Charlotte mayoral candidates Jennifer Roberts and Edwin Peacock met at Spirit Square Wednesday night for a sometimes-feisty debate broadcast live on TV and the Web. Here’s how things looked to Observer Editorial Page Editor Taylor Batten and Associate Editor Peter St. Onge:
Peter St. Onge:
Jennifer Roberts, like a lot of us, doesn’t like to be criticized.
She had an icy interview Wednesday morning with the editorial board, which hasn’t yet endorsed her for mayor.
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She had a bad mayoral debate moment Wednesday night when she responded to an Edwin Peacock flurry of jabs not with a defense of her record, but by awkwardly citing her lead in a poll and calling him “desperate.”
But that was about the only poor moment Wednesday for Roberts, who had her strongest debate by far. She was precise about policy questions, including those about policing and gangs. She took firm positions on issues such as Charlotte housing policy. She showed that she can be both positive – as she likes to be – and thoughtful, as she’s clearly capable of being.
It was, in a way, an answer to the criticisms the editorial board and others have had about Roberts – that in her zeal to stay on message, she too often resorted to platitudes instead of telling voters what she really thought about issues.
That didn’t happen Wednesday. Instead, she appeared to examine where she could get better, then did so. That’s what good politicians, and good leaders, do.
Was this the final gasp for Peacock? Debates typically don’t directly affect the outcome of a political race, especially at a local level with a relatively small audience watching. But for most of those who were there or watching the broadcast at home, Roberts was the clear winner.
Peacock spent the first half of the debate describing his beliefs on various issues but rarely engaging with Roberts. He confronted her more frequently in the second half of the debate, but with limited success.
He was right that Roberts led an effort to raise taxes by 10.6 percent one year as county commission chairman, and he wisely pointed out her lack of leadership on the botched property revaluation that affected thousands of residents. But she fended those attacks off ably and he moved on to other unwieldy answers. When he attacked her for not having a plan to fight crime, she effectively parried that into the notion that Peacock is dismissive of her work on domestic violence. Peacock didn’t once mention Harry Jones or the Department of Social Services.
Peacock was in a tight spot. Down 15 points in the polls, he needed to go on the attack to shake things up. But when he finally did so, he came across as strident, or negative, or “desperate,” as Roberts dismissively put it. That’s a no-win situation.