Mecklenburg commission, at-large: Cotham leads Democrat sweep

Democrats held on to their commanding grip of the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners Tuesday after at-large incumbents Pat Cotham and Trevor Fuller won a second at-large term on the board with former Charlotte City Council member Ella Scarborough grabbing a third at-large seat.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Cotham led the five-candidate slate with 24.06 percent of the votes. She was followed by Scarborough with 21.08 percent of the vote and incumbent chairman Fuller with 20.42 percent. Republican newcomer Emily Zuyus, a leader in the effort to force Mecklenburg to review its troubled 2011 revaluation, had 17.93 percent. Republican Scott Carlisle, another political newcomer, trailed the list with 16.52 percent of the vote.

Cotham won the most votes in the 2012 election, propelling her to the chairman’s seat only to be unseated after she upset five commissioners in her own party.

“I am humbled and extremely gratified,” Cotham said Tuesday. “If you stay close to the people, you can make better decisions. I put in a lot of time, I got to a lot of places. I was always confident that I made the right decisions because I was in touch with the people. They know me.”

Cotham said she would try to retake her chairman’s seat, saying that she felt voters inserted her in that seat because she won the most votes. Yet she understands it might be difficult.

The race had multiple story lines.

Cotham chaired the board last year and built a majority – that included the three Republicans – to fire longtime County Manager Harry Jones.

During her tenure as chairwoman, state legislators forced the county to review its troubled 2011 revaluation and refund the overtaxed. They also forced commissioners to close the behavioral health agency that controlled $200 million in Medicaid money. Some commissioners complained that the state was over-reaching.

Along the way, Cotham upset some of the board’s other Democrats, who felt excluded from the discussions about Jones and banded together to remove Cotham from the chair’s seat and replace her with Fuller, who was also in his first term.

Fuller brought calm to the board, not allowing commissioners to stray far from the agenda.

He and Vice Chairman Dumont Clarke quietly built a majority to place a referendum on Tuesday’s ballot to raise the county’s local sales tax levy by a quarter-cent, largely for education, but the measure failed.

Zuyus was propelled into politics when she and other disgruntled property owners helped lead the effort to persuade state legislators to force Mecklenburg to review the revaluation and refund overbilled property owners.

She and Carlisle campaigned against the sales tax referendum, saying there would be enough money to raise teacher pay if the county spent more efficiently. Both called for a independent spending review to find the waste.

Zuyus also campaigned to lower property taxes, saying Mecklenburg’s rate – among the highest in the state – was impeding economic growth.