In 1983, a Republican businessman named Ed Peacock ran for mayor of Charlotte. He lost to Democrat Harvey Gantt, who made history as the city’s first African-American mayor.
Fast forward 30 years.
Now Peacock’s son Edwin is running for mayor. Though he could face another black Democrat, the race won’t make the kind of history his father’s did.
That’s because over three decades Charlotte – and Charlotte politics – have changed as dramatically as the city’s skyline.
In 1983, Ronald Reagan was still in his first term as president. Bobby Allison was on his way to NASCAR’s Winston Cup. The NFL and NBA were pipedreams in what was still a minor league city, where cornfields grew south of N.C. 51.
Charlotte was mostly white. African Americans made up 30 percent of the population. Democrats outnumbered Republicans, even if many were Southern conservatives who would go on to become Republicans. Independents were few.
But Charlotte was on the cusp of big changes.
Banking was helping make it a boomtown. The population jumped. In 1980, there were 315,000 people in Charlotte. Now, despite the Great Recession, there are nearly 800,000.
The population not only grew, it changed.
After an influx of people from other regions and even other countries, non-Hispanic whites make up less than half the city’s population. Blacks account for 35 percent, according to the 2010 census.
As in 1983, Democratic voters still vastly outnumber Republicans. But so do independent voters. And nearly 38 percent of the city’s electorate is African American.
In 1983, Gantt captured 42 percent of the white vote in winning election. It was one of the highest margins ever by a black candidate in a biracial mayoral race anywhere. Now a black candidate no longer needs that much.
In 2009, Anthony Foxx – who has since gone on to become U.S. Transportation secretary – became the city’s second black mayor and first Democrat since Gantt. This year demographics and voting changes mean a Democrat will actually be favored to win. (Charlotte voters will elect a new city council as well as a mayor; Election Day is Nov. 5.)
Edwin Peacock III is expected to be the Republican nominee for mayor, just like his father. Democrats will choose between a field that includes two city council members, Patrick Cannon and James Mitchell. Both are African Americans, just like Harvey Gantt.
In 1983, Edwin Peacock helped his father put up campaign signs. This year, Ed Peacock will put them up for his son.
“For me, it’s very nostalgic,” says the younger Peacock.
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