Charlotte Democratic mayoral candidates Dan Clodfelter and Jennifer Roberts squared off Wednesday morning in a radio debate previewing a runoff election that grew heated this week after the contenders squabbled over a mailer.
They faced each other just a day after Roberts’ campaign manager accused incumbent Mayor Clodfelter of lying about Roberts’ record in an advertisement that claimed she championed cutting school funding by more than $56 million while a Mecklenburg County commissioner. Clodfelter’s camp fired back that Roberts is the one lying.
The one-hour debate was held at McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square and broadcast on WFAE’s “Charlotte Talks” with host Mike Collins. Collins and The Observer’s Mark Washburn moderated the exchange.
The runoff election is Oct. 6. The winner will face Republican Edwin Peacock in the Nov. 3 election.
Stay tuned for live updates:
(10 a.m.) Racial and economic inequality
Because time was running out, Roberts didn’t get a chance to thoroughly answer a question about resolving racial and economic inequality aside from saying that’s one of the greatest challenges facing Charlotte today, and there are “great conversations” on how to address it.
Clodfelter discussed appointments to the Opportunity Task Force, which is studying the economic disparities in the city with plans to issue recommendations on how to close the gaps.
(9:58 a.m.) Kerrick severance
Both Clodfelter and Roberts declined to talk about their feelings on the city’s potential financial severance payment to Officer Randall Kerrick, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer who fatally shot Jonathan Ferrell in 2013. The case ended with a mistrial in August when the jury could not reach a verdict.
“That is a pending personnel matter. State law says I should not talk about that,” Clodfelter said. “I’m going to comply with state law.”
Said Roberts: “I find no reason to disagree with my colleague.”
(9:55 a.m.) Cherry redevelopment
Clodfelter said there has been a lot of rezoning in the Cherry area, a historically African-American neighborhood.
He said there have been a number of affordable housing options and high-end housing put in Cherry.
“We probably have a better income mix than we’ve had in recent years,” he said.
Roberts said the city needs to do a better job of protecting seniors who want to remain in their home but are being forced out by development.
“I think we need to do a better job of preserving historic neighborhoods,” she said.
(9:50 a.m.) Tolls on U.S. 74
Clodfelter and Roberts both said they oppose adding toll lanes to Independence Boulevard. The incumbent said tolls don’t work on U.S. 74, which motorists use to access other local roads.
“People are going short distances,” he said. “The toll concept will not work on that kind of roadway.”
Roberts said the city should consider expanding transit down Monroe Road and Independence Boulevard.
“We’re going to continue to grow and need that,” she said.
(9:48 a.m.) Toll roads opposition and the streetcar
In response to a question about appointing an opponent of toll lanes to the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization, Clodfelter explained that opposing one piece of the state roads plan means stalling federal funding for a bundle of projects. In August, the city’s CRTPO representative, Vi Lyles, voted for the state transportation plans.
Roberts said the city should look at public-private partnerships as it seeks to expand its transit system. She said Interstate 77 will continue to present a problem as the city’s population and workforce grow over time.
“I would not have supported the toll lanes in the way they are configured because of the 50-year non-compete clause,” she said. “For us to constrain our roadway growth for that long, it just doesn’t make sense.” She advocated the development of a red line rail project.
As for whether the streetcar has failed, Clodfelter said the cars the city is using for now look “gimmicky,” and may be hurting public perception of what the project will eventually become.
“Those aren’t the cars we’re going to use permanently on the line,” he said.
A streetcar takes transit to places light rail is unable to go, he said. The streetcar can bring connectivity to the western and eastern corridors of Charlotte.
“The streetcar is the only transit option for permanent rail,” Clodfelter said.
Roberts added that the streetcar is an economic booster. For example, Johnson C. Smith University and Central Avenue out to Eastland need to be part of the city’s economic development plans. A transit system is the key, she said.
(9:40 a.m.) On offering incentives and luring companies
As chair of the board of commissioners, Roberts said she spoke with CEOs on what incentives would look like and what the claw-back provisions would entail. Roberts, a fluent Spanish speaker, said she would continue to leverage connections with international contacts to draw companies and jobs to the city and boost its status as a global competitor.
Clodfelter said he met last week with a representative of a large Chinese company looking to locate in North Carolina.
“That sort of thing is fairly common,” he said. “We’ve got a much stronger local base for going after companies than we’ve had in the past.”
(9:32 a.m.) Confederate monuments
Amid a summer of debate regarding Confederate monuments, the city in July removed its Confederate monument that once stood in front of the Old City Hall on Trade Street. It hasn’t been returned. Asked whether they should stay or go, Roberts said, “I think Confederate monuments belong in a museum.”
Said Clodfelter: “I vote to move them.”
(9:31 a.m.) Food trucks and development
As developers plan to build on the site where the Common Market has operated since 2002, commentators asked if the city should actively look for places to relocate the popular Food Truck Friday, also held on that South Tryon Street site.
“We are going to have to work with the community to find how we fit some people into some of the great things we have going on ... without knocking the food trucks out, because they are great,” Roberts said. “That’s a growing industry. I’m very supportive of finding a place for the food trucks.”
Clodfelter said city planning staff is working on an ordinance that will allow food trucks to operate all over town. He mentioned the Eastland Mall property, where the city opened a market with food trucks and other vendors about three weeks ago.
“I’d like to see us develop an ordinance to allow food trucks all across the city, not just in one location,” he said.
(9:30 a.m.) Did he change his mind?
Clodfelter addressed comments from former contenders David Howard and Michael Barnes that he vowed he would not run for mayor when he took over for former Mayor Patrick Cannon. That’s not true, Clodfelter said Wednesday.
“What I actually said was, ‘I don’t have any plans right now to run again,’” he said. “I didn’t know what I was getting into fully. I didn’t know whether I would be any good at it. I clearly said at the time, ‘I’m going to reassess that question at the end of the year. I may change and have a different approach to it at the end of the year.”
(9:27 a.m.) Ending homelessness
Roberts said the city should not tolerate that people are homeless. As a commissioner, she said, the board worked to bring social services to shelters and housing to provide counseling and help people enroll for disability and job services benefits.
“If we had the city and county working better together, we could make that happen in a better way,” she said, segueing into her past work with helping domestic violence shelters.
She said she would support expanding outreach to tackle that problem.
Clodfelter discussed an initiative launched last year to end homelessness among veterans. The city performed an inventory of “who they were, where they were,” and began connecting them with housing.
“We’re about two-thirds of the way there in terms of that population,” he said.
A second initiative, Housing First Charlotte, seeks to help the homeless get to a place where they can take advantage of services. The city provides the physical housing while other partners provide on-site housing.
(9:23 a.m.) Affordable housing
An audience member asked the candidates about the availability of affordable housing in the wake of a proliferation of apartment complexes and multiuse development.
“Somewhere over the years, policy disappeared,” Clodfelter said. “We need to revisit criteria the city used to have (for affordable housing).”
Roberts agreed that the city suffers from a shortage of affordable housing, saying the city should consider looking at transit corridors to ensure workers in every part of the city have access to affordable housing.
(9:15 a.m.) On endorsement
Roberts and Clodfelter opened the debate with pitches on why they deserve the Charlotte Observer’s endorsement.
“I am running for mayor to help spread opportunities” for all sectors of the city, Roberts said. ‘As a wife and mother, I have a unique ... perspective on what it takes to strengthen our schools and strengthen our neighborhoods.”
Roberts leaned on her experience as a businesswoman and former educator, explaining that she knows what companies are looking for when they hope to expand to the city
Said Clodfelter: “I think they might have been a little exasperated with me during my first months in office.” But he said there are deep challenges in the community and that he has the skills to address them, as he did on the City Council and state legislature.
“I think I still have it to try and work on those key issues,” he said. “What we do to sort of spread the job growth that we’re experiencing all throughout the community ... and how we rebuild a different kind of partnership with the state government.”
Correcting the record
Roberts addressed questions about the mailer her campaign claims lied about her record when funding education.
“I had to correct my record,” she said. “While I was on the county commission, we increased funding for CMS by $89 million.”
As chair, Roberts said, the board of county commissioners increased funding by $17 million.
“And if you look at the way the flier presented the numbers, they only added the negatives,” she said. “People in the community know that I have been an advocate for education ever since I graduated from East Mecklenburg High. Every child deserves a great school.”
Clodfelter fired back, saying that all the information in the mailer came from CMS and was cross-referenced with quotes printed in the newspaper.
“You’ve got to be careful how you use budget numbers,” he said. “Every one of the facts was verified and cross-checked.”
And while the mayor has virtually no influence over school funding, Roberts said great schools will help spread opportunities to all sectors in the city.
Clodfelter earned applause from the audience when he outlined ways the mayor can support education, including continuing to fund after-school programs, increase funding for school resource officers and provide leadership by “being a spokesperson in the community for the difficult task CMS faces right now” when it comes to student assignment.
“Mayors in past years ... spoke openly to the community about the need to get the desegregation issue right in this community,” he said. “The mayor needs to step up now and start giving support to the CMS school board as they wrestle with that most difficult challenge.”