Two years ago, when the Democrats gained a 9-2 majority on the Charlotte City Council, some assumed that former Mayor Anthony Foxx’s agenda would advance easily.
But despite their supermajority, the Democrats often found themselves split into factions.
On one side was Democrat James Mitchell, a District 2 representative. He was usually aligned with Foxx.
On the other side was Democrat Patrick Cannon, the mayor pro tem who was elected citywide. He was often a counterweight to Foxx’s agenda.
Mitchell and Cannon – with 30 years on council between them – are the front-runners for the Democratic mayoral primary, which is Tuesday. They face businessman Gary Dunn and former housing commissioner Lucille Puckett.
The winner meets the winner of the Republican primary between former council member Edwin Peacock and David Michael Rice in the November general election.
Cannon and Mitchell have differed during the last council term, most notably over a nearly $1 billion capital improvement program and a plan to extend a streetcar line.
But their voting records also show that they sometimes aligned, even on issues that divided other council members, such as a proposal to allow city workers in unions to have their dues deposited directly from their paychecks.
And on other issues, they voted together – though they took disparate paths to get there.
Here are some of the key council decisions over the past two years, and how Cannon and Mitchell voted.
In June 2011, the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority was embroiled in controversy over the performance of then-chief executive Tim Newman.
Weeks before delegates and reporters were scheduled to arrive for the Democratic National Convention, Foxx made one of his boldest moves as mayor. He led a push to withhold $7.5 million in tourism funds to the CRVA, using the money as leverage so the CRVA board would remove Newman from the top job.
In a contentious 7-4 vote, council members voted to withhold the money.
Mitchell voted to withhold the money from the CRVA. Cannon voted against Foxx’s plan, and wanted the CRVA to receive the tourism money.
“It was about accountability,” Mitchell said in a recent interview. “The mayor had tried other ways of reaching out. We had to send a message.”
Cannon said the money was needed for the CRVA to market the city.
“I didn’t think it was a wise move to do that,” Cannon said.
Cannon has received political support from the hospitality industry and some CRVA board members. He said those campaign contributions have no bearing on his votes.
“I would hope they would give based on who they believe is for good government,” Cannon said.
Facing the loss of millions of dollars, the CRVA board demoted Newman. The City Council released the money.
City, county consolidation
Throughout his first term, Foxx lobbied to combine city and county government. His plan would have created one local government, with one elected body and one manager.
In December 2011, the City Council narrowly approved a study on how to move forward by a 6-5 vote.
Mitchell voted for the study. Cannon voted against it.
The narrow margin of the vote indicated that the City Council wasn’t serious about the consolidation plan. The push died soon after, when Mecklenburg County commissioners declined to participate in a study.
Mitchell said consolidation could be a good idea. He said the five “no” votes killed the effort.
“The county looked at it and said, ‘We don’t have to move forward with this,’ ” Mitchell said.
Cannon said he voted “no” because he wanted to consult the other municipalities in Mecklenburg.
Chiquita and UTC incentives
In December 2011, the City Council voted to give Chiquita Brands International a financial package to entice the company to move its headquarters from Cincinnati to Charlotte.
The decision was controversial because the incentives were outside of the city’s usual framework for offering subsidies.
Chiquita received $5 million in upfront money from the city for moving expenses.
The City Council approved the incentives in a 7-3 vote. Both Mitchell and Cannon voted “yes.”
They also later approved unorthodox incentives for United Technologies Corp., which moved an aerospace division to Charlotte from Connecticut.
Knights’ uptown stadium
BB&T Stadium, the new home for the Charlotte Knights, is nearing completion.
But more than a year ago, the AAA baseball team said it couldn’t move forward unless it received city money. The team had previously only asked Mecklenburg County for financial assistance.
Both Cannon and Mitchell voted in June 2012 to give the Knights $8 million for the construction of the team’s new uptown baseball stadium.
Mitchell was an ardent supporter of helping the Knights financially and was perhaps the council’s lead negotiator with the team.
Cannon was interested in helping the team, though he pushed back against the original proposal. He said he wanted to give taxpayers a better deal.
The first proposal from city staff and the team called for the Knights to receive $11 million. Some of that money would come from new property taxes created by expected retail, apartments and offices that would be built around the stadium.
The final deal called for the team’s $8 million to primarily come from existing hospitality taxes that were used by the CRVA. Center City Partners would also pay $725,000 of the $8 million total.
Cannon’s proposal meant the CRVA had less money to spend on promoting the city. But in keeping all new property-tax revenue, it produced more revenue that could be used for multiple purposes, such as roads, sidewalks and police.
“I did not want to use property taxes,” Cannon said.
Mitchell said he supported the final deal. But he said one downside is that the Knights received the money upfront, while they would have received the property tax money only after the stadium and new development were built.
CIP and streetcar
In June 2012, the City Council was rocked when then-City Manager Curt Walton’s $926 million capital budget was defeated by a 6-5 vote.
Mitchell was in favor of the capital improvement program and the streetcar from the start.
Cannon was one of the six council members who voted against the CIP. One of his main concerns was that the streetcar – which was part of the CIP – would be paid for with a property tax increase. During a budget meeting in June of that year, he also questioned how effective the streetcar would be as a transportation and economic impact tool.
That month, Cannon supported a smaller CIP without the streetcar. That plan passed with six votes, but Foxx vetoed it.
Negotiations over the CIP and the streetcar continued for months, with Mitchell and Cannon on different sides of the issue.
At times, council members yelled at one another, though Mitchell and Cannon didn’t directly engage.
In May of 2013, Ron Carlee, the new city manager, created a new funding method for the streetcar. It relied on receiving a $63 million federal grant, as well as using city reserves that weren’t funded with property taxes.
Both Mitchell and Cannon voted for that streetcar plan in May.
Cannon said he could support it because removing the tax increase “protected” people such as seniors and low-income residents.
Both candidates voted for the CIP in June. The CIP passed 9-2, with the two Republicans voting no.
Eastland Mall purchase
The City Council had once passed on buying Eastland Mall, saying the price was too high. But in August 2012, the city got another chance to buy the mall and its 80 acres at a significantly lower price of $13.2 million.
Both Cannon and Mitchell voted “yes.”
Though some conservatives were upset by the decision to buy the mall, the vote on council was unanimous, with Republicans Warren Cooksey and Andy Dulin also supporting the purchase.
Council members haven’t yet decided whether to strike a deal with movie executive Bert Hesse to develop the site into movie studios, retail space and offices. That decision will probably come in late 2013 or early 2014.
Carolina Theatre sale
In December 2012, Cannon and Mitchell split on who should redevelop the Carolina Theatre on North Tryon Street.
Mitchell supported a proposal from the Foundation for the Carolinas, which ultimately won the right to remake the landmark.
Cannon supported a proposal from Rick and Noah Lazes, who had developed the N.C. Music Factory.
The Foundation’s deal calls for the city to sell the theater for $1. The Lazes had proposed paying $500,000 for the building.
“It was about whether we should sell it for $1 versus $500,000,” Cannon said.
Mitchell said he supported the foundation’s proposal because of its plan to use the new development for “civic engagement.”
“(The Lazeses’) vision belongs at the Music Factory,” Mitchell said.
Union dues from paychecks
Since the DNC, the United Electrical Workers Local 150 has been trying to recruit city workers, particularly those in the sanitation department.
The union and other labor activists were pushing for what they called a “worker’s bill of rights,” which included the ability for city workers who were members of the union to have their dues deposited to their union directly from their paychecks.
The city already allowed employees to make charitable donations from their paychecks.
In January, the City Council voted 6-5 to allow city workers in unions to have their dues deposited directly from their paycheck.
Both Mitchell and Cannon voted to allow the deductions.
City manager hire
When then-City Manager Walton announced in late 2012 that he would be retiring, Foxx said the city should be serious about hiring an outside candidate to succeed him.
In February, the City Council had narrowed the search to three finalists: internal candidates Ron Kimble and Ruffin Hall, and Ron Carlee, a former manager of Arlington County, Va.
The Charlotte City Council voted 11-1 to hire Carlee in February.
The lone “no” vote was Cannon.
During closed-session meetings when the hiring was discussed, Mitchell supported hiring Carlee.
“Ron brought us what we needed – outsider expertise,” Mitchell said this week.
Mitchell said Carlee’s streetcar financing plan, which relies on the city securing a $63 million federal grant, is an example of the manager’s success.
Cannon said he voted “no” to show his support for Kimble, the deputy city manager.
“I felt that Ron Carlee would still come in and do a good job,” Cannon said. “It was the idea than Ron Kimble had previous experience with neighborhood leadership from a previous role as city manager (in Greenville, N.C.).”
In April, council members voted 10-0 to give the Carolina Panthers $87.5 million for stadium improvements in exchange for a six-year firm commitment to keep the team in Charlotte.
Kimble and City Attorney Bob Hagemann led the negotiations with the NFL team, though Mitchell was a key council member involved in the discussions.
Mitchell never wavered in his desire to give the team money, and at one point, he wore a Panthers jersey to a City Council meeting.
He was ultimately successful in that the city and the team reached a deal.
But the path was bumpy, and the city arguably overreached when it asked the General Assembly to increase the prepared food and beverage tax from 1 penny to 2 cents over 30 years.
That would have raised hundreds of millions of additional dollars than the city needed in the short term. Mitchell said the surplus could have been used to build the Panthers a new stadium in 2028 and for amateur sports.
Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly rejected that plan.
Mitchell said in retrospect, he would have asked for a penny increase for 15 years instead of 30 years.
“We lost that argument,” Mitchell said. “We should have just asked for a penny over 15 years. But at the end of the day, a lot of Republicans had taken a no-tax pledge.”
Legislators only let Charlotte use existing revenue from the Convention Center fund to help the team.
Cannon didn’t vote on the proposal, citing a business conflict of interest. An executive of a parking lot management company, Cannon said the company handles some Panthers game-day parking.
In April, the City Council added race and gender-specific goals for companies who receive city contracts. Both Mitchell and Cannon voted for the controversial change.
The city had stopped having race and gender goals a decade ago because it feared litigation. The city instead focused on trying to steer city contracts to small businesses, hoping that female- and minority-owned firms would benefit.
Both mayoral candidates supported the change.
In 2010, a consultant, MGT America, found that minority- and female-owned firms weren’t receiving as much work as the city had hoped. MGT, however, did not recommend any changes to the city’s small-business program.
Mitchell pushed for the city to hire a second consultant, the Baltimore law firm Tydings & Rosenburg. It recommended that the city set specific goals for such firms.
Cannon said he and Mitchell were part of a small group of council members a decade ago who wanted the city to keep the race and gender targets.
Creation of airport authority
Both Cannon and Mitchell have opposed the General Assembly’s efforts to shift control of the airport to an authority and then to a 13-member commission.
Both voted in favor of a resolution in closed session saying the city would “vigorously” defend its ownership and control of the airport.
That ultimately led to the city’s lawsuit in July to stop legislation in the General Assembly to create an airport authority.
But in a recent campaign mailer, Mitchell said he was “leading” the effort to keep the airport, while Cannon is “ready to throw in the towel” and won’t stand up to Republicans.
Cannon said Mitchell’s comments are a “total misrepresentation” of his position.
Cannon said the entire council deserves equal credit for trying to stop the airport transfer.
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