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Forum draws differences among at-large candidates

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A forum featuring eight Charlotte City Council candidates Tuesday found little support for a streetcar, grudging support for business incentives and lingering resentment over the state’s effort to transfer control of the airport.

Eight contenders for four at-large seats met for a forum at WTVI sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Taking part were four Democrats, a Libertarian and three of four Republicans. Republican Vanessa Faura did not attend.

Candidates divided over the streetcar, which advocates see as an east-west connector.

Three Democrats, incumbents Michael Barnes and David Howard and newcomer Vi Alexander Lyles, supported it as part of a long-range transportation plan.

Incumbent Democrat Claire Fallon continued to oppose it. She said she favors a light-rail line that would connect the east and west sides.

Libertarian Eric Cable said he’s “not a fan” of the proposed streetcar. Republican Mark Frietch opposes it and questions ridership projections, particularly on the west side.

Republican Dennis Peterson said a streetcar isn’t “cost-justified.” And Republican Ken Harris said not only did the streetcar leap-frog other projects but no one knows where the money to pay for it will come from.

Most candidates supported incentives for businesses, though support was generally reluctant.

“We’re in a war,” Fallon said. “We’re in a war with Tennessee, South Carolina and Virginia. If we eliminate (incentives), then where do we get jobs?”

Some candidates alluded to the $87.5 million the city gave the Carolina Panthers this year for stadium upgrades. In exchange, the team got a six-year “hard tether” that would keep the team here for the near future.

“A lot of people felt we jumped the gun on that and put money in pockets where it didn’t have to be put,” Harris said.

Barnes, who has voted for some incentives and opposed others, defended the Panthers’ money.

“What would this city be like if the Panthers left town?” he said.

Peterson criticized the decision as an effort to help “special interests” with public money. He also criticized the process with which the city made the decision, which at one point involved private meetings with team officials.

Incentives, Peterson said, create “a culture of cronyism where the city council goes behind closed doors and raises taxes.”

Turning to jobs, Barnes touted this year’s $816 million capital improvement plan, which supporters say will create 18,000.

Frietch said those jobs would be spread out over more than two decades. “That doesn’t mean higher job growth,” he said.

He and Fallon said the city should invest more in small businesses.

Howard advocated adopting an international investment strategy, with more involvement from Charlotte-area colleges.

Lyles urged more job training and city investment in apprenticeship and skills programs.

The Republicans also called for fewer city regulations on business.

On the airport, two Democrats expressed strong feelings about the Republican-controlled legislature’s move to transfer control first to an independent authority and then to a city-affiliated commission. A hearing is scheduled Friday on a lawsuit brought by the city to stop the transfer.

Fallon called it “a grab from Raleigh.” Barnes called it “the attack from Raleigh.”

Republicans Peterson and Frietch said they didn’t see it as a partisan issue.

“The incumbents haven’t had a strong enough relationship with Raleigh and that’s what I want to bring,” Frietch said.

At one point, moderator Sean Flynn of News 14 asked the candidates to fill in the blank: “By 2020 the city of Charlotte will ...”

“I think people will be looking back at the mayoral and council elections of 2013,” Cable said, “and think they either did the right thing or the wrong thing.”

Morrill: 704-358-5059
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