Elections

Jennifer Roberts wins Democratic mayoral runoff, will face Republican Edwin Peacock

Jennifer Roberts thanks her supporters after she won the Democratic primary for Charlotte mayor during a party held at Peculiar Rabbit Tuesday, October 6, 2015.
Jennifer Roberts thanks her supporters after she won the Democratic primary for Charlotte mayor during a party held at Peculiar Rabbit Tuesday, October 6, 2015. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Jennifer Roberts easily turned back incumbent Dan Clodfelter in Tuesday’s Democratic mayoral runoff and now faces Republican Edwin Peacock in an election that will guarantee Charlotte its fifth different mayor in less than three years.

Roberts took 12,778 votes (54.27 percent) to Clodfelter’s 10,766 (45.73 percent). She had led a field of six Democrats in the first primary on Sept. 15.

A total of 6.09 percent of eligible voters went to the polls to select the person who could become Charlotte’s next mayor. It was Mecklenburg County’s highest turnout for a runoff in two decades.

Roberts enters the general election on Nov. 3 with an edge. Almost half the city’s registered voters are Democrats; less than a quarter are Republicans.

She would be the city’s third female mayor, and the first elected since Republican Sue Myrick in 1989. She would be the second Democratic woman, after Patsy Kinsey, who served in 2013.

Roberts carried precincts in the east, north and west while Clodfelter’s strength was generally confined to central and southeast Charlotte. Roberts told supporters her message resonated with voters across the city.

“I look forward to bringing the message of taking opportunity to all of the city, to all of Charlotte’s voters,” she said.

The win comes in an emotional week for the former county commissioner. Her father, Randy Watson, died Saturday. A memorial service is scheduled for Friday. “We won this for him,” she told supporters Tuesday night.

In a statement, Peacock said, “Voters will have a clear choice.”

“With four mayors in two years and one in prison, there is a clear leadership void in Charlotte,” he said.

The election ended a neighborhood battle. Roberts and Clodfelter live three houses apart on Clement Avenue in Elizabeth. He carried their precinct 130-98.

For Clodfelter, 65, it was a rare defeat. After three terms on the City Council, he went on to serve 15 years in the N.C. Senate. He stepped down last year when he was appointed to fill out the term of Democrat Patrick Cannon, who’d resigned amid federal corruption charges.

“We started out behind, we were a year late,” Clodfelter told reporters. “The competition started out a year ahead of us.”

Unlike Clodfelter, who had always campaigned in districts, Roberts, 55, had run countywide and had proved a successful vote-getter.

She served on the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners for eight years and led it for five, before being unseated as chair in 2011. Running for commissioner, she usually led the ticket. In 2012, despite losing the 9th Congressional District to GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger, she carried Mecklenburg County. In the mayor’s race, she benefited from a head start.

She has campaigned for mayor since Cannon stepped down in 2014, long before any of her competitors announced. That work paid off. She had raised more than $150,000 before anybody else got in the race. One voter, who asked not to be identified, said Roberts sat in his living room for a half hour last spring while canvassing the Northwoods neighborhood.

She was simply known to a lot of voters.

At Hawthorne Recreation Center, Bert Woodard voted for her because of “the leadership she’s provided ever since she ran for county commission.”

“Then she’s been so supportive to the LGBT community, which I’m a part of,” he said.

Roberts appeared to benefit from women’s votes. Of the 4,100 people who voted early – and helped her to a big lead – about 61 percent were women.

“I think she would do a great job,” said Cynthia Washington, who voted Tuesday at Stonewall AME Zion church in west Charlotte. “I like what she’s talking about doing.”

Roberts did well among black voters, who make up 2 of every 3 Democratic voters in the city. On Sept. 15, she won eight of the 20 precincts with the largest percentages of black voters, an Observer analysis showed.

Roberts led the first primary with nearly 36 percent of the vote, four points short of avoiding the runoff. She and Clodfelter ran ahead of a field that included City Council members Michael Barnes and David Howard.

None of the Democrats differed much on issues at the time. But last week, Clodfelter mailers attacked Roberts for her record on education, saying she supported county budgets that cut money for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Her campaign manager accused Clodfelter of “lying.”

Another Clodfelter mailer criticized her leadership during Mecklenburg’s botched 2011 property revaluation. It called the revaluation “the most flawed” in the county’s history. A Roberts spokesman defended her record.

On Tuesday night, Roberts thanked supporters in an email.

“I will be calling on each and every one of you to stand with me to finish the job,” she wrote.

Staff writers Steve Harrison, Gavin Off and Cleve Wootson contributed.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill

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