannon voted in closed session for the city to “vigorously” defend against attempts to take the airport. That position led to the city filing a lawsuit in July after the legislature passed a bill to create an airport authority.

Mitchell singled Cannon out for comments he made at a forum in which he said the city would “need to look at other options” concerning the airport. Cannon said the city needed to prepare for the possibility of losing the airport.

Other city leaders have made comments suggesting they were concerned they were losing the fight for the airport.

Former Mayor Anthony Foxx said in April the legislation had a “whiff of inevitability.” City Manager Ron Carlee had proposed a number of alternatives that would have ended complete City Council control of the airport.

Mitchell said in his campaign mailer that he is “leading” the fight to keep the airport.

Most of the public comments about the airport have been made by Carlee or Mayor Patsy Kinsey. Mitchell said Thursday he has led by driving to Raleigh to meet with delegation members, among other conversations with legislators.

Cannon said “everyone on council has shown some level of leadership” on the airport issue.

Both Mitchell and Cannon have supported an alternative to the city keeping complete control of the airport.

The City Council in July proposed that an 11-member commission help govern the airport. That proposal was similar to the final bill passed by the General Assembly, which created a 13-member commission to run the airport.

One important difference between the city proposal and the final bill is that the City Council would appoint all members of the commission under the city proposal. In addition, the City Council would have still kept some control over airport operations.

Cannon and Mitchell are fighting to win the Democratic primary for mayor on Sept. 10. Early voting began last week.

There are two other Democrats in the race: Gary Mitchell Dunn and Lucille Puckett.

The winner will likely face Republican Edwin Peacock in the general election.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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