CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charlotte’s mayoral candidates sparred Wednesday over how much public money should be invested in projects such as the Carolina Panthers’ $87.5 million stadium improvements and the streetcar, and outlined their visions for growing the city’s economy.
Republican Edwin Peacock III and Democrat Patrick Cannon tried to paint themselves as moderates, but differed sharply over the city’s $816 million capital improvement plan.
“The reality is you don’t support economic opportunity for the east and west sides of town,” Cannon said, accusing Peacock of not supporting the spending plan, which includes a 3-cent property tax increase.
“I would have supported a smaller capital improvement plan,” said Peacock, one without a proposed streetcar. “Are we tone-deaf to the fact we’ve just come out of a recession?”
The “Solving it Together” forum was sponsored by the Observer and PNC Bank, one in a series of such community events.
Peacock accused Cannon of violating the public’s trust with the closed-door negotiations about whether to give the Panthers money for stadium improvements.
“When you’re seeking the public money, you need public input,” he said. “I wouldn’t have given the Panthers money.”
Cannon was recused from the vote on the Panthers money, because his parking company has a contract with the team. But he stressed the important role he sees government spending playing in Charlotte’s future growth.
“Sometimes it takes money to make money,” he said. “Our community and city can’t grow if we don’t invest in it. Private investment follows public investment.”
Peacock, on the other hand, called for a leaner government, with more consolidated city-county departments to save money.
“The point is coming at which the community is going to need to get more revenue, and it can’t come through annexation,” said Peacock. “There are functional consolidations that can and should occur,” in areas such as human resources, emergency medical services and business permitting, said Peacock.
Peacock said he thinks the Citizen’s Review Board, which hears appeals of citizen complaints against Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer, should be strengthened. An Observer investigation found the board lacks many investigative powers such as subpoena power, and has always sided with police.
“It needs more teeth,” said Peacock. He also said CMPD could consider having the State Bureau of Investigations look into internal affairs matters at the department.
Cannon, who helped lead the creation of the review board, said he supports the study of the board’s powers, which is currently in a city committee.
“We want see a fair and balanced process,” said Cannon. “A lot of that stuff, some of it has to happen at the state level.”
The candidates found common ground on some issues. Both Peacock and Cannon said they support keeping Charlotte Douglas International Airport under city control, instead of letting a new, independent commission take control.
The N.C. General Assembly passed a bill that transferred control of the airport from City Council to the new commission.
Peacock said he was surprised Gov. Pat McCrory did not publicly oppose the airport bill. “That was not Mayor Pat, that was Governor Pat. That was unfortunate. I think he should have spoken up.”
Both Charlotte natives, they reminisced about their roots in the city.
Peacock talked about his experiences playing baseball, his Sunday school experience with former Charlotte mayor Richard Vinroot as his teacher and his discovery as a high school senior that he had dyslexia.
“It turned out to be one of my greatest strengths,” he said. “What made me different made me stronger.”
Cannon talked about being raised by a single mother after his father was killed when he was a boy. He said his mother had been an immense positive influence on his life, and recalled her running 99 yards down the sideline next to him when he returned a football kickoff for a touchdown.
“I score a touchdown and look to my left – it’s my mom,” he said, to applause and laughter.