About 600 of Charlotte’s 516,118 registered voters – a little over one-tenth of one percent – have cast early ballots for next week’s primary election. We hope that paltry showing will change quickly as early voting expands to eight additional locations this week, because a lot rides on this fall’s campaigns: Charlotte will elect a new mayor to succeed Anthony Foxx and close to half of the City Council could turn over.
Today, the Observer editorial board kicks off its political endorsements with our recommendations for mayor. Every year, the editorial board gets to know the candidates, reviews their records, talks to people who know them well and does other research to determine who we think would make the most effective public officials.
We do this for two main reasons. First, it’s in our blood. We wake up every morning eager to weigh in on public affairs. There are few more fundamental questions in public life than who will represent the people in office. So commenting on who we believe would make the most valuable elected leaders comes naturally. Second, the typical voter doesn’t have the time or desire to research the dozens of candidates (a mere 54 for Charlotte and school board seats in this off-year) who fill the ballot. We have the desire, and we make the time.
Without further ado…
Mayor – Democrats
Four Democrats are on the ballot for the Sept. 10 primary, including two with extensive experience in local politics. We recommend James “Smuggie” Mitchell.
Mitchell has represented District 2, covering much of north and west Charlotte, on the City Council for the past 14 years. He chairs the economic development committee and established himself as a loyal lieutenant to former Mayor Foxx over the past four years.
In Charlotte’s form of government, the mayor has little official power. The city manager runs the day-to-day operations and the City Council sets policy. So the mayor’s effectiveness stems from his ability to work productively with the council and the manager, to articulate a vision and to persuade people to follow his lead. Without the confidence and trust of those around him, the Charlotte mayor can quickly lose relevance.
Mitchell has built trusting relationships with council members, city staff, the business community and other stakeholders over the years. He has earned their respect and could better craft coalitions to help the city continue to thrive. By being a team player, Mitchell can become a persuasive leader for the city.
Mitchell is a hard worker and most recently threw himself into two of the council’s bigger matters of the past term: Helping the Carolina Panthers renovate Bank of America stadium and moving the Charlotte Knights to uptown. His leadership was vital to each of those projects coming to fruition, developments that we think will enhance Charlotte.
In 2011, Mitchell served as president of the National League of Cities, a stint he and others say enriched his understanding of municipal government and built a network of connections nationwide.
We have some concern about Mitchell’s lack of fiscal conservatism. While we believe in smart investments to keep Charlotte moving forward, we also appreciate the need to be good stewards of every tax dollar. Mitchell supported much more generous approaches to the Panthers, Knights, streetcar and other projects than we did, and we hope the new City Council will include some new members who balance public investments with the burden on taxpayers.
Cannon was first elected to the City Council in 1993 at the age of 26. He currently serves as mayor pro tem, a role he touts frequently on the campaign trail. It is an entirely ceremonial one, however, and has little value as preparation for the top job. Cannon has a strong grasp of the details of city government, but has alienated a large number of his colleagues over the years with what they consider a less-than-selfless approach. He would have more difficulty winning the council’s support on initiatives he might push as mayor.
Both Cannon and Mitchell have their limitations, but Mitchell strikes us as the more likely to be aware of those limitations and willing to turn to others for guidance, a valuable trait.
The other two Democrats, Gary Dunn and Lucille Puckett, have not shown themselves to be serious candidates.
Mayor – Republicans
Former City Council member Edwin Peacock III faces a token challenge from perennial candidate David Michael Rice. Rice is not a serious contender and we recommend Peacock.
Peacock was an effective at-large council member for four years before his surprise ouster as part of a Democratic landslide in 2011. He lost a 10-way primary for the 9th congressional district last year after positioning himself as the only moderate in the Republican field. He typically puts problem-solving ahead of partisan politics, a trait this city could stand more of. He would represent the Republican Party well against Cannon or Mitchell.
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