Pledging to rebuild Charlotte’s trust in government after “the world seemed to have turned upside down,” Dan Clodfelter was sworn in as mayor Wednesday, replacing Patrick Cannon, who resigned nearly two weeks ago after his arrest on federal corruption charges.
In an emotional speech, Clodfelter, 63, said “old-fashioned values” would help heal the city. Clodfelter, who has been a state senator since 1999, did not lay out his vision for how the city government should move forward over the next 20 months, joking that “I have not been carrying a 10-point plan in my back pocket.”
Clodfelter repeatedly invoked the date Cannon was arrested.
“On March 26, the world seemed to have turned upside down,” he said. “This is the city that makes things happen. How it could be?”
Moments before he took the oath of office, Clodfelter appeared to tear up. He took the oath of office next to his wife, Elizabeth Bevan, and one of this two daughters, Catherine Clodfelter, 27.
He is the city’s fourth mayor in less than a year.
Clodfelter, a former City Council member, was appointed to the mayor’s position by the City Council Monday night. Council members deliberated for a week over who should be picked, with a small majority siding with Clodfelter over former council member James “Smuggie” Mitchell.
Four of 11 council members voted for Mitchell in an earlier motion: David Howard, LaWana Mayfield, John Autry and Al Austin. After that, when Clodfelter was nominated, the vote was 10-1.
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Barnes, who voted for Clodfelter, said Clodfelter told him he would not run for the office in the November 2015 election.
Barnes and two other at-large council members – Vi Lyles and Howard – are believed to be interested in running for mayor in the future.
In an interview before the ceremony, Clodfelter left open the possibility of holding the office longer.
“I have told council members with an interest in the topic, that if that’s important to them (to not run for re-election) it’s something I would be willing to do,” Clodfelter said. “I don’t have any interest in this as a long-term career.”
But Clodfelter said he would consider putting his name on the ballot if council members believed it’s a good idea.
“I have also said, ‘Hey, if we get down the road ... and if we agree it’s working out pretty cool, I might want to talk to you.’ ”
When Anthony Foxx became mayor in 2009, he attempted a number of bold issues, including combining city and county government.
Patsy Kinsey, who filled the remainder of his seat for five months, did not offer any major policy vision for the city. Cannon also didn’t propose anything dramatic in his first four months.
Clodfelter said he wouldn’t stray from that recent pattern.
“I don’t intend to try and walk in here without an elected mandate and tell the council that they have their priorities wrong,” he said. “If, after I have listened, and learned a lot, if I spot some areas where I might want to make a suggestion, I’m not bashful in doing that.”
Before Clodfelter’s term ends, the city may enter into a second round of negotiations with the Carolina Panthers over extending their agreement with the city to remain in Charlotte.
Last year, the city agreed to give the Panthers $87.5 million for stadium improvements in exchange for a firm six-year commitment to stay in Charlotte. If the city brings $50 million in new money to the team before August 2015, the two sides can re-open negotiations.
Clodfelter said he won’t take part in the debate because his law firm, Moore & Van Allen, represents the team. That means another elected official will likely be tasked with being the city’s public face on any deal.
“I don’t think that’s going to damage the city’s position,” he said.
Clodfelter said he supports the city’s position about keeping control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The General Assembly passed a bill that would make an independent commission responsible for running the airport, a move the city is fighting in court.
He said he could support a compromise similar to one proposed by the City Council last year. That proposal – which was rejected by the legislature – would have created an advisory commission to help run the airport. Final decisions would still rest with the city manager and council members.
“Those fundamentals have been established by council,” Clodfelter said. “There is an awful lot that can be discussed that doesn’t trade away those.”
In his speech, Clodfelter only discussed policy at one moment, which appeared to be a veiled reference to the fight over the airport. He said the city must fight those who will attempt to turn the Cannon scandal “into a broader mandate ... that tries to drive wedges of suspicion and doubt.”
Supporters of the airport commission have said Cannon’s arrest highlights the need to protect the airport from cronyism.
Clodfelter was asked whether he would support a new sales tax to fund transit projects. He said he favored efforts in the state to remake the tax code, which he said could be more favorable to cities.
If that fails, he said, “I don’t have a Plan B.”