Walking from her car to a debate against Dan Clodfelter last week, Jennifer Roberts was asked in an informal one-on-one conversation if she felt good about her chances in the upcoming election.
“I feel good about Charlotte,” she replied. “I feel good about Charlotte’s future.”
She didn’t answer the question, but this was a candidate single-minded of purpose who was not going to be knocked off message. For 17 months, Roberts rode that consistent, upbeat, light-on-details approach all the way to the Democratic nomination for Charlotte mayor.
She tirelessly worked all parts of the city, promising economic opportunity to Charlotte’s forgotten places and support for its struggling schools. Voters saw her as caring about them and their close-to-home concerns and dedicated to helping them.
Now she and Republican Edwin Peacock will spend less than four weeks running against each other. Roberts, in a Democrat-friendly city, is likely to stay on her current track of offering a positive if unspecific platform while seeking to avoid confrontations with her opponent. Peacock, as the underdog, is more likely to go after Roberts to raise doubts in voters’ minds.
He is likely to criticize her handling of Mecklenburg County’s botched property revaluation when she chaired the board of county commissioners. And he’ll try to portray her as a big-spending, streetcar-loving liberal, though her affinity for tax hikes and streetcars are both weaker than they are for some other Democrats.
Peacock, who has lost his last three bids for office, faces long odds again. With Republicans making up only 23 percent of Charlotte’s electorate, he’ll need to motivate them to go to the polls while also claiming most of the unaffiliated vote. Peacock could find it tricky to excite the base and attract moderates simultaneously.
Charlotte voters will be electing their fifth mayor in 2 1/2 years. This one, though, could stick around for a while, so voters deserve in coming weeks a meaty airing of their views on the issues and their visions for the city. Voters shouldn’t accept generalizations that barely scratch the surface from either candidate.
Turnout on Tuesday – just 6 percent – was deplorable. We hope Roberts and Peacock move voters to turn out in the general election Nov. 3 – though having a say in who leads the city should be motivation enough.
Finally, we thank Dan Clodfelter for his service as Charlotte mayor the past 18 months. He took the center seat at the dais at a momentous time following former mayor Patrick Cannon’s arrest on corruption charges. Confidence in local government was badly shaken, and Clodfelter quickly helped restore a sense of normalcy. He was the right man at the right time.
After a term as mayor, 15 years in the state legislature and six years on the City Council, Clodfelter now must decide what’s next. Charlotte should hope he remains a dedicated contributor to our public life.