Roberts sends a message about Charlotte

The Observer editorial board


Charlotte, you’ve probably noticed, is still growing.

It’s growing not only in population, but in diversity and the kind of cultural depth that marks great cities.

It’s a narrative, this growth, that Charlotte has embraced for decades. It’s a reality, however, that brings new challenges and amplifies old ones.

On Tuesday, the woman who might be Charlotte’s next mayor showed us a way, both new and old, to meet those challenges.

Jennifer Roberts roared to first place in the Democratic primary for mayor, outpacing second-place finisher Dan Clodfelter by close to a double-digit margin. The only drama of the night wasn’t whether Roberts would finish first, but whether she would get the 40 percent necessary for a runoff.

She didn’t, which means the Democratic winner will be decided in a runoff election between Roberts and Clodfelter on Oct. 6. That candidate will face Edwin Peacock, who trounced Scott Stone in the Republican primary.

Clodfelter, and perhaps in turn Peacock, will be underdogs against Roberts, who just a year ago was seen by political insiders as the unlikeliest of the major mayoral candidates to win. But from the start, Roberts eschewed the traditional path of emphasizing the communities that made up her party’s base. Instead, she decided she would be everywhere.

She attended events in all corners of Charlotte. She shook hands at festivals, smiled for selfies at farmer’s markets, spoke on panels about the city’s issues. Her enthusiasm helped gather up votes at each stop, and her clear affection for Charlotte resonated.

The result: Roberts made inroads throughout the city. She took votes from David Howard and Michael Barnes in west Charlotte precincts. She went neck-and-neck with Clodfelter in much of south Charlotte. She ran away with east Charlotte.

It was a testament to old-fashioned retail politics, and it also was a reminder that despite our struggles and inequities, we are still a city that shares a largely positive outlook on what’s ahead. It’s no coincidence that Peacock also was the more inclusive and affirming candidate in the Republican race.

That might change some now that the Democratic race is down to two candidates. Clodfelter and Roberts don’t differ much on policies impacting Charlotte, so the runner-up Tuesday might feel inclined to make an issue of Roberts’ up-and-down tenure as chair of the Mecklenburg Board of Commissioners.

Regardless of the Democratic winner, Charlotte’s voter demographics don’t favor Peacock. That might prompt him to be more aggressive in the coming months than the mayoral race two years ago, when he lost to Patrick Cannon.

On Tuesday, however, Roberts sent the loudest message.

She won with a relentlessly optimistic campaign. She won not by being the best at rallying her base, and not by emphasizing the differences we have, but by being bold enough to reach out to people across Charlotte.

She won in this growing city by making it seem smaller.