Op-Ed: An open-minded Democrat’s thoughts on Tuesday’s election

Op-Ed: An open-minded Democrat’s thoughts on Tuesday’s election
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I intended to write a voter guide of sorts, but to be honest, I’ve struggled with it all week.

The truth is, I don’t know what to include. I don’t know what you, as readers, care about when it comes to who leads our city. Most of you don’t vote and/or participate in the political process. I don’t see you at meetings where we have chance opportunities to talk about the issues. I’m unable to quickly discern what issues matter to you via your social media timelines.

I think too many of us are content to trust people to make decisions on our behalf, without even knowing who those people are, what is important to them, and their decision-making process. I’m guilty of this every time I hand my car keys over to the mechanic or sign-off on fund allocations recommended by my financial advisor.

By not participating, many of you are trusting me to cast a vote on your behalf. I thought I’d share my choices and thought process for voting instead of a traditional voter guide.

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I will be voting for these people tomorrow:

Mayor: Undecided between Jennifer Roberts and Edwin Peacock.

City Council: Vi Lyles, Julie Eiselt, John Powell, Pablo Carvajal

School Board: Elyse Dashew, Ericka Ellis-Stewart, Janeen Bryant

County Commission Terms: Voting “No” to 4 year terms

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Mayor

I’m undecided because I am uninspired by both of our choices. I like both Jennifer Roberts and Edwin Peacock as individuals, but I like my mayors with a little more fire and passion. I grew up in a family where trophies are for winners. We don’t reward participation, and I have a hard time supporting perennial candidates.

I admire Jennifer Roberts for her competitive spirit. She is determined to win this race, and she’s executed well; she hired a good team, started early, and stayed steady. I’m concerned about what happens after the election, when the skills needed are more nuanced. A weak mayor, like the one we have in Charlotte, needs to be persuasive, collaborative, and decisive. There won’t be polls to measure how to build consensus with a city council or how to assign council members to committees in a way that leverages their skills and experiences for the benefit of our city. She hasn’t proven that she can do this.

I like Edwin Peacock for his courage. The party registration numbers aren’t in his favor, so it takes a lot of gumption to run. Not all candidates will show up when they expect an unfriendly crowd, but I’ve seen Edwin attend many events with tough crowds. I’ve seen him step away from his party on some issues, but stand firm with them on other issues, regardless of the audience.

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When it comes to Edwin, my reservations are more pragmatic. He will have a majority Democratic council, but will still have to answer to the more conservative voters who supported him and are counting on him to lead Charlotte with a more conservative touch. That makes for a challenging situation where he might not be able to accomplish much as mayor.

Jennifer Roberts will likely be successful because there are more Democrats than Republicans in Charlotte, and more of them vote. For me, this one will be a game time decision. Sorry.

City Council

Vi Lyles is my top choice because she brings a depth of knowledge about local government that is unmatched. She is a proven collaborator and has the ability to navigate both the policy and politics with finesse and grace. I also appreciate that she values poverty alleviation through strategic planning of transportation and housing.

I’m voting for Julie Eiselt because she is resilient and tough. I’ve seen her respond eloquently and respectfully to some tough, personal attacks at forums. Her community experience working with law enforcement will be important as I believe social justice and race issues will continue to be a sensitive topic. I think her enthusiasm solving problems with smart technology will be bring new life to local government.

John Powell has impressed with me his presence online and offline. He has wide-spread support that includes South Charlotte and West Charlotte, which he has earned.  I like his approach to economic development and hope that he sticks to his four R’s: reinvest, renovate, revitalize, and respect. I also appreciate his data-driven approach to problem-solving and hope that it will lead to transformative policy that serves more Charlotteans.

Pablo Carvajal is my wild card vote. I strongly believe that we need younger political talent in this city, and I feel that he could learn a lot from the rest of the council. There’s a lot to be said for a long history of community experience, but I believe that we should allow some people to accumulate that experience through public service. We can’t build a pipeline of political leadership if we don’t allow younger people to run for office and support them. Aside from his age, I like his energy and enthusiasm. He has been a willing participant in forums, surveys, and events. I agree with him that we could use new perspectives at the table and look forward to working with him to strengthen the relationship between government and citizens, which is one of his priorities.

James “Smuggie” Mitchell has many years of service that I respect. He has already proven that he would serve the city well, but I am hesitant to vote for him because I feel that more of the same isn’t good enough for Charlotte. I also think he is another candidate that feels lost without an office, and we deserve better than that.

Board of Education

Elyse Dashew has my vote because she is steady, strong, and smart. She’s been involved with public education from almost every perspective. She has children in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Her experience organizing and advocating around school funding, closures, nurses in public schools, and teacher pay is unparalleled in our community. And, she’s done all of it with an effective and persistent quiet that makes her unicorn in public education advocacy, which is often tense, heated, and sometimes mean. Given what she’s accomplished as a community volunteer, I think electing her to the school board member will benefit all of us tremendously.

Ericka Ellis-Stewart has done a great job as a school board member, and I support re-electing her. She has two children in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and has been a community advocate for nearly two decades. In addition to her community service, I also value her leadership of two major non-profits, Right Moves for Youth and the Johnston YMCA. She brings her sharp executive leadership skills and critical thinking to her service as a school board member, which will be useful as the school board navigates serious challenges including, school assignment and hiring a new superintendent.

Janeen Bryant is new to me, but certainly not to education. She gets my last vote for school board. I like her background as a parent (her child is also in CMS), former teacher, and advocate. I think it’s important for us to have leaders that are connected to a national network and are aware of best practices being implemented in other cities, which she has as regional director of Leaders for Educational Equity. I also really appreciate how succinctly and clearly her platform is laid out on her website. Communication as a school board member, of all the public offices, is particularly challenging because the audience is the also the most diverse. Given the challenges ahead, a strong communicator will be invaluable for this school board.

County Commission terms

“Shall the structure of the Board of Commissioners be altered to change from two-year terms of office to four-year terms of office?”

This one is tricky and snuck onto the ballot without much community discussion. I’m voting “No.”

Reasons offered to vote “yes” include:

(1) Mecklenburg County is the only county that has 2-year instead of 4-year terms.

(2) 4-year terms would reduce campaigning time.

(3) 4-year terms would reduce the influence of money.

Reasons to vote “no” include:

(1) Shorter terms makes it easier to hold public official accountable.

I’m voting “no” because I value the ability to hold my public officials accountable deeply. I also prefer other solutions for arguments listed in favor of a “yes” vote. First, the fact that other counties do something isn’t reason enough to make the change, but I do agree that it makes it worth considering. Some of them stagger the terms, like we do with the Board of Education, so that some seats on the board are up for election every two years. I would be more inclined to support staggered terms, but then it doesn’t do much for reducing time spent campaigning or influence of money. On the other hand, our representatives in Congress and city council have two-year terms, and I think that works alright. On its own, this argument isn’t strong enough for me to vote “yes.”

Second, one county commissioner suggested that longer terms would reduce campaigning time. I think this is a ridiculous argument. When you are an elected official, attending community meetings and connecting with your constituents is part of your job and shouldn’t be something that you do just before an election. We refer to it as campaigning before an election, but the rest of the time, it’s called community engagement. Some of our elected officials only show up during election season, so it feels like a lot more work. I don’t have any interest in seeing less of my county commissioners and rewarding procrastination of community engagement.

The third argument is that four-year terms would reduce the influence of money. I disagree. For the sake of the argument, let’s assume that political contributions do in fact buy influence (I’ll save this for a separate article). A four-year term could also extend influence and allow an individual to purchase more influence for the same price. For example, the most a person can donate to a candidate at the local level is $5,000. Right now, that buys 2 years of influence. If we switch to four year terms, you are still limited to a $5,000 contribution, but now that buys 4 years of influence. The money that political campaigns raise is spent entirely on convincing people to vote, and to vote for a specific candidate. Another way to reduce the influence of money is to increase voter turnout.

My general approach to choosing candidates

I typically look for three things in an elected official – empathy, intelligence, and stamina.

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, in the right person can translate into policy that protects, supports, or creates opportunities for those who are unlike the person making the policy. It’s not possible for every perspective to be represented (which is often the goal of diversity), so I look for people with the capacity to listen and understand other perspectives and then govern accordingly.

Intelligence, the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills, is critical these days. Local governance is increasingly complicated with the pressure to do more with less and serve more people than ever before. Government is, and always has been, a balancing act between resources and services. I prioritize people who demonstrate the capacity to absorb information and apply it to their work as an elected official. Much too often, data is presented and then disregarded for the sake of special interests and talking points. It’s not usual to support candidates who change their minds, but I support candidates who are comfortable letting their positions evolve with changing information and circumstances. It’s harder than you think and those who can do this should be supported, especially at the local level.

Stamina, the ability to sustain prolonged physical or mental effort, is important because public service can be grueling. Our elected officials attend meetings all the time – council meetings, committee meetings, neighborhood meetings, organization meetings, board meetings, etc. At each of these meetings, they are expected to be friendly, knowledgeable, approachable, and have all the answers and solutions. They also receive hundreds of emails and phone calls from citizens who are unhappy, concerned, worried, or trying to be helpful. They can be simple emails that say, “The street light at the end of my street has been out for weeks.” But they can also be more challenging, such as, “I am worried that the character of my neighborhood will disappear with all the new development, and I don’t want to move.” I prefer someone who has the stamina to be present and professional, and I don’t take for granted those who offer their time, heart, and energy to make our city a better place to live.

I appreciate the trust you place in me. I wish I could say that I trust the other voters as much, but I don’t. And, I would much rather you vote for yourself.

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