In the seven months since Dan Clodfelter was appointed Charlotte’s mayor, the former state senator has taken a light approach at the Government Center.
He does not micromanage city staff. He has declined to take calls from the media on days when he’s not in the office. Mostly deferential to the City Council, he is reluctant to broadcast his vision for the city.
Clodfelter, an attorney at Parker Poe, often says he will not speculate on issues or make commitments until he has fully studied an issue.
“He is a deep thinker,” said Carol Hardison, chief executive officer of Crisis Assistance Ministry, who has known Clodfelter for roughly 20 years. “He’s an intellect. He’s a processor. He’s a reader.”
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Clodfelter, 64, became mayor days after Patrick Cannon was arrested on federal corruption charges on March 26.
Cannon resigned that day and Clodfelter was appointed less than two weeks later. His first task was to restore faith in city government, which council members and observers say he has done, in part due to his lengthy resume: Rhodes scholar. Six years as a City Council member. Fifteen years as a state legislator.
“A lot of people in the city were in shock, and he has come and provided this reassuring and calming persona,” said council member John Autry, a fellow Democrat.
But after nearly seven months in office, Autry wants more. He said he has had hints of Clodfelter’s vision, but “I’d like to have something definite.”
Goal is peak performance
A recent interview illustrates Clodfelter’s reluctance to use the job’s bully pulpit to push his agenda, unlike former Mayors Pat McCrory and Anthony Foxx.
McCrory, a Republican, pushed for reforming the criminal justice system and expanding transit. He often sparred with a Democrat-controlled council.
Foxx, a Democrat, pushed for a streetcar and consolidating city and county government. He usually weighed in on controversial topics from the dais.
Clodfelter, a Democrat, was asked what he wanted to accomplish in the next year, before his term expires in December 2015.
Clodfelter said his primary goal is help council members function “at peak performance.”
“That’s the mayor’s job, to help the council find its collective vision,” Clodfelter said.
When asked whether there are any specific policies he would like to advance, Clodfelter said, “I don’t think you can say the mayor plops in and says here’s an idea – it’s a collective job. The mayor works with the council to articulate an agenda. It’s not historically how the city worked.”
When asked again, the mayor named four areas he would like to focus on: Finding a new way forward for the Eastland Mall site, creating an environmentally sustainable city, improving economic mobility, and finding a way for the city and neighboring counties to pool financial resources to make up for a likely shortfall in state and federal funding.
Understanding of detail
There have been times during council meetings when Clodfelter has demonstrated his reputation for understanding detail. During a recent discussion about proposed toll lanes for Interstate 77, Clodfelter spoke as a traffic engineer might, questioning the Department of Transportation about how traffic would flow from proposed toll lanes to uptown exits on I-277.
At a City Council zoning meeting Monday, he recommended strongly against council members debating the type of building materials that would be used in a proposed development, saying the council would be overstepping its bounds and in a precarious legal position.
As a state senator, Clodfelter supported a bill that would curtail municipalities’ ability to impose design standards on single-family homes. That bill hasn’t passed. The City Council has opposed it.
“I had worked with him when he was in Raleigh – we had a good relationship,” said Joe Padilla of REBIC, the Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition. “He knows our issues very well. His background as a real estate attorney gives him a unique perspective.”
The Charlotte Chamber is also pleased. The chamber said Clodfelter has shown no indication of wanting to change the city’s strategy for recruiting businesses, which can include property tax breaks.
“From an economic development perspective, it has been business as usual,” Chamber President Bob Morgan said. “Mayor Clodfelter is a strong leader and spokesperson for our city.”
Clodfelter has mostly let City Manager Ron Carlee or other council members drive policy, with one exception.
In June, the mayor said he supported exploring whether the city should create a municipal ID for all residents, which could help undocumented immigrants do such things as prove their identity during minor traffic stops or volunteer in public schools their children attend.
That idea has been criticized, including by some national political groups. Clodfelter said recently that he couldn’t comment on the issue because it’s still being studied.
Clodfelter still remains an unknown to some.
Shannon Binns is the executive director of Sustain Charlotte, a group that seeks to educate residents on what it says are environmentally correct actions. The City Council is preparing to vote on a controversial plan to allow developers to pay a fee instead of handling stormwater on site when redeveloping land.
Sustain Charlotte opposes the proposal.
Binns said he hasn’t sat down with Clodfelter on the upcoming stormwater issue, in part because he said he hasn’t seen the mayor as a pivotal figure in the debate. The mayor would only vote in case of a tie, though Clodfelter could issue a veto.
“To be honest I hadn’t thought about his role,” Binns said. “If the vote doesn’t go our way, it would be fantastic if he uses the veto. I wouldn’t say we have any expectations of him.”
Will he run in 2015?
After Cannon resigned, the City Council was split as to who should be tapped as mayor, and some wanted former council member James Mitchell.
During horse-trading over the mayor’s appointment, some council members – including Mayor Pro Tem Michael Barnes – said Clodfelter told them that he would not seek election in the fall of 2015.
Clodfelter has since said he would consider running for the office, if he felt he was doing a good job and that the council is pleased.
“That causes me to think maybe we ought to re-up,” he has said.
Former County Commissioner Jennifer Roberts, also a Democrat, has said she is running for mayor. Council members such as Barnes and David Howard are often mentioned as challengers to the Democratic nomination.