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At-Large & In Charge 

Council Candidates Go Back to Basics

The biggest difference between this year's at-large City Council candidates doesn't come from party affiliation or where they stand on the issues, but what they're willing to actually commit to doing about things on the record. The savvier incumbents spent a lot more time answering CL's questions, but said a lot less than some of their competitors.

After a year of citywide angst over the arena, candidates are going back to the basics. Overall, this election has marked the first time in years that candidates have returned to talking about long-ignored issues like traffic, infrastructure and land-use planning. Here's what they said you can expect if you vote for them on November 4.

Susan Burgess
Burgess, a Democrat who served on City Council from 1999 to 2001, says she's running a campaign based on "rebuilding trust," a veiled jab at other opponents who supported the arena after telling voters they'd abide by the results of an arena referendum. Of all the candidates running, Burgess, 57, offered the most detailed answers to how she would accomplish her goals, which included dealing with congestion, addressing air quality and attracting businesses and jobs.

Burgess said the city should offer incentives like free parking downtown or a property tax break to people who buy hybrid, fuel efficient cars. She wants to explore adding high occupancy toll lanes to local highways -- "I don't know why we haven't done that," she said -- and improve sidewalk networks around schools to provide a safe way for kids to walk to nearby schools. She also wants to study and improve the coordination of the city's traffic signals during rush hour and add incident management signs to heavily traveled areas to warn drivers about accidents and delays.

She said rising property crime should be addressed with heavier police enforcement in neighborhoods that are being repeatedly victimized and by sending officers out to talk to victims and investigate crimes. That's a practice the city has gotten away from in recent years.

Burgess said that Charlotte's high taxes are driving development over the county line. She wouldn't raise taxes if elected, she said. She also called the city's economic development incentives a "joke" and said the city shouldn't continue giving hundreds of thousands of dollars in incentive money to businesses to entice them to locate here.

Patrick Cannon
Cannon, 36, is seeking his sixth term on City Council. Cannon says it's time to deal with street road maintenance the city has long put off, especially potholes. He says that the city needs to study what can be done about traffic congestion, including widening roads.

"Charlotte is beyond gridlock these days," Cannon said. Cannon gets credit for talking about this issue before election season heated up, and for referring the issue to the city's transportation committee for study. But when asked how the problem should be addressed, how much money it might cost or where he thinks it should come from, Cannon said, "it's a work in progress." He was among the candidates who said he'd consider tapping into the half-cent mass transit sales tax to upgrade roads. He said the city needs to start partnering more with the state and local developers to improve roads.

Cannon has some issues with proposed growth policies that would restrict development in some areas to redirect it to the transit corridors because the formula it's based upon could choke growth in struggling and stagnating areas that need it.

"I want to balance directing development to the (transit) corridor with allowing it in areas on the east and west side that could benefit from it," said Cannon. While he favors policies that promote growth along the transit lines, in some cases, he said, the currently proposed growth policies could raise the cost of housing, making it unaffordable for some.

Cannon, a business owner, defends his vote in favor of building a new arena uptown.

"I say that there are now 400 construction jobs," said Cannon. "There's a $320 million economic impact that will occur within a five-minute walk of the arena and there's $4 million annually in property taxes that will be generated from development around the arena that can be used for housing, police protection and job programs."

Chris Cole
Cole, 39, is a Libertarian who has a habit of running almost every year for one office or another. While his party affiliation virtually eliminates any chance of winning, it's worth noting that in recent years Cole's command of local issues has rivaled or surpassed some new candidates that the voters actually elected.

Cole said the best way to deal with traffic is to build and expand roads. He says he'd hold a referendum to ask voters' permission to redirect the half-cent sales tax money slated for mass transit to road building and maintenance. He said he doesn't support any of the city's current growth policies and doesn't believe in zoning, which restricts the free market.

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