Monday, December 7, 2015

A chat with outgoing Mayor Dan Clodfelter on the evening he passes the torch

Posted By on Mon, Dec 7, 2015 at 5:12 PM

Mayor Dan Clodfelter and city council member Patsy Kinsey visit kids at the Behailu Academy, an arts-based youth center in NoDa. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DAN CLODFELTER'S OFFICE.
  • Photo courtesy of Dan Clodfelter's office.
  • Mayor Dan Clodfelter and city council member Patsy Kinsey visit kids at the Behailu Academy, an arts-based youth center in NoDa.

Never destined for the job, Dan Clodfelter was the mayor Charlotte needed at the lowest point in her politics. But an odd fit, and a boring figure, Clodfelter was ultimately not the mayor Charlotte wanted.

To his credit, Mayor Clodfelter restored confidence in city government after a petty crook used his office to accept cash bribes, and Clodfelter managed to keep Charlotte out of the national news throughout a racially charged crisis. But his ballsy and poorly executed decision to run for a full term, after promising to retire, paved the way for a primary pitting the incumbent against two council members and Jennifer Roberts, a neighbor two doors down.

Rusty and ill-prepared for the modern social media driven campaign, Clodfelter never connected the issues into a coherent electoral message, and though he did get better, kicking serious ass on the race's biggest night, and winning the neighborhood precinct over Jennifer Roberts, his defeat marked an unhappy ending to a distinguished career.

While the disconnect between the Rhodes Scholar and the Charlotte electorate is his fault as much as ours, the extinction of his dying breed would be a disservice to our politics. As we close out the year of Donald Trump in a scared, angry and divided America, Clodfelter's temperament and intellect are missing, and on the last day of three decades in public service a final conversation seemed appropriate.

Creative Loafing: Other than becoming mayor after an FBI sting, and losing an election to your neighbor, how were the last two years?

Dan Clodfelter: They’ve actually been a lot of fun. But I didn’t know what to expect. It took six months just to convince the community everything was alright.

I bet you have some TV shows to catch up on.

I wasn’t a big TV watcher before. But it did take up more of your time than the General Assembly. We weren’t on call after we adjourned in Raleigh.

Did you get any 3 a.m. phone calls as mayor?

We did, the PCB dumping, (when toxic chemicals were found at wastewater treatment plants) and then around the Kerrick trial. I was impressed with how well CMPD and the Community Relations Commission kept the temperature down and we ended up not having a major crisis. We did have a scare around the suspected Ebola patient at Carolinas Medical Center. I got that call during the middle of lunch. In regards to the hung jury, the real challenge isn’t what happens that night. It’s what we do in the aftermath.

What about the anti-discrimination vote?

I was really disappointed. We knew going into the meeting it wasn’t going to pass. We’d spent the entire day, and the weekend before, trying to persuade a majority of the council to support it. It just wasn’t going to happen.

Do you regret not saying more that night?

No. My position was clear and had been for decades. Saying more would not have made a difference, but it might have deepened the division. That night was a crisis, and I thought it was critically important that we be civil and civilized.

Is this the end of your public service career?

I have no idea. This experience has taught me you don’t know what’s going to happen.

Had you not run for mayor, and instead announced for U.S. Senate, you’d be the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.

That presumes I’d want to go to the senate.

You still have two weeks to change your mind. Where were you happiest in Raleigh or at the Government Center?

What made me really happy was getting a contentious group to sit down, work through an issue, and craft a plan that turned into concrete legislation. I was able to do that over and over again.
As mayor I was more interested in things like My Brother’s Keeper than what was on the city-council agenda. Programs like that are critically important because they give folks, who’ve been excluded and left out, a sense of accomplishment and a sense of hope.

Clodfelter busts a move. - COURTESY OF DAN CLODFELTER'S OFFICE.
  • Courtesy of Dan Clodfelter's office.
  • Clodfelter busts a move.
If you could snap your fingers, how would you fix Charlotte’s lack of mobility?

By tackling reentry into the workforce by people coming out of incarceration, and by addressing the disconnect between the education experience and the needs of young African-American boys.
If I could stop in-school and out-of-school suspensions, get everyone reading on grade level, and figure out a way for those incarcerated to reenter the system, or divert them from the system in the first place, it would do more to fix inequality than anything in the world.

You were the sitting mayor and you lost in the primary. What happened?

I started a year behind.

She announced very early.

Within a week or two of my appointment.

Should you have started earlier?

That wouldn’t have been proper. It would have been unseemly to start running as soon as I was appointed. And to be honest, I didn’t know if I’d even like the job.  

Did you notice a nationalization of the race regarding issues outside the city’s purview?

I noticed that a lot. And that’s a shame because it distracts us from discussing the things we can do, things that are in our power.

How have Charlotte’s politics changed?

It was fairly easy when I first started out to mobilize the community behind an initiative, not just a segment, but the entire community. That got harder.

You don’t seem to love politics.

The art and science of governing and the practice of politics have gotten estranged from one another. And that has changed since I first got involved.

Today’s candidates run against Washington, against people who dedicate their lives to public service. Lincoln, Kennedy, Truman, FDR were career politicians.

I consider it a very ignorant view. There are bad apples in business, bad apples in churches, and there are bad apples in government. But they don’t define government. Government is a way of doing things we can’t do on our own. We need to sit-down, take a deep breath, and listen to each other. But some people missed that lesson in kindergarten.

Were there nights where you came home feeling like you made a difference?

The day the death penalty moratorium came up for a vote. Going into the chamber, the votes were clearly against and I didn’t know how I was going to vote. As I started speaking, I convinced myself that a moratorium was the right thing, and by explaining the evolution of my own thinking, I was able to persuade enough others for it to pass.

You are the antithesis of what’s wrong with politics, the shiny objects, the partisan warfare, but you didn’t win. Does that make you sad?

All you can do is model good behavior and not surrender to trends.

What do you look forward to?

I’m still involved in statewide issues through the Reynolds Foundation. We have joined with the Duke endowment and the John Locke Foundation to convene a dialogue about how to change the tone of public discourse in North Carolina.

What do you do on Tuesday morning?

Sleep late….no I’m going to get up and go to work. 

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

LGBT groups hope to swing Charlotte elections

Posted By on Tue, Aug 25, 2015 at 4:06 PM

Three LGBT advocacy groups will launch a new electoral campaign in Charlotte at a joint press conference on Wednesday morning. Leaders with the effort say they’re confident they’ll be able to turn out the support and votes to sway this year’s Charlotte City Council election — all in the aftermath of March’s failed LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance vote.

Mayor Dan Clodfelter, pictured with other Democratic mayoral candidates, addresses the crowd at the LGBT Community Candidate Forum in early August. - PHOTO BY RYAN PITKIN
  • Photo by Ryan Pitkin
  • Mayor Dan Clodfelter, pictured with other Democratic mayoral candidates, addresses the crowd at the LGBT Community Candidate Forum in early August.
“Charlotte is the second-biggest city in the entire country without the necessary protections for the LGBT community,” said Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, one of the partnering coalition organizations in the new campaign, “TurnOut! Charlotte.” Other partners include the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC) and the Human Rights Campaign.

“With the failure of the ordinance, it’s incumbent upon the LGBT community and our allies to stand up and say we are a sizable and vital part of the city of Charlotte and these municipal elections in 2015 are the most critical in quite a while for our community,” Sgro added.

He said TurnOut! Charlotte will bring together the resources and “vast network of members” of the three coalition partners and “make strategic investments in this [election] cycle.”

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Thursday, August 6, 2015

The best of #DebateQuestionsWeWantToHear on Twitter

Posted By on Thu, Aug 6, 2015 at 11:49 AM

Twitter is on fire today with #DebateQuestionsWeWantToHear thanks to the upcoming debate between the top 10 Republican candidates tonight. Here are 10 of our favorites: 

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tillis snubs Lynch in vote for Attorney General

Posted By on Thu, Feb 26, 2015 at 4:56 PM

Earlier today, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve North Carolina native Loretta Lynch to take Eric Holder's place as U.S. Attorney General. The next stop for confirmation is a vote in front of the full Senate.

A few months ago, we sang Lynch's praises, as she comes from a long line of Baptist preachers (we won't hold that against her) committed to civil rights.

But guess who didn't have Lynch's back? One Thom Tillis.

In a statement, he explained his reasoning for not choosing to vote for Lynch.

I have immense respect for Loretta Lynch both personally and professionally. However, in light of the testimony at her confirmation hearing and her subsequent refusal to provide straightforward answers to written questions from myself and other Senators, it appears that she would represent little, if any, tangible policy or management difference from Attorney General Eric Holder. I cannot vote to confirm a nominee who will not make a firm and explicit commitment to reverse the partisan politicization that presently exists at the Department of Justice.

Don't you wish "partisan politicization" would cease to exist in general?

Tillis also pointed out that he didn't like the fact Lynch would probably continue with the "costly and frivolous lawsuit" the Justice Department has brought against North Carolina for that pesky, discriminatory voter ID law. The one he had a hand in.

I like N.C. Congressman G.K. Butterfield's response to Tillis' vote. To loosely paraphrase: Thom had a chance to get it right, for once, and vote for the country's first black female attorney general. But he was too worried about politics to do that.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

For your weekend reading pleasure: George Dunlap response to the Observer's editorial

Posted By on Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 12:24 PM

It’s time for the latest edition in that highly entertaining and uber-competitive game show, “Which Charlotte-Mecklenburg Leadership Group Is The Most Dysfunctional?” And as we close out the week, with the School Board seemingly stuck in quicksand rather than making any real progress in naming a new superintendent, it’s clear the County Commission has surged — no, make that vaulted — into the lead. Here are a couple of this week’s developments that ought to underscore that assertion.

First, on Thursday, a graphic representative map of the county, created by local Democratic strategist Tom Chumley, began making the rounds, detailing, precinct-by-precinct, who led in the at-large voting. What’s most telling in this is that the current chairman of the Commission, Trevor Fuller, failed to lead in a single one of the nearly 200 polling places.

Blue: Pat Cotham; Green: Ella Scarborough; Red: Emily Finison Zuyus; Purple: Scott Carlisle
  • Blue: Pat Cotham; Green: Ella Scarborough; Red: Emily Finison Zuyus; Purple: Scott Carlisle

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

George Dunlap thinks Pat Cotham has a big mouth

Posted By on Tue, Nov 18, 2014 at 1:59 PM

It's not a real fight until someone starts name-calling; the battle for who will chair the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners just got real.

On Monday, commissioner George Dunlap posted a statement on his Facebook page accusing fellow Democrat Pat Cotham of having a big mouth in an effort to discredit her as a potential chairperson. "She is a snitch on the board and can't be trusted. When she was chair, the media had more information about what was going on than the Commissioners, because she was there [sic] pipe line, and still is today."

Dunlap even went so far as to drop Bill James' name in his statement. Shock value? You know us liberals run screaming into the night at the mention of the conservative commissioner.

As Jerry Klein wrote for us earlier this month: "Mecklenburg County voters overwhelmingly chose Pat Cotham as their top choice as an At-Large member of the Board of County Commissioners. Ella Scarborough returned to public office and came in second, 18,000 votes behind, and Trevor Fuller came in third, trailing Cotham by 22,000 votes. Those are not small gaps — those are landslide results."

Traditionally, getting the most votes in the at-large election would have handed Cotham the gavel. Traditionally, anyway. Last year, Dunlap and others approved a policy for electing commission chair — majority rules, no matter what the voters want.

Our elected officials, ladies and gentlemen. I can see a lot getting accomplished next year.

Read Cotham's response and Dunlap's full statement at QcityMetro.com.

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Charlotte's leadership continues to give us good reason to be cynical

Posted By on Fri, Nov 7, 2014 at 11:43 AM

If there’s one unifying message to be gleaned from this week’s mid-term elections — something the voters were trying to say to politicians and other public officials across the board, coast to coast — it’s that we’re all really sick of what you’re doing “in our name.” We’re disgusted by “the process,” and if not the outright lies, then the half-truths, the spin and the way in which our “leaders” try to put “lipstick on a pig” to cover their own butts. And in that respect, there are three major developing stories relative to the residents of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area that we simply can’t ignore as the weekend approaches.

Let’s start by updating you on the situation concerning the “resignation” of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent Heath Morrison. We were among the first to tell you, Monday morning, that something very strange was up concerning the guy once named National Superintendent of the Year. We had gotten word that he was about to be fired by the School Board last week over both what amounted to his insubordination in moving forward with programs that had not been approved by the Board, and in the abusive, disrespectful ways he had been treating staff members.

But the day passed with no one being willing to either confirm or deny those reports, let alone whether or not Morrison was leaving, until late in the day when we were told an absurd story about how he had resigned to care for his ailing mother. Really? On about 24 hours notice? Right before a critical vote involving a sales-tax referendum to increase teacher salaries was going before the voters? Did the School Board think we were all stupid?

Evidently so. It appears they think we’re all still dumb, because on Thursday, behind closed doors, the Board finalized a separation agreement with Morrison — without disclosing the terms of that agreement. And that’s where the lessons of this week’s elections have been ignored. Hiding behind bureaucratic gibberish about laws concerning an employee’s privacy rights, we’re now told they can’t tell us what really happened — even if it involved official misconduct on Morrison’s part.

Here’s the truth: Everyone’s covering their butts. And that’s not OK. But that’s just one story concerning the failures of our leaders this week.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Charlotte-Mecklenburg voters make some noise

Posted By on Wed, Nov 5, 2014 at 10:04 AM

As the dust began to settle in the early hours of Wednesday morning following what might kindly be called the most exhausting political season anyone can remember, a quick analysis of the vote totals for both the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County revealed at least three interesting sets of results that will keep the “pundit” class busy pontificating for some time to come. Let’s take a quick look at those items, and try to make some sense out of what kind of message area voters were trying to send.

Although not necessarily a new phenomenon, overall vote totals make it clear that Charlotte’s voters are now overwhelmingly Democrats. Moreover, they are now almost completely at odds, as far as their choices are concerned, with those who live in the county, not to mention the rest of the state. While most North Carolinians were busy pushing buttons choosing Republicans over Democrats where they were running against each other at virtually every level on the ballot, Charlotte’s continuing change in demographics has led to Democrats dominating virtually across the board. This is a continuation of what’s been happening here for decades — only more so. It’s a function of Charlotte continuing to attract people from around the country, possibly from more “liberal-leaning” states, but it’s also the case that Charlotte itself, inside the city limits, is becoming increasingly concentrated as far as the African-American population is concerned, and, as we all know, that particular demographic grouping tends to vote overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates.

What’s important about this — what’s significant in terms of how our lives might be affected — is that Charlotte’s residents will need to take this factor into account more and more as issues involving the city’s needs have to go before the General Assembly in Raleigh. If Charlotte’s elected leaders and/or representatives are all Democrats, that could have, at times, an adverse effect on things like funding requests for new roads, especially if those who would make those decisions are of the opposing party. Like it or not, now more than ever, Charlotte is virtually an island unto itself in voting overwhelmingly Democratic.

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Vote 'Yes' for what?

Posted By on Fri, Oct 31, 2014 at 11:31 AM

If you're one of those registered to vote inside Charlotte’s city limits who hasn’t taken advantage of the early voting period, and so, to whom a last-minute appeal might make a difference, there are more than a few people who work with the City Council and the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce who want to get your attention long enough to urge you to vote in favor of the three Bond proposals on the ballot.

And no — they’re not talking about the issue that stirred up a lot of controversy over the past few months: the proposal to raise the local sales-tax a quarter-cent to increase salaries for local teachers and fund some other budgetary needs, like area arts groups. In fact, that’s part of the problem they’re most worried about. That, if you’re aware at all that there are ballot measures to be considered, you’ll think it’s that one.

It’s not.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The voting so far: Not so hot for Republicans

Posted By on Tue, Oct 28, 2014 at 4:05 PM

One of the most contentious elements in North Carolina’s mid-term elections this year has been a down-and-dirty fight concerning the rules by which the state’s voters register and cast their votes. It's a battle that has involved court fights up to and including the nation’s Attorney General and Justice Department, and the Supreme Court. Though the voter registration period ended earlier this month, and early voting began last week in anticipation of next Tuesday’s Election Day, it's a battle that has not yet fully resolved. (The Justice Department has sued the state, and that lawsuit is pending.) Depending on whose argument and/or allegation you most believe, either the state’s Republicans in charge of the General Assembly last year appropriately passed measures to ensure that no electoral fraud could occur, or they had systematically changed the rules to minimize the numbers of likely Democratic voters who would — or could — cast their votes.

In fact, though Republicans across the country have made it a major priority in their agendas as they took control of state legislatures over the past few years, there is virtually no documented evidence of any such widespread voter fraud. Studies have shown that there are only a few handfuls of cases nationally where criminal charges have been brought against people who attempted to cast illegal votes. In contrast, the rules that have been put in place supposedly to deal with this “fraud” have been shown to discourage voters who would most likely vote Democratic: African Americans and other minorities, younger voters and senior citizens.

But if the results of the first four days of early voting in North Carolina tell us anything about the direction the wind is blowing, those measures might have backfired, as far as the Republicans are concerned.

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