Elections

Democratic Charlotte city council at-large candidates debate schools, streetcar

The City Lynx trolley rolls along Elizabeth Avenue. During Wednesday’s debate, Shawn Greeson questioned why incumbent at-large council member Claire Fallon doesn’t support the Gold Line streetcar.
stopping at the Elizabeth ave. CharlotteTrolley shelter with artwork by Louisiana artist Nancy O'Neill.
The City Lynx trolley rolls along Elizabeth Avenue. During Wednesday’s debate, Shawn Greeson questioned why incumbent at-large council member Claire Fallon doesn’t support the Gold Line streetcar. stopping at the Elizabeth ave. CharlotteTrolley shelter with artwork by Louisiana artist Nancy O'Neill. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte’s large Democratic field for four City Council at-large seats tried to distinguish themselves during a WTVI/League of Women Voters debate taped Wednesday.

On issues such as economic development and schools, the 10 candidates in attendance mostly agreed. All candidates said they would support a “living wage” for city employees, as other cities have enacted.

On a few issues, however, there was some small differences between those running.

One of the more direct candidates was Shawn Greeson, a special education teacher, who questioned why the city has no registration requirements for lobbyists in response to a question about what should be the proper relationship between the city and developers.

“Developers are a driving cause of gentrification in NoDa, Plaza-Midwood,” he said. “We constantly take the side of the developer.”

Greeson also questioned why incumbent at-large council member Claire Fallon doesn’t support the Gold Line streetcar. He said it will connect health care facilities and educational institutions like Johnson C. Smith University.

Fallon, who has voted against the streetcar while on council, said the city should focus on basic services, like police and fire.

“We don’t have the money,” she said, when talking about the streetcar.

Also during the debate, Fallon noted that she was taken “little or no money from developers.” She said she doesn’t want anyone to think campaign contributions influence her decisions in deciding rezonings. She has been endorsed by the Real Estate and Building Coalition, a lobbying group for developers that contributed $1,000 to her campaign.

James “Smuggie” Mitchell was asked about the role the city can play in schools. Mitchell said the city must consider the impact to public schools when deciding on rezoning petitions.

“We need to ask CMS, ‘Are we creating a diverse school system?’ ” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the streetcar is the city’s most important tool to revitalize east and west Charlotte.

Darrell Bonapart, an eastside activist, said the city should focus on homeless students when asked what role could the city play in helping CMS.

He also said the city should consider tearing down empty stores.

“If they can be removed at a reasonable expense, I would like to see that happen,” he said.

Mo Idlibby, an attorney, said the city needs to ensure there is “transparency” in the rezoning process. He also said the city must ensure that the city doesn’t have too much red tape.

“A lot of developers have talked to me about how time-consuming and archaic the zoning process is,” Idlibby said.

In answering a question about what should be done about empty big-box retail stores, Idlibby said the city could try and use those buildings to house small businesses.

Bruce Clark, who is leading a city effort to bring broadband access to all parts of the city, focused much of his answers on his goal of making Charlotte “the most connected city in America.” He said the city should leverage public-private partnerships to find new uses for empty retails stores.

Even though the buildings are privately owned, Clark said the city has an obligation to find a use for the empty stores.

“When we leave these buildings (empty), What are we telling the community?” Clark said.

Vi Lyles, the other incumbent in the race, said the city should look to fund school resource officers to help CMS. She also said the city can help schools by “building great neighborhoods around city schools.”

Lyles said the city must ensure all empty retail buildings are safe and secure. She said the city could try and offer incentives for developers to re-use the space.

Julie Eiselt, who founded a citizens group, Neighbors for a Safer Charlotte in 2007, said the city should help CMS by focusing on its “housing and transportation policies.”

She said light-rail is impractical to east and west Charlotte because the city doesn’t own the right-of-way to build it. She said the streetcar can be an effective way to connect people to where they work.

Billy Maddalon, a hotelier and former council member, said he would focus on creating jobs to help low-income areas of the city.

“I have been involved for the last 15 years on east side, and the most important thing is to support small businesses,” Maddalon said. “So many people do not live where they work. We want an environment where the city can create jobs on east and west sides.”

Laurence Bibbs said the city should try and use empty big-box stores for technology start ups.

“I want to be the next Silicon Valley,” Bibbs said.

Sean Gautam and Aaron Sanders didn’t attend the debate. The three Republicans running don’t have a primary.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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