O-Pinion

Are Charlotte’s voters saying ‘No thanks’ to the two black mayoral candidates?

rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

The Observer’s new poll on Charlotte’s mayoral race provided some startling news over the weekend.

The poll showed former Mecklenburg commissioners’ chair Jennifer Roberts out front of the four-person field with 39 percent of the vote. Interestingly, it also showed that we’ve got two African Americans bringing up the rear in a Democratic primary that’s typically dominated by black voters. Apparently, the black community isn’t ready to line up behind either.

Roberts took 37 percent of the black vote in the poll, followed by Michael Barnes, one of two black City Council members seeking the job, with 20 percent. The other African-American, David Howard, garnered 13 percent, just above Mayor Dan Clodfelter at 12 percent.

This in a city where blacks comprise 64 percent of registered Charlotte Democrats.

So, what’s going on here?

Three possible explanations:

▪ The Cannon effect. Given that Patrick Cannon, our last elected mayor, is now doing time on federal corruption charges, perhaps black voters have decided they’ve seen enough of black mayors for a while. Sara Stevenson, founder of the westside’s influential Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum, says she believes Howard and Barnes are splitting votes in the black community. Our poll numbers suggest they’re splitting it with Roberts more so than with each other.

We should also note the other side of the demographic coin here. It seems telling that Barnes and Howard, while failing to dominate the black vote, also received just 4 percent each of the white vote. By contrast, Roberts and Clodfelter combined to take roughly half of the black support.

If black voters are running away from the idea of electing another black mayor, it appears white voters are fleeter of foot.

▪ Good old campaign fundamentals. Perhaps it has nothing to do with race. Maybe Roberts and Clodfelter are simply running better races than the two black candidates, and the black community is responding accordingly. Both Clodfelter and Roberts express strong support for narrowing income inequality and helping inner-city areas of east and west Charlotte. Clodfelter says he has the backing of Mecklenburg Commissioner Ella Scarborough and former city councilman and state legislator Malcolm Graham.

Roberts, who has the biggest campaign war chest, has been turning up at inner city community events for months now and plastering the pictures on social media. Could it be that the black candidates are simply getting outworked in the black community?

▪ Our poll is way off base. Howard, who drew the least overall support in it, certainly hopes so. He received the Black Political Caucus’ endorsement Friday, and is surely betting that it represents a more accurate gauge of black voter sentiment than our poll.

We’ll know for sure Sept. 15. Eric Frazier

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