Politics & Government

Dan Clodfelter: ‘I did the job I was asked to do’

Dan Clodfelter
Dan Clodfelter

Democrat Dan Clodfelter’s last day as Charlotte’s mayor was a sharp contrast to his first, when he was sworn in to lead a city still reeling from the arrest of predecessor Patrick Cannon on federal corruption charges.

Twenty months later, the Charlotte lawyer spent the day sitting down with reporters and preparing for hearings this week in federal court.

He wasn’t planning to be in the government center until Monday night, when his successor and Clement Avenue neighbor, Democrat Jennifer Roberts, was sworn in.

For Clodfelter, 65, it’s at least a temporary pause in a public service career that goes back to his first election to the City Council in 1987 and spanned 15 years in the N.C. Senate.

For now he’s busy with duties as a trustee of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and his day job with Charlotte’s Parker Poe law firm. Retirement, he says, is not “in the immediate future.”

On Monday, Clodfelter talked about his time as mayor, his city and his plans.

Q. What are you proudest of as mayor?

A. I think probably I did the job I was asked to do. Accomplished the mission. Keeping things from going off track. Reinstilling a sense of self confidence in the organization and the council, the city. Sort of just keeping folks focused on the fact that what happened in March of that year was not who we are.

Q. Any plans to pursue elected office?

A. I have no idea what’s in my future. After the last two years I’ve learned to be careful about making definitive predictions.

Q. Even some supporters criticized your campaign. Any regrets?

A. If we had started sooner (than April) we would have been off and running sooner. I wanted to be really sure that I wanted to offer again. I wasn’t in the job because I’d had it on my checklist of things I had to do … so I wanted to be sure that’s what I wanted to do for the next two years. And that took some thinking, took some time. I discovered I liked it more than I thought I would.

Q. You’d always run in a district. How much harder was it running citywide?

A. Not really any harder. What I liked was that difference gave me the opportunity to get out and visit more places, visit more people. I liked that part.

Q. You still haven’t spoken with Roberts since the election. Why?

A. You got any other questions?

Q. What’s the difference between being a mayor and a senator?

A. They’re night and day different. Especially when you’re in the legislative leadership, you’re able to take policy and see it into reality directly. In the mayor’s job you have to work a lot more indirectly. Also because the city’s ability to makes things happen is much more restricted than the state’s ability.

Q. What’s Charlotte’s problem with the General Assembly?

A. Folks have talked about that for all my time in public life. And over and over and over what I have observed is Charlotte has a better track record than virtually any large urban area. Now, has it been all sweetness and light and love? No. There have been severe conflicts. The airport, for example.

But there’s also the record of support and success that a lot of other urban parts of the state envy. We tend to obsess about the conflicts and never really think about the other things.

Q. Does Charlotte need a full-time mayor?

A. It’s hard to do the job and have another career. It’s become increasingly hard to do. It helps keep perspective on the fact that it’s not a chef executive, that you’re not full-time. If you’re full-time, I’m concerned that unless we convert to a strong-mayor form of government, you just amplify the possibility for misunderstanding and conflict for roles.

Q. What are the challenges ahead?

A. What’s always defined this community is people were always willing to roll up their sleeves and tackle really tough social or economic issues before it was too late. And they were willing to do it across racial lines, across economic lines and across political lines. And that’s been a real strong value. We’ve got to hold onto that.

The worst thing to happen now would be for people to say, ‘Oh, we made it through. Everything’s fine.’ Everything is not fine. But we can make it work.