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Old, new faces for Meck at-large

If voters go just on name recognition, Elaine Powell is in trouble. If they go on the candidate’s quality, she’ll be running for Mecklenburg County commissioner in November.

Powell is one of five Democrats – and the least well-known – running in the May 6 primary for a shot at serving on the Mecklenburg board of commissioners.

The five are competing for three spots on the November ballot. Only two Republicans are running at-large, so they have no primary.

The three one-term incumbents – Trevor Fuller, Pat Cotham and Kim Ratliff – all seek re-election. They are challenged by former City Council member Ella Scarborough and by Powell, a long-time volunteer making her first run for office.

Fuller, Cotham and Powell are the strongest candidates.

Fuller took over as board chairman in December after commissioners ousted Cotham from that role. His collegiality and steady demeanor was just what the board needed, and he quickly became a stabilizing force on a fractured body. He leads his fellow commissioners effectively and brings a thoughtful approach to issues. Among his early accomplishments: Helping lead the board in naming Dena Diorio as new county manager. The county and commissioners are beginning to put some of their most tumultuous issues behind them, which is in part a testament to Fuller’s (and Diorio’s) leadership.

Cotham is one of the more polarizing forces on the board, but she brings never-ending dedication to the work and an outsider’s fresh perspective and tough questions. She orchestrated the effort to fire then-County Manager Harry Jones, a move that was needed. She alienated her fellow Democrats too much to remain an effective chairman. But her voice on behalf of citizens and her willingness not to accept the way things have always been done are valuable.

Voters know less about Powell, but she knows Mecklenburg government well, serving the past 25 years as a volunteer in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and on county advisory panels, including waste management and the Parks and Recreation commission. She has demonstrated an impressive work ethic and an open mind, slow to jump to conclusions and eager to hear all perspectives, including, importantly, from rank-and-file citizens. Reluctant to just go along with the majority, she does her homework and asks tough questions. Others describe her as a collaborator; she describes herself as a “deescalator.” Formerly a clinical nutritionist, she says health and stewardship of green spaces are her biggest passions. Mecklenburg needs people like her willing to serve in public office; she would be an asset to the board.

District 2: Burrell

In this west Mecklenburg district, incumbent Vilma Leake faces political newcomer Dondhi Burrell. There’s no Republican running in 2014.

Leake continues to be an erratic, divisive member of the board. Last year, during a meeting of commissioners, she called fellow Democrat Dumont Clarke, who is white, a racist. Even more disturbing, the Observer reported Friday that witnesses saw Leake jab fellow commissioner Pat Cotham in the head at an event last month. Leake denied she did so intentionally; Cotham reluctantly confirmed to the editorial board that it happened.

Burrell shows a solid grasp of the issues important to his district. We recommend him.

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