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Clodfelter And Roberts Clash (A Bit) In Pre-Runoff Debate

Roberts_Clodfelter_Runoff_Debate.jpg
Tom Bullock
/
WFAE

Next Tuesday, a runoff election will decide if Dan Clodfelter or Jennifer Roberts will be the Democrat’s nominee for mayor of Charlotte. On Wednesday morning, the candidates faced off at the McGlohon Theater, in a live debate on Charlotte Talks.

Joining the candidates on stage were WFAE’s Mike Collins and Mark Washburn of the Charlotte Observer, which cosponsored the debate. Members of the paper’s editorial board ,which endorsed neither Clodfelter nor Roberts for mayor, sat in the audience. That lead Collins to kick the debate off with this question, "Tell them why they made a mistake and why they should endorse one or the other of you."

Roberts stressed her experience as a wife, mother, and former diplomat. She also focused on what have been her key talking points throughout this campaign.

"I am running for mayor to help spread opportunity to all corners of our city. And I plan to do that by strengthening our schools and our neighborhoods and bringing good paying jobs to Charlotte."

Clodfelter, who was appointed mayor after Patrick Cannon resigned, took a different tack and talked about the editorial board directly.

"Yeah I think they may have been a little exasperated with me that in my first months in office I didn’t act like I had been swept in with an overwhelming electoral mandate. And that’s part of the reason I want to do this again before I hang up my hat. I want a turn at the bat that’s not my own."

Both Clodfelter and Roberts are experienced politicians. They were the top two finishers in the Democratic primary earlier this month. And while the Democrats have largely remained positive in their messaging, that changed this week when the first piece of negative campaigning appeared in mailboxes across the city. It was paid for by the Clodfelter Campaign and accused Roberts of cutting money for schools while she was on the county commission. Roberts said that was ridiculous and that spending increased during her tenure. "And if you look at the way the flier presented the numbers they actually only added the negatives. And so it’s like balancing your checkbook by just adding the checks and not the deposits."

Clodfelter countered by saying it was Roberts who didn’t know how to do the accounting on this issue. "You’ve gotta be careful about how you use budget numbers. There’s a capital budget for school construction and then there is the budget which actually funds the education of the kids in the classroom." And that, he claims, is what was cut.

The candidates also disagreed about their experience convincing companies to relocate to or expand in Charlotte, a key role of the mayor. They both said they have the experience,

DC: "About a week or so ago I met with a representative of a large Chinese company" JR: "For five years as County Commission Chair, that was a big part of my job."

But as Roberts spoke, Clodfelter shook his head from left to right. He explained why when she was finished. "Up until this year the county has not had an economic development function," he said. Roberts responded by saying the county has had an economic development function for years.

The county, by the way, does hand out its own incentives.

There were a number of issues where Roberts and Clodfelter agreed. They both stressed doing more for schools, though the mayor has no direct role in education spending. And they both agreed on what should be done with Confederate monuments on city property.

JR: "I think Confederate monuments belong in a museum." DC: "I’d vote to move them. Actually the one on city property has been moved, it’s in a warehouse."

The monument has been moved to a warehouse to be cleaned after it was recently spray painted. The city manager’s office says they are still considering what to do with it.

Both candidates came out against a proposed toll lane, not along I-77 north, but the Independence Boulevard stretch of US-74. Clodfelter spoke first, saying the concept itself was flawed.

"That is a local service road. People get on it at Sharon Amity and they want to get off at Idlewild or Margaret Wallace Road. They’re going very short distances because they’re using it for local access. The toll concept is not going to work on that kind of roadway."

Roberts said there was another option that should be explored, light rail.

"Widening one lane of Independence Boulevard for one mile has cost $150 million. One mile of the south line, $46 million. I think we should continue to look at transit going down either Monroe or independence. There is a rail line there. But we’re going to continue to grow and need that so I think we should explore those options too."

You can listen to the entire debate here. The runoff election is next Tuesday.