Cotham focuses problem-solving in re-election bid

Pat Cotham, former chair of Mecklenburg County’s commissioners, said she has never stopped campaigning.

Scroll through her Facebook and Twitter pages and you’ll find posts and photos of community events she attends.

Listen to her during a board of county commissioners meeting and you’ll hear stories of her interaction with abused women, homeless men and cash-strapped seniors.

Pass her on the highway and you’ll find her black SUV covered in stickers with her campaign slogan, “I Work For You.”

“People obviously like my style of being very available,” said Cotham, 65. “I hit all corners of the county all the time.”

A little bit of everyone

In a given week, Cotham, a Democrat, will mingle with business owners, sit in Charlotte NAACP meetings and show support for various LGBT groups. She said she’s willing to work with the board’s district representatives – even the Republicans – to solve problems.

For example, she’s joined commissioner Jim Puckett in voicing disdain for the plan to build toll lanes in northern Mecklenburg. She’s been expressive, holding up signs that read “Fix It” in public meetings and using the Twitter hashtag “#EndCintra,” in reference to the state’s contract with the tolls developer.

North Mecklenburg may be a mostly Republican electorate but Cotham said voters there “know me better now.”

“People are sick of the bickering between the parties,” she said. “People want problems solved.”

Strained alliances

She doesn’t believe her fellow board Democrats feel the same. Her relationship with them is strained – in part, some speculate, because she appears too friendly with the board’s Republicans.

She spearheaded the charge to fire former County Manager Harry Jones, opposed commissioner Trevor Fuller for the chairmanship and clashed with former ally Vilma Leake over prayer at the start of board meetings. There’s division “all the time,” Cotham said.

“That’s their choice and I can’t do anything about that,” she said. “I don’t have a clue what their problem is. My focus is the people, not my colleagues.”

Tough questions

When she chaired the board in 2012, Cotham tried to steer commissioners through the tumult of the flawed tax revaluation. She worked to make the board an engaged public body instead of “a go-along-to-get-along rubber-stamper,” she said.

Today, she presses county staff with questions, inquiring about costs and motive behind certain programs and processes.

“I have a lot of faith in the county and the leadership,” she said. But, “I’m going to ask the tough questions.”

Jonathan McFadden: 704-358-6045, @JmcfaddenObsGov

Pat Cotham

Hometown: St. Louis

Education: Bachelor’s degrees in journalism and Spanish from the University of Missouri

Family: Daughter, N.C. Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Matthews

Job: Retired corporate recruiter, small business owner

Politics: She has served on the board of county commissioners since 2012.

Worth knowing: She and her daughter have recently started “Project Timely Love” to help supply homeless or struggling women with underwear and other “time of the month” supplies.