Viewpoint

An ‘endorsement’ for someone who makes Charlotte, um, memorable

Jennifer Roberts at the Charlotte Mayoral Democratic Primary Debate Kickoff in April.
Jennifer Roberts at the Charlotte Mayoral Democratic Primary Debate Kickoff in April. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

And now, my “endorsements” in the race for mayor of Charlotte.

Candidates and voters anxiously await these words. Though the decisions are tough, I shall not shirk my responsibility.

On the Republican side, there are two other candidates running along with Councilman Kenny Smith. I couldn’t find anything about them in the news – until one of them said voters should choose her because she's “white” – but Smith follows me on Twitter so he's obviously the guy.

In the Democratic race, the choice is equally clear: The incumbent, Jennifer Roberts, has achieved more toward the Charlotte GuvCo mission of becoming a city known by its first-name-only than any other mayor in the 15-plus years I’ve lived here.

Early in her term, Roberts proudly proclaimed people should be able to Pee Wherever They Want in her damn-the-torpedoes, full-speed-ahead drive to expand the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance.

It was Roberts’ yeoman, self-driven effort, her steadfast unwillingness to work with colleagues on the City Council or representatives in Raleigh to prepare a proper path for the proposal, which paved the way for Raleigh’s noxious, nationally embarrassing overreaction known as HB2. Her grandstanding refusal to help untangle the mess in the many months after HB2 passed served to keep the swirl smacking the city for a year.

Explicitly protecting the rights of LGBT persons is as defensible as protecting the rights of any class of persons. That Roberts was willing to concede, to compromise the Charlotte law she had stood for so fervently for so long in the face of so much fallout for the city, just as her own re-election season was at hand, showed who she was really interested in protecting.

Yet, those headlines were nothing compared with the “Blood Runs in Charlotte” mini-series of a year ago.

The mayor’s lack of leadership after Keith Lamont Scott was shot and killed by a CMPD officer last September helped set the stage for two nights of violence and hours of live, prime-time coverage by the cable news networks. Through her own “startled, stumbling confusion,” as I called it at the time, Mayor Roberts helped ensure Charlotte would never again need “North Carolina” as a last name.

After the rioting, Roberts seemed to sense the need to show stronger command. She rose boldly to the challenge by publicly throwing Police Chief Kerr Putney under the bus in a piece in the Observer. Just as her stewardship of the anti-discrimination ordinance succeeded in prompting a broad backlash from Raleigh, Roberts’ throwing shade on the chief succeeded in bringing all 11 council members – Democrats and Republicans alike – to the chief’s defense.

Roberts then had the honor of presiding over a long council meeting where a crowd made up largely of African-Americans called repeatedly for her resignation, along with that of Chief Putney. Takes some doing to get a group of African-Americans to call for the resignation of a liberal Democrat mayor and Black police chief, but Roberts came through. This stellar success blossomed into two prominent African-Americans challenging her in the primary.

Jennifer Roberts has been mayor of Charlotte only 638 days.

Think what she could do if given 730 more.

Observer contributor Keith Larson can be heard on “The Larson Page” weekdays at noon on ESPN Radio Charlotte (730 AM) and TheLarsonPage.com.

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