Tue October 22, 2013
Charlotte's Mayoral Choice
Charlotte's next mayor will be either a long-time Democratic city councilman or a some-time Republican councilman with a long pedigree in Charlotte politics. WFAE has this look at the city's mayoral choice come November 5.
One hour in the Edwin Peacock Campaign office on a Saturday morning sheds a lot of light on the candidate.
The 43-year-old Republican is cross-legged on the floor in front of a row of campaign signs, ringing up volunteers who've agreed to help distribute them.
"Hey good morning, how you doing?" says Peacock, cheerfully into his cell phone.
Some of these people he barely knows, but there's a sort of fraternity-brother familiarity to Peacock's style. ("Alright buddy, have a great one. Cheers!")
And then there are his campaign signs. "Edwin Peacock for Congress," they say. . . or used to say, before he pasted over them with stickers that say "for Mayor." This is Peacock's third race in three years.
Last year, it was for Sue Myrick's seat in the 9th Congressional District – which he lost. And the year before that, he came up short in a campaign to keep his city council spot as the sole Republican serving in an at-large position. Campaigning is familiar territory for Peacock: his father, Ed, served for years on the city and county commission and ran for mayor, too. He lost to Democrat Harvey Gantt.
If Edwin Peacock is going to win his race in an increasingly Democratic city, he'll need strong support from independent voters like Kevin Tydings.
"I like the fact that he's a moderate Republican - not one of the way, far Tea Party candidates or something like that," says Tydings. "I think he'd be good at bringing both sides together."
Peacock says his leadership style is "both collaborative, but it's also seeking to seek consensus around something very positive."
In two terms on the city council, Peacock developed a reputation for building consensus on sometimes controversial topics, like the city's tree ordinance.
Had he been in charge last year Peacock says the city council would not have descended into a bickering stalemate over city's capital improvement plan and proposed streetcar. He would have been more sensitive to the time council members need to find agreement: "I found if you try to rush things on city council, that's where you get backfire."
He would not have supported paying for the streetcar with property taxes. And he would have pushed for a much smaller increase in the tax rate than the 3-cent boost the council approved to pay for other capital projects.
"When you talk about putting a bold and aggressive capital plan at the edge of a botched county property tax revaluation - married with a very fragile economy - I just don't see the timing as being right," says Peacock.
He also would not have voted to spend $87 million on Bank of America stadium renovations.
But the airport? He's all for continuing the lawsuit to keep it under city control. And on that point, his opponent agrees.
"I would endorse continuing to make sure that we run and operate that airport like we have been doing for years," says Democrat Patrick Cannon.
Some twenty of those years, in fact, Cannon has been on the Charlotte city council. At 47, he's spent the bulk of his adult life in public office. He won his first council race when he was 26 and looking for a way to help neighborhoods like the public housing projects where he grew up in central and southeast Charlotte.
His was a single parent home ("My father actually was murdered when I was 7 years old," says Cannon).
"And, yes, I had an opportunity to be on free or reduced lunch, largely in part because my mom just couldn't afford it," he recalls. "My mom worked very hard for us at an entity called Freuhauf Trucking company. And it was tough seeing her come home dead tired with caulking all up under her nails and all she could do was kinda just sit down, regroup, and get herself together before she could get up and prepare a meal for us to have that evening. And while she was preparing a meal, I'd have to be at the table, doing my homework."
Cannon draws heavily on his life story to connect with voters.
"That part I do like about him," says Demetra Moore, who came to hear Cannon speak at a recent lunch meeting of her networking group – the Queen Bees. "He can relate to people who don't have as much. Sometimes that's harder from people when they are so far-fetched from everyday reality of the common person."
The "Queen Bees" seem charmed by Cannon.
"I was happy to have gotten stung!" he quips at the end of his speech.
Cannon has the confidence of a 20-year politician, but not necessarily the flash you'd expect. Even his campaign signs proclaim him as "the sensible choice" – like he's a sturdy pair of shoes.
"I'm a common person," says Cannon. "Less of a politician, I couch myself as being a servant leader. I think it's important to have someone come to the table with a level of common sense, a level of business sense and a level of community sense."
Cannon's break in business came, in part, because of his position on city council. Early in his tenure, he got a call from Hugh McColl, CEO of what would become Bank of America. McColl was looking for a referral of a small, minority-owned business to provide parking services. Cannon says he checked around, but came up empty handed.
"I came back and said, 'Hey, I think I may have found somebody in the parking business,'" says Cannon. "(McColl) said, 'Who?' I said, 'Me.'"
Cannon founded E-Z Parking, which now manages more than 10,000 spaces uptown – many on behalf of the Carolina Panthers. That connection led Cannon to excuse himself from the council's recent decision to fund renovations to the team's stadium.
While Cannon did not participate in those meetings, he says he supports the council's decision to spend the money, because the Panthers are good for small businesses like his own and because the stadium is a valuable asset for luring premiere sporting events.
"Now, what's being talked about - and I'm at the table on - is bringing about an international soccer cup championship," says Cannon.
Perhaps Cannon's most controversial moment came last year when he joined with the council's two Republicans to defeat the Mayor's streetcar proposal, which relied solely on increased property taxes for funding. Cannon says he's always supported the concept of a streetcar, but not paid for through property taxes.
Once the streetcar was removed, Cannon did vote for the capital improvement plan and its accompanying 3.17 cent property tax increase.
"Largely in part because Charlotte's not shrinking - we're growing," says Cannon. "You have to have leadership that will invest in Charlotte's future."
The city's neighborhoods and roads need that investment, says Cannon, and putting it off would only make the projects more expensive as construction and land values increase.
Both he and Peacock say creating jobs would be a top priority as mayor. Cannon wants to see more blue-collar jobs come back to the community, to balance out the white collar finance and corporate headquarters positions city leaders have focused on.
Peacock thinks it's high time to diversify Charlotte's economy, too, but his focus is on fostering entrepreneurs. He says for too long, the city has lived off its past glory as a town with two big banks and a power company.