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Policy, Attacks And The Odd Question Highlight Charlotte Mayoral Debate

Tom Bullock

Last night the McGlohon Theater housed a show featuring plenty of talking points, odd questions and, at times, substantive debate on issues affecting Charlotteans. The stars: Jennifer Roberts and Edwin Peacock.

Yes, Charlotte, we are in the home stretch of the 2015 municipal elections. You can cast your early ballots starting today. Election Day is November 3rd.

And in case you’ve put off learning anything about the candidates for mayor, don’t worry. The first and last questions of last night’s debate will bring you up to speed.

Here’s the first question, posed by moderator Jamie Boll from WBTV:

Why do either one of you even want this job? Charlotte has a weak mayor system with limited voting and veto powers. Many see it as largely ceremonial.

Cue the talking points from Democrat Jennifer Roberts and Republican Edwin Peacock.

“I want to bring opportunity to all corners of our city," Roberts said.

“To make a positive change and impact on Charlotteans’ lives,” Peacock added.

As for the last question, they were each given a chance to ask their opponent anything. Peacock asked Roberts about tax policy. Roberts asked Peacock…nothing.

“I don’t have any questions. I am going to continue to have a positive message and I’m going to continue to connect with voters all across this community because clearly it’s resonating.”

Roberts is the Democratic nominee in a heavily Democratic city. The only published poll in this final stretch of the race shows her with a 15-point lead. She’s pulled back from other debates and forums as we near Election Day, like an NFL coach running out the clock to keep that lead secure.

But Wednesday night, there were some skirmishes, tough questions and differences brought to light between these two experienced politicians.

Peacock talked crime when a member of the audience pressed the candidates to explain how they would bring prosperity to all of Charlotte.

“It’s a growing problem right now. We’ve had more murders after Labor Day than we did in all of 2014. And we also find ourselves number six in human trafficking, 80 percent of that is sexual exploitation. So what I plan to do as mayor is put together a citizens-appointed task force on crime.”

If you don’t feel safe in your neighborhood, Peacock argued, nothing else matters.

Roberts stressed reaching out to small business, and her work raising private funds for a domestic violence shelter while serving on the County Commission. Then came the first attack of the night.

“My opponent has been saying that I don’t have a crime plan. That must mean that either he hasn’t been listening to what I’ve been saying or that he doesn’t feel domestic violence isn’t an important issue in addressing crime,” Roberts said.

She also repeatedly referred to her opponent as ‘desperate’. When asked how he differs from Roberts, Peacock said:

“Leadership style. I’ve been known as a bridge builder, someone who has fixed problems and tries to work to find solutions.”

Roberts, he pointed out, was chair of the Mecklenburg County Commission during the botched property tax revaluation. She was forced out of that post shortly after.

“Descriptions that were used for her after that were uncooperative and that she was highly partisan.”

Roberts’ response to these charges was blunt:

“Edwin is trying to rewrite history.”

The two also clashed over whether Charlotte should issue ID’s for immigrants here illegally. Roberts, who served on the task force which suggested Charlotte look into the idea, supports it.

“The police actually support it as well. There are other cities that have been very successful with this.”

Peacock says not so fast.

“I would not support it,” he said. "The reason why is because you’ve picked the one thing out of 27 recommendations that’s A), the most political and B), breaks federal and state laws."

The hour-long debate was broken up with moments of the odd. We learned that Edwin Peacock was once attacked by an owl. Jennifer Roberts explained the finer points of volleyball nomenclature.

And during a conversation about the LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance voted down by city council earlier this year, which would have allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, WBT’s Keith Larson asked:

“Do you care who pees where?”

Larson then refined his question.

“Would you be comfortable in a restroom with a guy who used to be a woman?”

“That’s perfectly fine,” Peacock responded.

“Absolutely,” Roberts answered when asked if she would be comfortable in a restroom with a woman who used to be a man.

And Larson also asked if both candidates would pledge now not to accept a briefcase full of cash in the mayor’s office – and joked he wished he would have asked that of Patrick Cannon.

Both candidates, by the way, promised not to take the cash.

Tom Bullock decided to trade the khaki clad masses and traffic of Washington DC for Charlotte in 2014. Before joining WFAE, Tom spent 15 years working for NPR. Over that time he served as everything from an intern to senior producer of NPR’s Election Unit. Tom also spent five years as the senior producer of NPR’s Foreign Desk where he produced and reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon among others. Tom is looking forward to finally convincing his young daughter, Charlotte, that her new hometown was not, in fact, named after her.