When she returned to politics two years ago and joined Mecklenburg’s board of county commissioners, Ella Scarborough said she wanted to be a voice for everyday people and bring more jobs to employ them.
Today, she chairs the board’s economic development committee at a time the county is bolstering its efforts at luring businesses to the area. She’s questioned Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ literacy rates among third-grade students, and has been vocal in her desire to see homelessness in the county eradicated.
“My voice is very strong on the economic side,” Scarborough said. “We must bring jobs. We must also ensure that when companies are coming, they are hiring our unemployed and underemployed (in) as much as they are qualified.”
Scarborough, 69, is running to keep her at-large seat on the majority Democratic board.
“There are many issues as it relates to us being a wonderful county,” Scarborough said. “Economic development is at the core.”
Scarborough calls herself a lifelong public servant. She’s persistent, too.
In 1963, when she was 16, Scarborough and 357 other black students in Sumter, S.C., were jailed when they tried to walk through the front door of a segregated movie theater. Five years later, as a senior at S.C. State University in Orangeburg, S.C., she was part of an effort to integrate the town’s only bowling alley.
Officers fired into a crowd of black students after a S.C. Highway Patrol trooper was hit in the head with a wooden banister. Three people died. The event became known as the Orangeburg Massacre.
In 1987, she was elected to Charlotte City Council and in 1994 became the first African-American woman to win an at-large seat. She served on the council for three more years before unsuccessfully running for the U.S. Senate in 1998. She lost mayoral races in 1999 and 2001.
After several years off the campaign trail, she made a comeback in 2014 as an at-large commissioner. That year, as she celebrated her win in the primary, she told supporters: “I’m back!”
Her message to them today: “Be patient. I’m not finished yet.”
Building the economy
At the heart of Scarborough’s campaign are concerns about upward mobility and education. Those two things are related, she said, and key to boosting the county’s economy.
In recent meetings, Scarborough has criticized CMS for the number of third-grade students who are not reading at grade-level. “If we don’t have an educated population,” the economy won’t grow.
Scarborough supports using incentives to attract companies to the county. But she wants some assurances in return. For example, she does not approve of companies that relocate to Charlotte, bring their employees and then start layoffs within a year.
“When that happens, it hurts our economy,” she said. “If we get more people who are unemployed, it doesn’t help our numbers at any rate.”
Staff Writer David Perlmutt contributed.
Hometown: Sumter, S.C.
Education: Bachelor’s of library sciences from S.C. State University; master’s in organizational leadership from University of Charleston in West Virginia
Family: Widowed; two children, Troy and Tori
Job: Retired Duke Energy librarian
Politics: Served 10 years on Charlotte City Council; has served one term as a Mecklenburg County commissioner