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The articles from Inside Politics With Steve Harrison appear first in his weekly newsletter, which takes a deeper look at local politics, including the latest news on the Charlotte City Council, what's happening with Mecklenburg County's Board of Commissioners, the North Carolina General Assembly and much more.

Will rage against Tricia Cotham sink her mother?

Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham brought a sign to a 2018 meeting, one she's used to comment on other issues in recent years.
David Boraks

I moved to Charlotte in 2006. Since then, I would say the biggest local political stories, in chronological order, have been:

  1. Former House Speaker Jim Black, of Matthews, pleads guilty to corruption charges in 2007.
  2. Charlotte hosts the Democratic National Convention in 2012 — and the RNC (sort of) in 2020 over the objection of Democratic Party activists.
  3. Former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon is arrested on corruption charges in 2013.
  4. Charlotte City Council expands non-discrimination ordinance in 2016 for the LGBT community, leading to the General Assembly passing HB2.
  5. Democratic House member Tricia Cotham switches to the Republican Party in April 2023, giving the GOP a supermajority in the General Assembly. She becomes the crucial vote to enact a 12-week abortion ban.

In January 2023, many Democrats and Republicans may not have known who Tricia Cotham was, but they do now, with words like “traitor” and “betrayal” commonly bandied about in local and national media.

I have written about Tricia Cotham’s chances in 2024, whether she runs again in the General Assembly or for a statewide office, like perhaps superintendent of public instruction.

This newsletter will shift gears and focus on her mother, Mecklenburg Commissioner Pat Cotham.

Is Tricia Cotham rage enough to sink Pat Cotham in the Democratic primary in March?

In looking at past election results, it appears that Pat Cotham is close to bulletproof.

She is a highly visible politician, whether it’s appearing at LGBT events, bringing food to people who are homeless or fighting the toll lanes on Interstate 77.

She has a good relationship with the media, which means she is often quoted on TV, newspapers and radio. In 2019, for instance, she questioned whether the county’s budget process violated the state’s open meetings laws.

She has been reelected five times to the Mecklenburg Commission after first winning in 2012.

Her most recent reelection was particularly dominant.

In the 2022 Democratic primary, Cotham won 178 of 195 precincts over Arthur Griffin and Leigh Altman. That shows she ran strong across the county, among both white and African American voters.

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And yet …

Some say the Cotham name is now forever tainted among Democrats.

“Tricia’s vote certainly imperils Commissioner Cotham’s reelection,” said Sam Spencer, who handles communications for Charlotte Democratic Rep. Alma Adams. “Pat is a dedicated public servant and works harder than her opponents in every race. But it wouldn’t surprise me if a negative campaign tried to link the two and punish the mother for the sins of the daughter.”

Cotham has long had a rocky relationship with party insiders because of her willingness to work with Republicans.

She was denied being chair in 2013, despite getting more votes than anyone else.

The Mecklenburg Democratic Party rebuked her in 2017 because she supported then-Republican Commissioner Jim Puckett to be vice chair.

School Board member Jennifer De La Jara wrote an opinion piece in Queen City Nerve last fall in which she said “Pat Cotham is a Republican and it’s time Democrats admit it.”

(At the time, Pat Cotham declined to comment about the article. Earlier that year De La Jara had challenged Cotham for a Commission at-large seat and was beaten soundly, finishing fifth in a six-person race.)

Mecklenburg Democratic Commissioner George Dunlap has clashed with Pat Cotham in the past, calling her a “snitch” in 2014.

He said “there is a lot of rage now” and that Tricia Cotham’s defection to the GOP “has the potential to railroad her campaign because they both have the Cotham name.”

But he said people don’t realize how hard Cotham campaigns.

“Whether you like her or not, she knows where to show up and what to say when she shows up,” he said. “She is everywhere. I have been to a number of places with her and she is still well received.”

I spoke with Cotham briefly before the county’s budget presentation Thursday.

“In the political world, a few months is a lifetime,” she said. “I take one day at a time.”

She added: “People have been kind for the most part. I have been getting hate also, but I’ve gotten hate before. But it’s the safety part — the threats — that’s the part that is scary.”

Cotham didn’t say she is definitely running again, but it sounds like it.

“I don’t raise money. I don’t have a campaign team,” she said. “I just try to help people and let the chips fall where they may.”

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.