On a night of some interruptions and surprising brevity, Charlotte City Council voted unanimously on Monday to postpone its selection of the next mayor until the April 7 meeting. That night, members say they will select the person who will serve the remainder of Patrick Cannon's term, through December 2015. In several conversations after the meeting, some council members said they would prefer that their selection be a placeholder who will focus on the job at hand and not run in next year's election.
Monday's meeting was packed, short and a little underwhelming, considering the stakes. Activists provided the only excitement, carrying signs demanding a special election and sometimes questioning Council's decisions out loud. Prospective candidate Frank Deaton shamelessly worked the room, handing out cards.
City Attorney Robert Hagemann told council members they are not required to call Raleigh for a special election, as some people, including once-Republican mayoral candidate Edwin Peacock III have suggested. But calling on the legislature to schedule an election isn't out of the question, he added.
"I don't think we need to ask the legislature," said Mayor Pro-Tem Michael Barnes. A female protestor in the crowd interrupted. "Why not?" Barnes sharply responded, "Because I don't."
The truth is that it would be politically humiliating for a Democratic-controlled city council to turn to a Republican legislature to solve the vacancy. And a special election might elect a Republican mayor. Council won't allow that.
But Cannon's corruption will probably allow Republicans to gain traction in Charlotte anyway. They'll be able to make a serious case for electing a Republican mayor in 2015. They should have won last year. Peacock was the better candidate; he also had the support of the press and was popular among independents.
Few Democrats trusted Cannon — even on the state level. "For years, I heard Patrick Cannon was all about himself," Thomas Mills, a Democratic strategist, told me last week. "I never heard the word corrupt, but I heard that he was shady. That's going back 10 years to the last time he was being talked of for mayor."
Only 28 percent of registered voters showed up in 2013, not even 15 percent of the city's population. "We get what we deserve," said Harry Taylor, a local activist who ran for Congress in 2008. "People don't vet candidates anymore. They've distanced themselves from the system, allowing money and hype and propaganda to sway us, and to sell us on candidates we don't know. We've got to wake up."
Based on pressure and feedback, council members said after Monday's meeting that they weren't interested in making a hasty decision to replace Cannon. "I thought it was too early," said Councilwoman Patsy Kinsey, who briefly served as an interim mayor when Anthony Foxx left for Washington, D.C. "This is the first time we've met as a body since [Cannon's arrest]. I didn't want us to rush into something. This is almost a full term."
Barnes put a motion on the floor to postpone the decision for a week. When WBTV reporter Steve Crump started broadcasting too loudly from the balcony, he was told to shut up. The motion was seconded. Everyone raised their hands.
"I'd like to get it behind us as soon as possible," said Councilman John Autry after the meeting. "We're going to be hypersensitive about transparency. The person should have a spotless reputation."
Council members may already have a favorite in mind, but things could change in a week. And getting a majority among the 11-member Council — which it must have to select someone — is a hurdle. "It takes a certain amount of deliberation to identify who is the most acceptable candidate," said Republican Councilman Ed Driggs.
The selected candidate would be wise not to broadcast his or her political aspirations beyond next year. "It would even be a deal breaker for some," Barnes said. "The general expectation around the desk is that the person wouldn't run."
It is no secret that Barnes is interested in running for mayor himself next year now that Cannon is gone. Councilman David Howard might be interested, too. Councilwoman Vi Alexander Lyles is seen as a rising star in the local Democratic Party.
The rumored candidates for Council's selection are Kinsey, former Councilman James Mitchell, state Sen. Dan Clodfelter and former County Commissioner Jennifer Roberts. Barnes said a few mentioned they wouldn't run in 2015. "You're giving them the unfair advantage of incumbency without them having earned it," he said. "If you want to run in 2015, do your thing, but don't do it as part of this appointment."
When asked if this was a sticking point because he wants to run for mayor himself, Barnes smiled. "You're a good man," he said, and walked away.