5 questions to start mayor’s race

The Observer editorial board

David Howard
David Howard dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte has had five mayors in the past six years: Pat McCrory, Anthony Foxx, Patsy Kinsey, Patrick Cannon and Dan Clodfelter. A sixth could move into the 15th floor office in December.

The race to become that sixth officially began Monday, when filing opened for this fall’s elections. Democrats David Howard and Jennifer Roberts jumped in right away. They are expected to be joined in coming days by Democrats Clodfelter and Michael Barnes and Republicans Edwin Peacock and Scott Stone, and perhaps others.

Voters should demand a beefy discussion of the issues, not vague platitudes, over the eight weeks until early voting begins. The Observer plans to do its part to make sure that happens. We start today. Here are five key questions that any serious mayoral candidate should answer in specific terms.

1 How can the city pay for massive needed investments in transportation and mass transit?

The city crafted an ambitious 2030 transit plan and twice approved a half-cent sales tax to pay for it. But that plan now faces a $5 billion shortfall and there are no easy ways to fill it. The I-77 toll project has drawn an outcry in recent months, but the city and region’s transportation challenges go much deeper than that. Charlotte has been one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities for years. All those newcomers will produce Atlanta-style gridlock, or worse, without significant solutions. Those solutions cost money. The next mayor needs to carry this issue from talk to action.

2 Let’s assume the legislature will continue to pass tax laws that hurt urban areas like Charlotte and benefit rural ones. How can the city offset the loss of revenue? And is a friendlier relationship with legislators out of the question?

Legislators killed the business privilege license tax, helping create a $22 million hole in Charlotte’s budget. Now they may take millions more in sales tax revenue to give to rural counties. Given legislators’ records, it’s a safe bet they’ll consider other anti-Charlotte proposals as well. Charlotte’s next mayor needs strategies to counter Raleigh’s raid.

3 Ferguson. Baltimore. Cleveland. Charleston. McKinney, Texas. Tensions have been high around the country. How can Charlotte improve race relations and specifically relations between police and the community?

The trial of former CMPD Officer Randall Kerrick will probably be over by the time the new mayor takes office. But the tensions between police and residents, especially black residents, are likely to remain. With policing one of the core functions of city government, the next mayor should be especially sensitive to such tensions.

4 Do you agree or disagree with City Manager Ron Carlee’s most recent budget, which essentially had more affluent communities paying the way for less affluent ones?

This gets at a fundamental challenge surrounding Charlotte’s future, first emphasized by former City Manager Curt Walton and Mayor Foxx: The city is increasingly divided between haves and have-nots, and balancing the budget with never-ending property tax hikes paid mostly by the well-off in south Charlotte is a limited strategy. The city needs to spark growth in the lagging east and west sides of town. The candidates for mayor need to explain how they will make that happen.

5 What experience do you have dealing with crises, and what are the guiding principles you’d use to guide the city through one as mayor?

Often the defining moment in a leader’s career comes not during mundane good times but from something that was completely unforeseen. What if Bank of America moves its headquarters to Boston? What if a terrorist attack hit Charlotte? Charlotte should expect nothing but be prepared for anything – and have a leader who is poised and visionary amid crisis.

Primary election day is 69 days away. Let’s get the conversation started.