With days of whirlwind jockeying ending in apparent stalemate, Charlotte City Council members voted Monday night to delay the selection of a new mayor until April 7.
The decision came during a 15-minute meeting and capped a day of frenzied tweets, phone calls and online petitions.
It came just five days after former Democratic Mayor Patrick Cannon resigned following his arrest on federal corruption charges.
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On Wednesday FBI agents outlined their case in a 42-page affidavit that included the allegation that he took $48,000 in cash and gifts.
Some council members had hoped to name a replacement at Monday’s specially called meeting. But council members were apparently far from a consensus on who that would be.
“This is an opportunity for people to give it more thought,” said Democrat Vi Lyles, an at-large member.
Despite the delay, council members said they want to move forward quickly.
“We want people to know that the people around this dais and the staff will work hard to restore trust,” Mayor Pro Tem Michael Barnes announced at the outset.
There were signs that that may not be easy.
“We don’t trust you,” Michelle Morgan shouted from the audience as the meeting adjourned. She and others carried signs calling for a special election to select the next mayor.
City Attorney Bob Hagemann said there’s no provision in state law for a special election. Under current law, the council must fill the vacancy by appointing a Charlotte resident who’s a Democrat, the same party as Cannon.
Some have suggested asking the Republican-controlled General Assembly to change the law. Barnes dismissed that idea, saying, “I don’t think we need to ask the legislature to help us fill this vacancy.”
“Why not?” someone shouted, prompting Barnes to call for order.
And an online petition to hold a citywide election in November had about 500 signatures Monday night. Among the proponents is Republican Edwin Peacock III, who won 47 percent of the vote in losing to Cannon last November.
“This is about restoring the public trust,” Peacock said in an interview, “and the way to do that is to give the public a voice.”
The General Assembly could change the law when it meets in May. However, one elections expert said by essentially negating a lawful selection process, that could invite legal challenges.
Interviews earlier Monday with several council members suggested that state Sen. Dan Clodfelter and former council member James “Smuggie” Mitchell both would have had several votes, though apparently not enough for either to get elected. Some council members, including Barnes, Lyles and Patsy Kinsey also have expressed interest.
Clodfelter is a longtime legislator and former council member. Mitchell is a former council member who lost last year’s Democratic primary to Cannon. He’s running for Congress in the 12th District. Neither was at Monday’s meeting.
Neither was former Mecklenburg County commissioners Chairwoman Jennifer Roberts. She had around 500 signatures on an online petition supporting her election. A Facebook page had nearly 800 “likes.”
A condition on selection
Whoever it is, the next mayor’s appointment may come with a condition: He or she will not run in the next election in 2015.
That’s the same condition that was put on last year’s appointment to fill the term of then-Mayor Anthony Foxx, who resigned to take the post as U.S. transportation secretary. The council chose Kinsey to fill the five-month vacancy. She agreed not to run for mayor in November.
“It would be a deal-breaker for some people,” Barnes said later. “The general expectation around the dais is the person wouldn’t run.”
Such a condition would prevent anyone from having the advantage of incumbency heading into the 2015 election.
At least some council members said they hope the extra week gives them time to reach a consensus around a candidate.
“A unanimous vote sends a message that we’re all in and we’re all focused,” Lyles said.
The extraordinary circumstance of Monday’s meeting was visibly pronounced by the empty chair in the center of the dais.
Even the placard, which once read “Cannon, Mayor,” was missing.