Just 18 months ago, Charlotte experienced one of its most difficult days – the arrest of its mayor, Patrick Cannon, on corruption charges. It was a blow to our city – and to the confidence we have in the leaders we choose.
But this month, as we stand at voting machines across Charlotte, we’ll look down at one of the deepest and most diverse mayoral fields in memory.
It’s a good moment for our city.
It also will be, for many voters, a difficult choice. The four main Democrats and two Republicans in the race have clear strengths but critical shortcomings. In many ways, and in both parties, voters will not only be choosing the candidate they like most, but what kind of mayor they believe Charlotte should have.
Voters in the Democratic primary will choose from four main candidates with long histories of public service. Each would likely bring a starkly different approach to the job.
Michael Barnes is a long-time Charlotte City Council member who currently serves as Mayor Pro Tem. He’s a very capable at-large council member with a sharp grasp of policy and a willingness to buck his party when he feels it’s right. Notably, he has asked the right questions on Charlotte’s streetcar and how the city might pay for it.
Barnes, however, seems an awkward fit for the public nature of the mayor’s job. He is and always has been a low-key campaigner and public servant. He’s also blunt, sometimes to his detriment. We worry that he doesn’t possess the inner filter that Charlotte needs for its most public voice – and that he wouldn’t embrace the consensus building and, yes, cheerleading the job requires.
Jennifer Roberts would have no trouble with the enthusiasm the office demands. She’s been, for more than a year, a tireless attendee of festivals and fundraisers. That’s not just Roberts being a strong campaigner; she had a similarly full calendar as chair of the Mecklenburg county commission.
But in interviews and debates, Roberts has been the least precise of the mayoral candidates on policy issues and her vision for Charlotte, and she’s overstated the impact she could have on education as mayor. We’re particularly troubled by her time as chair of the county commission, where she showed weak leadership and an unwillingness to stand up to then-county manager Harry Jones or his staff. In Charlotte’s weak mayor/strong manager form of government, the mayor cannot be timid.
Dan Clodfelter, who was appointed mayor after Cannon’s arrest, certainly doesn’t lack confidence when it comes to policy. He has a long list of accomplishments as a state lawmaker representing Mecklenburg. He showed an ability in that role to craft important legislation and bring people together to support it.
But Clodfelter also is the only candidate we don’t have to imagine as mayor. He’s done it for more than a year, and he’s been a disappointment. While council members admire his insight on issues, they say he’s shown little inclination to lead others toward his vision. He has also missed opportunities to add his voice to important conversations, including the non-discrimination ordinance that roiled the council and city.
Clodfelter says his job until now has been to provide a steady hand and calm voice, post-Cannon, and that he’s ready now to be more visible and proactive. He’s right – the city needed a calm voice, but it also needed leadership. We’re unsure whether Clodfelter is up to it.
David Howard, like Clodfelter, has done his best work behind the scenes. He’s the member of the council who gets things done with a thorough grasp of policy and a collegiality with members of both parties. He’s quiet, and he’s not altogether comfortable with attention, but as the campaign has progressed, he has shown a confidence and eloquence that would fit the mayor’s office well.
Most importantly, he’s the one candidate who’s not only looking at issues facing Charlotte now, such as economic inequality, but actively thinking and leading conversations about what our city should become. His work on Charlotte’s potential as an innovation hub for mobile technology is particularly promising.
It’s the kind of vision, combined with policy smarts, our city needs. We recommend Howard in the Democratic primary.
Republican voters face a different kind of decision for mayor. Not only must they choose between candidates with clear ideological differences, they must decide whether Edwin Peacock or Scott Stone has a better chance of winning in a city that’s rough on Republicans.
Peacock is more moderate, at least on social issues. He prefers policies, for example, that would result in a more welcoming Charlotte for the LGBT community.
Both are fiscally conservative, but their position on one such issue – the streetcar – gives a glimpse into what kind of mayor each would be. While Peacock and Stone each oppose a streetcar extension, Stone says he would “do everything” he could to stop it. Peacock, as a member of the City Council, fought against the streetcar but ultimately voted for a budget that contained money for it.
Stone’s vow to stand on principle as mayor might please the base, but it would likely alienate a Democrat-heavy city council. Peacock, at least, recognizes that acknowledging defeat on one issue allows him to maintain relationships that might provide policy wins down the road.
For a Republican in Charlotte, that’s the best path to impactful governing. It’s also why Peacock is the only Republican with a real chance to beat a Democrat in November. We recommend him in the primary.