Dan Clodfelter was swarmed by the media minutes after being appointed Charlotte mayor on Monday night, cameras and bright lights and recorders thrust in his face.
“Are you excited?” one reporter asked.
“Well, nervous!” Clodfelter replied. “I don’t know when that translates to excitement.”
Asked why he was nervous, Clodfelter said: “Suppose you were in the same position. Wouldn’t you have just a little bit of self-doubt?”
A Davidson and Yale Law graduate, a Rhodes Scholar and one of the state’s leading legislators – nervous about being mayor?
Sure. Three questions sprinkled throughout the press conference showed why – and they didn’t come from the press.
• After a few questions from reporters, an elderly woman worked her way through the scrum and tapped Clodfelter. “Who are you? We in the black community don’t know who you are. Who are you? … No, we don’t need you.”
• A cab company owner who had lost business at the airport asked Clodfelter what he was going to do about it. “Sir!” Clodfelter said. “I don’t even know that issue until I read it in the press about two or three days ago. Give me some time, please. I’ll learn the issue and catch up with you on this. You’re way ahead of me on this.”
• A resident asked Clodfelter what he would do about the homeless, and about an overpass where trucks get stuck. “You and I are going to talk more about those things in the coming days,” Clodfelter averred.
Before he’s even sworn in at noon today, Clodfelter faces people who are suspicious of him, people who want him to help their bottom lines and people who want him to be up on the nitty-gritty of city business.
He also faces a fractured City Council and a public ranging from mildly unsettled to convinced that the arrest of former Mayor Patrick Cannon on federal corruption charges shows elected officials are all a bunch of crooks.
That’s a full plate, enough to grab any new mayor’s attention. Clodfelter, known for relishing a dive into the minutiae of policy over cutting ribbons, will be out of his comfort zone at times and forced to learn on the fly. Despite his long track record in elective office, he’ll face unfamiliar terrain and fill a role he’s never filled.
The enthusiastic James Mitchell, who the council considered for the job, would have been the more traditional meet-and-greet “face of the city” Charlotte has come to expect from its mayor. But Clodfelter is the face the city needs now, even if it’s unlike those of the past 20 years or more, because he is most capable of bringing stability to a deeply shaken environment. (And he’ll need help from the council and city staff.)
He started trying to rebuild trust Monday night, reassuring the city: “This is Charlotte. Nothing has changed about Charlotte, and this didn’t shape any part of what makes Charlotte. We’re going to move on from this.”
His top priority, he said, is to restore people’s confidence in Charlotte and local government. He’s likely to do that, even as he appreciates the gravity of the situation.
“Anybody who comes into a position like this without some questioning and self-doubt is maybe not the person you want to have in the position,” he said. “I’m up for the challenge, I’m ready to go to work.”
He can’t start soon enough.
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