Make mention of east Charlotte around the Queen City and you're going to get a variety of responses — from "It's dangerous over there around Independence Boulevard" to "That side of town has been totally ignored by the city" to "Remember spending the weekend ice skating at Eastland Mall?"
Since 1999, City Councilwoman Nancy Carter has represented the area; however, she won't be seeking a seventh term on Sept. 13. (As of press time, no Republicans had filed for the District 5 seat, meaning there may only be a primary election.)
During her time on Council, Carter was an advocate for environmental issues (like improving air quality and alternative energy sources) and police funding (supporting programs like Gang of One, a police effort designed to steer young people away from gangs), among other concerns.
Conversely, during Carter's tenure the east side of town slid into decline, with Eastland Mall closing in June 2010; the slow death of businesses on Independence Boulevard; and a dearth of low-income housing. (Former Mayor Pat McCrory even labeled Albemarle Road a "corridor of crap.")
The population of east Charlotte also changed during Carter's six terms; the Hispanic population expanded — from 7.4 percent in 2000 to 13 percent in 2010, according to the U.S. Census, with many immigrants settling in District 5.
As residents head to the polls this fall to elect a new representative, many say they're looking for a councilperson who can stimulate the area, redevelop the mall and address social and economic issues.
"East Charlotte is a beautiful area with a lot of beautiful homes and large lots," said Henry Gunn, board member of Charlotte East Community Partners — a group dedicated to enhancing the desirability and viability of the east side. "What we would need is a ... councilperson that would go out and advocate east Charlotte to our realty neighbors in other cities for people who are moving to Charlotte so that they can move to east Charlotte."
Gunn said he thinks Carter has done an adequate job of representing the district, but the entire Council has not looked at Charlotte in a holistic fashion.
"We're looking for somebody that can work with the other Council members and get them to focus on Charlotte as a whole. When east Charlotte and Eastland Mall went into decline, then Charlotte went into decline."
Jess George, executive director of the Latin American Coalition, said the new Council member should recognize the changing demographic in the community and the consequences — positive and challenging — that come with that.
"In a lot of our neighborhoods, we end up with newcomers living alongside people who have lived here almost all of their lives," said George. "It offers the most extraordinary opportunities for economic and cultural lives of Charlotte, but it also comes with cultural friction."
George said she hopes that the new Council member will take a look at some city ordinances that she thinks unfairly affect the east side of town.
"I really would like the next representative for the east side to re-open the conversation around mobile food vendors around our city," she said. "I think that is another missed opportunity for Charlotte. A lot of major cities around our country and around the world have this vibrant nightlife, and they have great street food. It's celebrated. We have these restrictive — and, some say racially motivated — limiting, mobile food vendor laws. Those kinds of conversations have to happen. It would have great economic benefits for the east side of Charlotte."
Gunn said whoever wins the seat will be facing a challenging task. "When we do vote that person in, we the voters are going to look for that person to go out and do their best to revitalize the area, work with Council, work with the city and work with the state to look out for the east corridor."
According to Gunn, voters on the east side are more politically savvy and will hold the new representative accountable for campaign promises, saying that citizens in District 5 know they have to be involved in order to effect change. "If we would've been involved much earlier on — before the decline, before 2008, maybe as early as 1990 — we could've avoided some of the things that happened."
"We're really looking at the candidates and looking for someone who's going to be dedicated, because it is going to be an uphill battle," he continued. "But whoever wins will be a more effective leader, because we're going to communicate more effectively."
For George, the new Council member should have empathy and a forward way of thinking while considering opportunities.
"The east side is often a lost opportunity with the extraordinary social capital and human capital that we have here," she said. "We need someone who is really looking for the great opportunity for this side of town to come into its own and be the international, cultural hub for our city."