Taylor Batten

Charlotte is great, and will soon sink?

Mayoral candidate Scott Stone is of two minds about Charlotte.
Mayoral candidate Scott Stone is of two minds about Charlotte. tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

The candidates running for Charlotte mayor face a fundamental question, and how they answer it is inevitably a political calculation.

Is Charlotte a wonderfully successful city that needs a mayor who can keep it thriving? Or is it a city in turmoil that needs a mayor who can turn things around?

The candidates’ answers reveal their strategy – and could seal their fates.

Republican Scott Stone, in kicking off his campaign last week, couldn’t decide. First he warned of the dire direction current leadership is taking the city. Then he trumpeted Charlotte’s reputation nationwide. Then he again decried the current state of the city. Then he again called it the best city in the country.

If we follow current city leaders, “we will continue to divide our community and limit our success,” Stone said. “ … I say enough is enough. It is time for new leadership…”

Then, though, he pivoted: “We are already a region that is the envy of the nation.” Then: “Our city has lost its way over the past few years.” Then: We want our kids’ futures to “be here, in the nation’s greatest city, the City of Charlotte.” Dizzying.

Stone’s primary opponent, Republican Edwin Peacock, was more consistently negative about the state of things in Charlotte these days in an email and video announcing his candidacy last month. He talked about getting Charlotte “back on track” and said, “I can’t sit back and watch from the sidelines as the same mistakes are made over and over.”

“The same problems that were holding Charlotte back are still here. But now they’re bigger,” the Peacock video said.

Still, the narrator points out that Charlotte is “one of the fastest growing cities in America.” He does not explain how it is growing so fast if its current leadership is “inviting (business) to head for the border,” as Peacock also alleged. Without leadership changes, this fast-growing city, Peacock’s video claims, is on the verge of going “down the drain.”

This yin and yang is understandable, given the predicament mayoral challengers are in, particularly Republican ones. They have to convince voters of the need for change from the Democratic-led status quo. But they also need to appear optimistic and in love with the city they want to lead.

Democrat David Howard also launched his campaign last week. He straddled the question more effectively, praising the city and its health while emphasizing the need for more.

“Since the recession ended, Charlotte has gained a lot of ground back, but we can and must do better,” Howard said. “ … Like many people in our city, I’m grateful for our growth, but am concerned that it’s getting harder for many folks to get by, let alone get ahead.”

An old saying posits that pessimists are usually right, but optimists are the ones who get things done. They are also the ones more likely to get elected. Whatever the truth of the matter, voters generally are slower to get behind a pessimistic candidate who denounces the status quo than an optimistic, upbeat candidate.

That puts everyone running in a tricky position in the coming months. Except maybe incumbent Dan Clodfelter. I’m guessing he thinks Charlotte, and its leadership, are great.

Email: tbatten@charlotteobserver.com; on Twitter: @tbatten1.