Charlotte’s Democratic mayoral candidates debate race, mobility

On the first day of school at Shamrock Elementary, students line up before heading into class.
On the first day of school at Shamrock Elementary, students line up before heading into class. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

In one of the final debates of their primary campaign, Charlotte’s Democratic mayoral candidates Wednesday touted policies they said could help boost economic mobility and counter a trend toward more segregated schools.

The candidates in Tuesday’s primary covered a range of issues in a WTVI debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters. They talked about police training and taxes. But it was mobility, together with issues of race, that seemed to spark the most passion.

▪ Michael Barnes said he worries about Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools becoming “all minority.” He would work with school officials to build affordable housing on surplus school land.

He said generating opportunities for economic advancement would help bridge a community divide that’s as much a “class problem” as a race problem.

▪ Incumbent Dan Clodfelter alluded to a federal court decision to stop busing to desegregate schools.

“I really regret the course we’ve been on the last 15 years with the re-segregation of Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools,” he said. “That’s a broken foundation. You can’t bridge racial understanding if you don’t meet people different than you.”

▪ David Howard said the city should “put our money where our mouth is” and invest in more affordable housing. But he said the city can’t “build our way” out of the problem of divided neighborhoods.

“We need a broader conversation about how we value diversity,” he said.

▪ Jennifer Roberts called economic mobility “the most important issue” facing the city. Last year, a Harvard study ranked Charlotte last among 50 cities in upward mobility.

Roberts went on to say that she would strengthen the city’s after-school programs and encourage companies that relocate here to have “hire Charlotte policies.” She would also expand a city program that contracts with women- and minority-owned businesses by including Charlotte’s immigrant-owned businesses.

To address economic mobility, Barnes said he would recruit and keep what he called a mix of available job options.

Howard said he also would explore policies to encourage businesses to hire locally.

Clodfelter touted his effort to help launch the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force in response to the Harvard study. In addition, he said he would try to get young people more work experience through internships or summer jobs.

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