District 6 candidates spar over how to serve constituents

Incumbent commissioner Bill James, challenger Joel Levy
Incumbent commissioner Bill James, challenger Joel Levy

For nearly 20 years, brazen Republican Bill James has kept his District 6 seat on Mecklenburg’s board of county commissioners, where he touts himself as a “consistent conservative” and is vocal about his views.

Some of his political milestones, he said, include the opening of the Matthews regional sportsplex, deepening connections with state lawmakers and taking a hard stance against busing in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

“I don’t see experience as a negative,” said James, 59, whose district includes parts of southeast Charlotte, Matthews, Pineville and Mint Hill. “We have the (tax) revaluation about to rear its ugly head again. Frankly, I’d like to make sure that what happened before doesn’t happen again.”

Not everyone is confident in James’ abilities. Joel Levy, a 37-year-old executive at TIAA-CREF, is challenging the longtime incumbent in the March 15 primary. The winner won’t face any Democratic opposition in the November election. James last faced a challenger in 2012 when he narrowly won over Ed Driggs, now a Charlotte city councilman.

Levy, a former treasurer with the city of Charlotte, said as commissioner he wants to perform “boots-on-the-ground advocacy” that urges improvements to education, ensures taxes don’t go up and brings quality jobs to the county.

“It’s not about taking out Bill James. It’s about having a different kind of leadership,” Levy said. “(James has) been there for 20 years and he hasn’t done a hell of a lot.”

Incumbent challenged

James disagrees.

In 2005, he was part of a lawsuit challenging the legality of provisional ballots cast by voters outside their precincts. The N.C. Supreme Court ruled in favor of James and other Republicans who felt Democrats were using the ballots illegally.

And, he said, he was an unofficial “spokesperson” for busing opponents during the legal battle that ended CMS desegregation policies in 2001.

“I’ve always tried to be very straight and direct when I’m talking about any issue,” James said. “I think Republicans, and specifically conservatives, appreciate someone who is direct and willing to stand up for them.”

But Levy takes issue with the way James does it, pointing to the incumbent’s frequent use of social media. He calls it “Facebook advocacy.”

“You should be lobbying Raleigh. You should be going to school board meetings,” Levy said. “When (U.S. Rep. Robert) Pittenger’s back in town, you should be knocking on his Quail Hollow door.”

Government experience

Levy began his career as an 18-year-old intern for a New York congressman. Stints as a radio sports reporter, cardiac technician and budget analyst followed.

After leaving a job at international accounting firm Deloitte, Levy and his wife moved to Charlotte from New York in 2006. A year later, he started work as an assistant treasurer with the city of Charlotte before moving to Bank of America. He worked there for 18 months but missed working in government, he said. He landed at TIAA-CREF, where he oversees municipal investments.

In 2009, he unsuccessfully ran for Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board, winning only 4 percent of the votes. In 2013, he became vice chairman of the county’s citizen board of tax equalization and review.

Levy said he wants to advocate for the county’s conservatives, even if it means attending meetings or getting involved in topics not necessarily under the county’s purview.

“I want to be a part of all these (elected) bodies because we represent the same people,” Levy said.

Goals too vague?

But James said he feels Levy’s campaign slogans don’t give insight into where he stands on issues.

Levy uses two acronyms to describe his platform: “Get Aboard Joel’s ‘JET’ ” for jobs, education and low taxes, and “Triple T” for no toll lanes, no taxes and term limits for county commissioners.

James said those goals are vague: “Everybody’s for education but (Levy) wasn’t very specific. I didn’t know if that meant he was for charter schools. I am for more charter schools. Is he opposed to busing? I’m opposed to busing.”

Levy said he, too, opposes busing and endorses charter schools, saying he’s “in favor of ... giving parents choice.”

And while he also disagrees with tolls, James stressed the county’s sway over the project is minimal. Levy said he understands the county has no role in transportation, but he’s tired of politicians who “pass the buck.”

“It’s about making sure people are being heard,” Levy said. “I would’ve rented a bus; I would’ve filled it with 50 people and would’ve driven it right at (Gov.) Pat McCrory’s door.”

Jonathan McFadden: 704-358-6045, @JmcfaddenObsGov

Bill James

Age: 59.

Education: Associate degree from Broward Community College; bachelor of science in accounting from Florida Atlantic University; master of business administration and accounting from Nova Southeastern University.

Professional experience: Retired certified public accountant.

Political resume: He has served on the board of county commissioners for nearly 20 years.

Family: Julie, wife; four children: Trey, 28, Blair, 26, Sarah, 24, and Rebekah, 17.

Website: http://billjames.org/.

Joel Levy

Age: 37.

Education: Student at the Charlotte School of Law with June graduation date; bachelor’s and master’s in economics from State University of New York in Albany; master’s of business administration from Wake Forest University.

Professional experience: Director and senior manager at TIAA-CREF.

Political resume: Unsuccessfully ran for Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board in 2009; served as vice chair of the county’s board of equalization and review.

Family: Monica Levy, wife; three children: Benjamin, 7, Gwendolyn, 4, and Theodore, 18 months.

Website: http://voteforlevy.com/.