Each year, the Observer’s editorial board looks ahead to some critical questions Charlotte and North Carolina face in the upcoming 12 months. Today, we answer last year’s questions, then ask three more about issues that will shape our quality of life in the year ahead.
Questions from 2016:
Did McCrory tack back to the center and win reelection?
When we asked last January whether Gov. Pat McCrory would reestablish his moderate credentials in time to win a second term, we theorized that would be a tough task for him. Little did we know, though, that not only would he not move to the middle, he would sign legislation that would cement his legacy, cost him the governor’s mansion and bring condemnation down on North Carolina from across the country.
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We suggested a year ago in this space that McCrory could overcome the first three years of his administration by having the old Pat McCrory reappear. Instead, he signed House Bill 2 in March, then dug in to defend it. That cost the state millions and marred its reputation. It also alienated most moderate voters and sunk his reelection campaign.
The sad thing for McCrory has to be that he had a good story to tell, with lower taxes, low unemployment and a recovering economy. But by wedding himself to HB2, McCrory kept voters from focusing on that story. His downward trajectory after 14 successful years as Charlotte mayor is a shame, for him and the state.
Will Charlotte effectively address its economic mobility problem?
Charlotte’s leaders have been struggling this question for several years now, ever since a 2014 study showed the city ranking dead last among 50 big American cities on economic mobility measures.
We thought 2016 would be the year we’d find out if the high-profile Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force created by local leaders in 2014 could put a dent in the problem. But the year came and went, and the task force still hasn’t unveiled its recommendations.
Some have grown frustrated with the pace of the effort. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Ann Clark recalled leaving one of the group’s meetings and telling participants on the way out the door that they were having important discussions about economic mobility, but she was headed to another meeting “where people are doing (something about) it.”
The task force kicked off a “listening tour” in early December aimed at giving residents from around the county a chance to be heard.
With the Keith Scott shooting and the resulting protests intensifying questions about Charlotte’s economic mobility problem, the task force’s recommendations can’t come soon enough. We hope to see a detailed action plan sometime early this year.
Did CMS move toward diversity in schools?
Yes, and there’s more movement to come.
CMS took its first big step toward diversity late in 2016 with a proposal to add nearly 13,000 magnet school seats over the next four years. That plan, which builds a robust network of magnet schools throughout the country, allows families to move students out of struggling schools into more diverse learning environments.
It’s a strong step, but one that threatens to drain high-poverty neighborhood schools of their brightest students and most engaged families. That’s why superintendent Ann Clark has said the district will look to add new themes or programs to boost the appeal of those neighborhood schools.
CMS officials also can strengthen some schools – and increase diversity – as they take another look at student assignment boundaries. The school board has assured parents of CMS students that the neighborhood schools concept will not be gutted. The district, however, can and should pursue pockets of opportunity to redraw student assignment lines in ways that boost diversity without causing suburban families to flee CMS.
Questions for 2017:
Will the legislature repeal HB2?
What’s the next chapter in the HB2 saga? That’s anyone’s guess.
After Republican legislators failed to hold up their end of the deal with Charlotte’s City Council on repealing HB2 last month, Senate leader Phil Berger said it would be "extremely difficult to try to cobble this back together."
Republicans had promised they would repeal HB2 if Charlotte fully repealed its ordinance. After an initial stumble, Charlotte did so. Republicans, though, then did not repeal HB2.
They blame Democrats, but Republicans hold super-majorities in both chambers. Republicans passed HB2 without many Democrats; they certainly could have repealed it without any.
HB2, besides discriminating against LGBT residents, has cost the state millions in tax revenue and an incalculable amount in damaged reputation. Charlotte’s business leaders reportedly were the driving force behind the proposed repeal-repeal deal in December. They know how much the legislation is hurting the state and how urgently it needs to be erased.
House Bill 2 will continue to give North Carolina a black eye throughout 2017 if it’s not repealed. The question is whether Republican legislators can hear the public outcry from deep within their gerrymandered districts.
Will Jennifer Roberts win another term in the mayor’s office?
Few politicians endured a tougher 2016 than Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts.
HB2 brought intense political and economic fallout. Then came the Keith Scott shooting, along with the nationally televised unrest that called into question Charlotte’s image as a progressive New South city on the rise.
The first-term mayor drew intense scrutiny in both instances, with critics questioning her decision-making and leadership. She enters a reelection year facing potential challenges from Democrats – Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles and Sen. Joel Ford – as well as Republican City Council member Kenny Smith.
The HB2 and Keith Scott crises have left her politically vulnerable. Some Democrats think she got double-crossed by the Republican legislature, which reneged on its pledge to repeal HB2 if the city repealed its anti-discrimination ordinance. Some Republicans blame her for the economic toll the HB2 backlash has brought on the city.
To win reelection, she will have to articulate convincing defenses to such criticisms. Many will want to see a sharper, shrewder, stronger brand of leadership than she displayed in 2016.
We question whether she can produce it. We’d love for her to prove us wrong.
How will the new CMS superintendent fare?
Clayton Wilcox is months from starting his tenure as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ new superintendent, and he’s already off to a rocky start.
First, an Observer report revealed that he wasn’t the initial choice of some school board members, and that one promising big-district candidate had backed out.
Then, an Observer editorial board investigation revealed that while superintendent at Washington County (Md.) Schools, Wilcox had apparently agreed to a University of Maryland research study of Washington County student-athletes without letting the athletes, their families or district leaders know about it. Wilcox told the editorial board he hadn’t agreed to the study, despite being quoted earlier lauding the study’s results.
School board members remain publicly confident in the new superintendent, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities to win over parents. But Wilcox also will be navigating the challenging new seas of a CMS magnet expansion and possible student assignment changes. Given his less-than-smooth start – and the board’s previous trust issues – they will need to be transparent and candid about what those changes bring.