Burgess: surveying a political career

Jun 9, 2010

Long-time Charlotte city council member Susan Burgess bid farewell to a 16 year career in politics this week. She served on the school board, the city council and even ran for mayor. Now she says her cancer is in advanced stages and she can no longer meet the rigors of council service. WFAE's Lisa Miller takes a look at her life in the political arena. Friends and opponents alike describe Burgess as a sort-of tenacious Pollyanna. Her tone would say we should all be friends, but she can be very firm in her opinions. And she has a special word for people who don't agree with her. "She would refer to them as 'frowny pantses," says Dan McCorkle who has managed five of Burgess's campaigns. "By calling them frowny pants, she said, 'You're just being childish about it. I'll win you over.'" "Nobody loves Charlotte any more than Susan Burgess loves Charlotte," says Republican Councilman Andy Dulin. Consider him won over by Burgess. They've had their disagreements. Burgess, a Democrat, hasn't been above playing politics, but Dulin says: "What people don't see is that in the backroom before we have our council meetings most Monday nights Susan Burgess and I have dinner together. We are friends, but in a lot cases we are on opposite sides of the debate." Over the years, Burgess pushed for more affordable housing and called for more funding of roads and public transit. She also urged the council to set up a committee for environmental policy. There were also the more mundane matters of local government like sign ordinances. Another of her campaign managers Marty Doss says those issues got Burgess fired up. He remembers how she called him up one day and told him how she found this guy putting up signs by the road. Burgess told him to stop it because he was breaking a city ordinance. Doss laughs as he says the man ignored her and she followed him down the freeway and called 911 on him. Burgess has served on the city council for nine years and has been a political mentor to many of her colleagues. "She was one of those folks that took a great interest in me and encouraged me to run for city council in 2005," says Mayor Anthony Foxx. He's often marveled at Burgess's stamina for neighborhood meetings and dinner receptions. "Invariably as I was walking in the door, she'd be walking out," says Foxx. "She'd already been there. She'd already talked to the citizens. She'd already shaken their hands and asked about their children and she had three other places to be." With the pace she kept, many people forgot she was dealing with cancer. Before the election in 2007, she told people she'd been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. For most of the three years since then, campaign manager Marty Doss says Burgess was receiving chemotherapy. "I know some days that she would leave the hospital and go to a council meeting," says Doss. "I even heard her say a couple times say she was not going to get much sedation when she was having a procedure done because she wanted to be alert." A month ago Burgess announced she was receiving Hospice care and finally had to slow down. Monday night she attended her final city council meeting and offered her resignation. "I love this city and its people and it has been an honor for me to represent them," said Burgess.