Charlotte’s local government is a bit of a puzzle. The city of Charlotte has an elected body of a mayor, 7 city council members that represent geographic districts, and 4 “at large” city council members. These 12 positions are part-time, and all have regular jobs. The council has several committees, with all 11 council members serving on several of them at once. The day-to-day business of the city is conducted by the various departmental functions, which report to the City Manager, who reports to the city council (the body, not any one person). The city government works alongside the Mecklenburg County government. There are 6 other small municipalities in the county – Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, Mint Hill, Matthews and Pineville – which all have their own town governments that also work with the county government. The county government looks a lot like the city – there are 11 elected County Commissioners, and the group manages the County Manager, who oversees the various county government functions. Whichever party holds the majority of commissioner seats elects one of them as Chair. These are also part-time positions with the commissioners having regular jobs.
The demographics of Charlotte have changed very drastically in the 29 years I have been here. I moved to a city that politically was typical Southern, meaning Republican. Hundreds of thousands of people, like me, have moved here from Northern and Midwestern locations, which were very Democrat-dominated. The constant influx of Damn Yankees like me sent many natives fleeing for the suburbs, also known as the 7 counties that share a border with Mecklenburg county – Union, Cabarrus, Iredell, Lincoln and Gaston in NC and York and Lancaster in SC. Today, well over 60% of voters inside Mecklenburg county are Democrats, and the makeup of the local government shows it. The mayor has been a Democrat since 2009, and both the city council and county commission have 9 Democrats and 2 Republicans.
The mayor position has seen a particularly tumultuous change. Republican Sue Myrick was mayor when I arrived, having won the election of 1987. She served 2 terms before moving on to an eventual run as a member of the US House of Representatives. She was succeeded by another Republican, Richard Vinrot, who served 2 terms before launching an unsuccessful bid to be NC governor. Republican Pat McCrory was elected in 1995 and broke the revolving door by serving 7 terms as mayor. He made an unsuccessful run at Governor in 2008, but served out his term until the 2009 election. By then the electoral shift had been made and Democrat Anthony Foxx was elected. He probably would have broken McCrory’s record length, as he was very popular, had President Obama not swooped in and pulled Foxx to be Secretary of Transportation. In 2013, former Democrat councilman David Cannon was elected, but didn’t serve a full term before he was busted by the FBI for taking bribes. He would serve more than 3 years in federal prison. Former NC legislator Dan Clodfelter was tabbed to finish Cannon’s term. He ran for re-election but was defeated by Democrat Jennifer Roberts, who had served a number of years with the county commission, including several years as the chair. Roberts is running for re-election this fall, but first has to beat councilman Vi Lyles and state legislator Joel Ford in the Democrat primary. Current city councilman Kenny Smith is the Republican in the race. Of course, with the current political demographics of the city, no Republican has a snowball’s chance in hell of winning, and it’s highly unlikely the Republicans will ever hold any more than 3 or 4 seats on the city council or county board of commissioners. The half-joke among non-Democrats here is that the Northerners fled the cities that were broke and not working, and moved here and recreated the same political climate they fled from.
With Democrats holding super-majorities in both legislatures and the mayor’s office, there is only the occasional citizen protest to stop them from pushing their agenda forward. Roberts’ actions in 2 years as mayor have shown that she is thin-skinned, vindictive, childish and holds a leadership title but has absolutely no leadership skills. Seeing the LGBT community growing in number, she sought out a way to buy their votes permanently by pushing a special city ordinance that would include sexual orientation and gender identity as classes of people protected from discrimination. (One consequence of such legislation would be to force local businesses into complying with the ordinance, like the baker in the Pacific Northwest who was sued by a same-sex couple for not baking them a wedding cake.) Part of this extra protection would include allowing people to use public locker rooms and restrooms that matched their gender identity rather than their birth gender. This was the ultimate example of trying to answer a question no one was asking. There had been almost no reports of any LGBT person being harassed in these public facilities. If this were a problem widespread enough to necessitate legislation, it would have long since been reported by the Charlotte Observer, a newspaper that has become so liberal that Socialist viewpoints are regularly seen in the Opinion section.
(SIDE NOTE: I saw this first-hand during McCrory’s last term as mayor. His regular job was at Duke Energy, and he and I reported to the same VP. An Observer reporter called our boss one day and spent well over an hour grilling the VP about McCrory’s employment. He was searching for any little crumb of evidence that there was something illegal or unethical about the mayor working for Duke Energy. He found nothing. But he still ran a story that strongly implied there was something illegal or unethical there, and that McCrory, our boss and Duke were hiding something. Dude didn’t even spell our boss’s name right, the clod.)
The real danger with this ordinance was, as I have written about many times, the unhinged super-religious nut cases that occupy the NC state legislative branch. These people don’t just believe in God, they believe God has called them to force everyone in NC to live by their moral code through legislation. They howled in protest about the developing Charlotte ordinance. McCrory, who had won election as governor in his second attempt in 2012, gave Charlotte a verbal smack-down, vowing the city would pay dearly for passing the ordinance. At this point it was clear that McCrory had abandoned his strategy of leading from the center and winning compromises among Charlotte’s warring factions in favor of the my-way-or-the-highway, by-gawd-we-won’t-stand-for-these-heathens bloviating from the state legislature. He willingly became the puppet of the religious nuts in the legislature, who retaliated against the ordinance with the horrifying House Bill 2. If, by some miracle, you missed the NC House Bill 2 debacle, just Google it (and email me offline so I know how to get to the bunker you’ve been living in so I can escape for a little while, too).
While the HB2 inferno was raging, we faced civil unrest. It was in Charlotte where yet another unarmed black man was killed by a police officer. While the evidence for the shooting was highly inconclusive, and it’s unlikely we will ever know the full story, that didn’t stop the mob mentality from running wild. Within minutes of the shooting, social media had spread the initial report worldwide. “Charlotte police officer shooting. Victim is black male, appears to have been unarmed.” The shooting occurred around 4:00 PM, and for the following 48 hours, rioting ensued.
(SIDE NOTE #2: This perfectly illustrates why the United States of America is not, never has been, and never should be a democracy. Without any conclusive evidence, people drew their conclusions about the shooting and formed a mob to administer justice. That’s what pure democracy is – mob rule. If we ever became a pure democracy, the entire country would get burned to the ground within days. I’ll take the representative Republic we currently have every day of the week and twice on Sunday, thank you.)
The shooting and rioting exposed Roberts’ complete lack of ability to lead. The National Guard should have been called up and a citywide curfew should have been set the first night of the riots. It wasn’t until after 2 nights of destructive riots that those measures were taken. After everything settled down, Roberts wrote an op-ed in the Observer blaming the police department for the entire crisis. Other actions have shown this shortcoming. Upon her election, she removed council members who had supported Clodfelter from more prestigious committee assignments. Charlotte, like all major cities, has a severe affordable housing shortage. About 20,000 apartments have either opened in the past 2 years or are under construction, and every single one of them costs a minimum of $2.00 per square foot to rent. (Translation, a 1,000 square foot unit for a family of 2-3 will run you at least $2,000 a month in what is being built.) So, if you make less than $80,000 a year, you cannot afford anything new. The only places you can rent an apartment are 30-year-old complexes that are falling down, and there are about 1.5 citizens for every available bedroom. While Libertarians like me hate using tax money for more government programs, even I have to admit there is going to have to be significant dollars from public, private and philanthropic sources to solve this problem. I just have to hope the solutions are more private and philanthropic than public. Seeing this crisis, one of the 2 lonely Republicans on the city council recently proposed using some money being proposed to help build a stadium for a potential Major League Soccer franchise for some affordable housing initiatives instead. Remember, with all the elected leaders in part-time positions, these committees are the main avenue for elected leaders to get things done. Roberts and her tissue-paper feelings retaliated by removing this councilman from the Economic Development committee, which is the most influential and powerful council committee. Even other Democrats on the council are appalled at Roberts’ childish actions.
As a Libertarian, I am completely powerless in local elections. There are no Libertarians to vote for, and I cannot vote in the other parties’ primaries. All I can do is encourage my neighbors to examine the candidates thoroughly, and if any of them are ineffective, bitchy little crybabies like Jennifer Roberts, to please vote for someone else.