Democrat Jennifer Roberts’ campaign manager Tuesday accused Mayor Dan Clodfelter of “lying about Jennifer’s record” in a new mailer about, of all things, education.
And Clodfelter’s communications director said it was Roberts who “continues to lie” about her record.
The flap came a week before Tuesday’s Democratic mayoral runoff and a day before the candidates debate on WFAE. It changed the tone of a campaign that until now had avoided such direct criticisms.
The argument was triggered by a Clodfelter campaign mailer that accuses Roberts of cutting county education spending while she was a Mecklenburg County commissioner.
Calling Clodfelter “a true champion of education” during his 15 years as a state senator, it says Roberts cut school funding by more than $56 million as well as per-pupil spending during her eight years on the county board.
Clodfelter communications director Maria Smithson cited figures from Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools that show county allocations to CMS. The figures show three cuts over seven years totaling $56 million. But the same figures also show county allocations increased three times and, over the course of her tenure, rose from $337 million to $354 million.
Jacob Becklund, Roberts’ campaign manager, cited different figures on CMS funding.
They show that with spending on capital projects and debt service, the county gave CMS nearly $454 million in the last budget Roberts and the board approved. That was a $19 million increase over her first budget.
“Dan Clodfelter is lying about Jennifer’s record on education because he’s desperate and knows that Jennifer’s message is resonating with Charlotte’s families,” he said. “Voters in Charlotte know Jennifer has a lifelong record of supporting public education.”
“The only one lying is Jennifer Roberts,” Smithson said. “(She) continues to lie to the voters about her record on school funding. Now she’s mixing operating budget dollars with capital budget dollars to cover up the truth. She knows better.”
That the campaigns are talking about education is itself a twist. The city – and the mayor – have virtually nothing to do with school funding and little to do with schools.
Even so, each candidate has campaigned on helping schools.
“Conversations clearly indicated to them that education is a high-priority issue for voters,” said Eric Heberlig, a political scientist at UNC Charlotte. “So it makes sense for them to talk about it even if it’s something they have little direct power over, to show voters they understand their concerns and share their priorities.”