This year we will see change, not just in Washington, D.C., but in Charlotte's own Government Center, when seven-term mayor Pat McCrory does not return as the head of the city following the 2009 election.
The new mayor and city council in 2010 will face the possibility of an unknown number of banking employees losing jobs and homeowners losing their homes, all while struggling to lure new business to Charlotte and trying to improve public safety. (Statistics suggest crime is declining: Reported crime dropped 7.8 percent for the first time in 14 years, according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department's year-end report.)
"All of these issues are going to need to be taken on by the new governing board," said Patrick Cannon, a former city councilman who was once a much-discussed possible mayoral candidate. He now hosts the community radio talk show, Aiming With Cannon, on WQNC-FM.
McCrory announced his decision not to seek re-election about a month after his failed bid for North Carolina governor. For some Charlotte residents, McCrory is the only mayor they've ever known. He's been in office since 1995, around the same time the city experienced a population boom.
"There is some good and bad in Pat McCrory's departure," Cannon said. "We're faced with an economy that appears not to be getting better. There are issues of growth and housing."
Charlotte, he said, will need experienced people in the mayor's chair and on the council -- people who have the ability to make things happen. "If not, one needs to second-guess vying for office," he said.
Joel Ford, chairman of the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party, said Charlotte's new mayor will enter office with big challenges of limited resources and many needs.
A message left with the Mecklenburg County Republican Party was not returned by press time.
City Councilman John Lassiter, a Republican, said whoever is the city's next mayor will need to have the skill to work with investors to create jobs in Charlotte. "We have a pretty diverse economy now, but as we look toward the future, we need to not be dependent on one industry," he said, adding that about 35 percent of Charlotte's economy is based on service.
Lassiter, an at-large council member since 2003, said he plans to make an announcement within the next month about his plans to run for mayor.
While Ford said he thinks Charlotte will choose a Democrat to replace McCrory, the most important thing about the next mayor isn't party affiliation. The city, he said, needs "a mayor that is going to have a view and a perspective of all of Charlotte."
"Charlotte is such a large and dynamic city that we need a mayor who is going to take a citywide view of the issues and concerns facing the city of Charlotte," said Ford.
Charlotte Republican blogger Matt Mercer wrote in an e-mail to Creative Loafing that Charlotte's new mayor should, among other things, have a backbone. "The next mayor will need to stand tough on tough issues," Mercer wrote.
"The city council can come up with some crazy things when you give them money, and it will be incumbent upon the mayor to approve sensible plans and veto bad ones, like the [Parkwood Food Mart] in [the] Belmont [neighborhood]," he wrote. "There's nothing wrong with compromise, but the next mayor shouldn't compromise principles."
In August, McCrory vetoed a plan by the city council to purchase the store in North Charlotte. The plan was for the city to purchase the property and find a developer to turn it into something else.
Cannon said Charlotte's new mayor will also have to find another way to brand Charlotte, especially since the banking industry has taken such a hit.
Charlotte has prided itself on being the number-two banking center in the nation -- a distinction it retains -- but with Wachovia being absorbed by Wells Fargo and Bank of America facing difficulties, the city needs other economic brands. "What else can we as a community do to brand Charlotte?" Cannon said. "We're going to have to lure new industry here."
That's a reason why Mercer thinks the next mayor of Charlotte should have an "in" with the business community. "This economy won't be fixed in a year, so we need people in government that understand long-term planning versus short-term fixes," Mercer wrote.
Ford said the new mayor will need to take the focus off developing just Uptown. "Clearly that is something we have not had," Ford said. "If you take a look at the direction the city is in now, we've had a concentration of resources in our Center City and in special-interest and big-box projects. We need to get back to the basics of providing core services, providing police and transportation to help meet the growing needs for the citizens of the city of Charlotte."
Like it or not, McCrory during his tenure as mayor became the face of the city, and Mercer thinks the next mayor will have a hard act to follow. "People liked Pat McCrory, or at least voted for him, because he was visible and he was open," Mercer wrote. "The next mayor has a high bar to live up to in that regard, but shouldn't try to copy what McCrory has done. In [his or her] own way, the next mayor should be an effective communicator to build up trust with the city."
Ford said Charlotte's next mayor will have to be patient. "You can't go it alone and you need to have all of your available resources working together toward a common goal for the city of Charlotte," he said.
Cannon said Charlotte's next mayor must have a vision that looks far into the future. "[The next mayor] has to know what produces something for everyone that resides in the city," he said. "The mayor needs to be someone who can lure businesses into Charlotte and expand the tax base."
So far, at-large Councilman Anthony Foxx, a Democrat, is the only person who has officially thrown his hat into the ring. But it's early; a number of people from both parties could be vying for McCrory's soon-to-be old job by election time.