After their primary victories Tuesday, Democrat Patrick Cannon and Republican Edwin Peacock head into a mayoral showdown that should give Charlotte voters a clear choice – and test how dominant Democrats have become in city politics.
Cannon edged fellow Democrat James Mitchell in a costly, hotly contested primary. He had 55 percent of the vote in early, unofficial returns. Gary Dunn and Lucille Puckett each had less than 3 percent.
Peacock easily swept aside David Michael Rice in a Republican race that was never in doubt. He was winning 93 percent of the vote.
He called his victory “a small step in a big journey.”
“This will be a race about contrasting views and moving Charlotte forward,” Peacock said. “Our vision versus our opponent’s.”
Cannon said he was “elated that the primary is behind us.”
“I am more than excited about having his vision out there compared to mine,” he said of Peacock, “and how I look to move the city forward.”
The winner of the Nov. 5 election will succeed Mayor Patsy Kinsey, who was appointed in July to replace fellow Democrat – now U.S. Department of Transportation secretary – Anthony Foxx. Kinsey had made it clear she wouldn’t run for mayor and on Tuesday, easily won re-election to her District 1 council seat.
For only the second time since 1995, no incumbent is running for mayor.
Cannon, 46, was Charlotte’s youngest-ever council member when first elected in 1993. He’s now the council’s longest-serving member and has served as mayor pro tem.
In ads and in person, he touted his record of defying the odds. After his father was shot and killed four decades ago, Cannon was raised by a single mother, Carmen, in public housing. He now owns one of the area’s largest parking lot management companies.
Peacock, 43, is a financial adviser. He served two terms on council before losing in the Democratic sweep of 2011. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2012, distinguishing himself as the only moderate in a 10-candidate GOP field.
His father, Ed, is a former City Council member and Mecklenburg commissioner who ran for mayor himself in 1983.
Cannon appears to have an advantage, at least on paper.
Half of Charlotte’s registered voters are Democrats; only 23 percent are Republican. In 2011, Democrats swept all four at-large council seats on their way to a 9-2 majority.
“The only way a Republican can win in Charlotte-Mecklenburg is if the Democratic vote is depressed enough and the Republican vote is energized enough,” said Democratic consultant Dan McCorkle.
But some say Peacock, a former two-term council member, could have wide appeal.
“He’s sufficiently moderate and has name recognition and experience that should make him an appealing candidate,” said Eric Heberlig, a UNC Charlotte political scientist. “If Republicans can’t win with a candidate like Peacock, they’d be hard-pressed to think of a candidate who (could).”
Cannon bests Mitchell
On Tuesday, Cannon turned back an unexpectedly contentious challenge.
Mitchell, a district council member, got a late start and lagged in money and name recognition. But in August he outraised Cannon more than 2-1 and last week won key endorsements, including one from Harvey Gantt, Charlotte’s first African American mayor.
Mitchell launched an aggressive mail campaign that portrayed him as a “loyal lieutenant” of Foxx and cast Cannon as Foxx’s frequent adversary. The ads turned off some Democratic voters.
“I was a little undecided and that pushed me over to (Cannon’s) side,” said westside voter Abby Flanders, a media consultant. “(He) has a good sense of what this community needs. I think he ran a clean campaign.”
Brian Freeland, dean of students at Myers Park High, voted for Cannon.
“I know Patrick – he does a lot in the community,” said Freeland, who voted at Albemarle Road Presbyterian Church. “When you call on him, he’s accessible. He’s not aloof.”
Mitchell was hurt among some voters by his high profile as a lead city negotiator with the Carolina Panthers, who sought public money for stadium upgrades.
Deborah Osborne, who voted at Billingsville Elementary near Grier Heights, said she felt Cannon was more responsible with tax dollars than Mitchell.
“Cannon was more considerate of taxpayers,” she said. “If we are going to give millions of dollars to the Panthers, we need to be considerate of the times we are in. We need to do more than rubber-stamping (decisions).”
Can GOP win citywide?
The two candidates are likely to split on several issues.
Cannon supports the streetcar, or so-called Gold Line. Peacock opposes it.
Peacock will try to draw differences on taxes and argue that he’s best equipped to deal with the Republican-led legislature.
“We’ve got to be able to repair that relationship,” he said Tuesday. “I just don’t see how somebody from the Democratic side can repair things in this partisan of an environment.”
Though the top fundraisers in their respective primaries, neither Cannon nor Peacock appear on track to collect what Foxx and Republican John Lassiter raised in 2009.
Each raised more than $600,000 in a race Foxx won with 52 percent of the vote in what was Charlotte’s closest mayoral election in years.
Heberlig, the UNCC professor, said the election should show whether Republicans are still competitive in Charlotte elections.
“I don’t know whether we’ve reached that threshold yet,” he said. “But it strikes me that this election might tell me whether we have.”
Staff writers Steve Harrison and Ely Portillo contributed.