Supporters of mayoral candidate Jennifer Roberts were unhappy with me a couple months back.
In a column on how the candidates for mayor weren’t acting like they actually wanted to be mayor, I noted how only Roberts had announced her candidacy with a celebratory event in which she introduced herself to voters.
I also noted that Roberts, according to insiders who follow Charlotte politics, was a longshot to win.
Cue the angry typing.
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Letter writers and phone callers pointed out that Roberts had their vote along with many others from important Democratic constituencies: women, Latinos, blacks and those in the LGBT community.
All true. That’s because Roberts can boast something else that no other candidate can in this election:
Follow her on Facebook or Twitter, and your feeds will be filled with Roberts at functions and fundraisers and seemingly everyplace else that people are lifting glasses and taking selfies.
It’s old-fashioned retail politicking with the newfangled amplification of social media, and it has at least a few of those political insiders a little less ready to dismiss the former chair of the Mecklenburg Board of Commissioners. “She’s all over the place,” says one, “and she has enough name recognition that it matters.”
If you think that’s too small-timey for a big city like Charlotte, think again. That same type of strategy worked just last year for another candidate who, like Roberts, had a somewhat rocky tenure on the county commission.
At-large county commissioner Pat Cotham was declared politically dead by many after she orchestrated the 2013 firing of county manager Harry Jones. She was ostracized by fellow Democrats on the board, and many in the African-American community were upset at Jones’ ouster. Even worse, Cotham looked mean in refusing Jones a chance to speak at the meeting where he was canned. Her reelection prospects looked dicey at best.
But Cotham, too, is everywhere – from festivals to community meetings to speaking to any group that asks. It’s not so much a campaign strategy as an operating principle. Cotham believes she needs to be engaged in all of the county to do her job well.
The benefit, of course, is that each Saturday morning festival brings a few votes from people who like that you’re sharing their moment. It adds up, even in a big city and county. Last November, Cotham led all vote getters on the commission.
Will the same work for Roberts? There are plenty of differences between the two, including this: Both may be everywhere, but at those events, people have noticed that Cotham is more likely to be in the crowd, talking to folks. Roberts spends more time up front, with people she knows. It matters.
But Roberts’ enthusiasm is undeniable, and the combination of her omnipresence and name recognition make her a viable candidate. Or, at the least, something more than a longshot.
Peter St. Onge