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Election 2012: Mecklenburg County Commission

The Mecklenburg County Commission will be looking a lot different next year. Four commissioners have decided not to run for re-election and several candidates are lining up for their seats. One commissioner is also getting a rare primary challenge. WFAE's Lisa Miller is in the studio to talk with host Scott Graf about the dynamics going into this year's primaries for county commission. SCOTT: All three county commissioners at-large have decided not to run. What's their reason for that? LISA: Well, for one, Congress. Both Republican Jim Pendergraph and Democrat Jennifer Roberts are running for the ninth congressional seat held by Sue Myrick. She's retiring this year. Even before Myrick announced her retirement, Roberts said this would be her last year on the county commission. And board chairman Harold Cogdell announced he's not running either. He didn't really give a reason for that, but said he was tired of party politics. He's actually now leaving the Democratic Party and becoming unaffiliated. SCOTT: So how could this election change the dynamics of the county commission? LISA: Democrats have long held a majority of seats on the county commission. Before Cogdell switched to unaffiliated, the county commission was made up of five Democrats and four Republicans. Cogdell was often the swing vote when it came down to budget mattersand he actually became the board's chairman with the help of the Republicans. Now, district seats don't usually see much change as far as parties from election to election. So the at-large seats are kind-of the wild cards. But Democrats have swept the at-large seats in the most recent presidential election years. SCOTT: What's the field of candidates for the at-large seats looking like this year? LISA: A dozen Democrats and four Republicans are running. Primary voters will narrow that down to three Democrats and three Republicans. There's also one Libertarian up for election. On the Democratic side, Pat Cotham is running. She's a member of the Democratic National Committee. Her daughter is state representative Tricia Cotham. Some other Democratic candidates you might recognize are Craig Madans and Harry Taylor. Madans has run for Mayor against Pat McCrory and Harry Taylor challenged Sue Myrick for her congressional seat a few years ago. Taylor is best known for saying this to President Bush in a town hall meeting. TAYLOR: I have never felt more ashamed of nor frightened by my leadership in Washington including the presidency. LISA: On the Republican side, what's notable is these are all newcomers or at least people whose names don't come up when covering county commission. Michael Hobbs is an area manager for a company that produces industrial lubricants. And then there's Wayne Powers. He has an interesting background. He's a former guest talk show host on WBT and often speaks up at government meetings. Last year at a city council meeting, he called out CRVA executives on their salaries and job perks. He's also starred in a movie with Paul Sorvino called Vasectomy: A Delicate Matter and appeared in several classic TV shows like Full House, Alf and Doogie Howser. These days he owns a tea shop an online tea store. SCOTT: Sounds like, at least, Lisa, a diverse background of candidates there. Let's talk about one of the specific district races now. Commissioner Bill James has to break out his campaign signs finally. Explain. LISA: Yes, he finally does. He's easily the most controversial of all the commissioners for comments he's made. He's said African Americans are more promiscuous and even referred to Commissioner Vilma Leake's dead son as a "homo." Still no one's challenged him since 2002, neither Democrats nor Republicans. This year he has a Democratic and a Republican challenger. His primary opponent is Ed Driggs. Driggs says he agrees with James on a lot of issues, but believes the district needs someone who doesn't court controversy like James. DRIGGS: He does have a tendency to make inflammatory and divisive remarks and I don't think that helps the position of the conservative point of view. So I basically want to take a more civil approach. I don't think I'll be any softer than him on the key issues. But I will be out in the public more and I won't be in the news as much for things I said in meetings. LISA: Driggs is a retired financial analyst. He's on the board of Communities In Schools. That's a dropout prevention program and on the President's Council of CPCC. It's also worth noting Republican Neil Cooksey is leaving his South Charlotte district. Four Republicans and two Democrats are running for that seat. List of candidates.