Today, citizens in Charlotte head to the polls to choose a new mayor and new city council members. Earlier in the election, I’d noted that I wouldn’t reveal how I’d vote. This morning, I felt a strong urge to speak out.
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve voted for a Republican. In 2004, I cast a ballot for Richard Burr, a fellow Winston-Salem native. That same year, I voted for a Republican candidate for sheriff, a family acquaintance. In 2009, I voted for Edwin Peacock in his at-large race for Charlotte City Council. [Edit (Nov. 5, 2013, 2:51 p.m.): Last year, I also voted for Wayne Powers, a Republican candidate for Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. Apologies that I forgot about this vote.]
Today, I’ll cast votes again for Republican candidates, Edwin Peacock included.
Say what, my friends and acquaintances may scream. I know, I can hardly believe it either. It’s a cliche phrase, but it truly fits the current situation: I’m not leaving my party; my party left me.
I’ve been torn over this local election for months. But, I’ve finally made my decision. It comes after several days of news regarding Democratic mayoral candidate Patrick Cannon’s misleading statements regarding his involvement in closed-door council discussions on the Carolina Panthers and council’s decision to give the company $87.5 million in business incentives.
Cannon, who owns parking services company E-Z Parking and has admitted his own conflict of interest with the Panthers, recently said he “never” attended a closed-door session discussing the Panthers incentives, adding that “a mayor should know that kind of thing.”
So, apparently, Cannon either doesn’t know what he himself did or he willfully chose to mislead the public.
Either way, I cannot vote for Cannon. Not only has he defended the use of public money by spending it on a private and profitable billion-dollar company, but he has also defended the council’s closed-door sessions and, what’s more, misled the public about his involvement in them.
The Panthers incentives debate has been important to me. I’ve spoken out against the decision several times (see: “In Charlotte, the rich get richer behind closed doors” and “Misplaced Council priorities in Panthers plan”). I’m against corporate welfare, when such public money should be rightfully used to support citizens. Private businesses run by millionaires who employ millionaires can find their own money. There’s no need to fleece taxpayers when such companies are easily making profits. And, besides, taxpayer money was never designed to benefit the profit-making enterprises of private corporations; the money is designed to support government, citizens and residents.
Further, I have been disappointed with current council leadership, Cannon included, who thought it was appropriate to meet in the comforting secrecy of closed-door sessions to discuss the giveaway of millions of dollars in public money to a private corporation. Such an ask — originally set at $125 million, and to be funded by a raise in local prepared food and beverage taxes — should have been made in public. It never was, and council decided long before it ever publicly addressed the issue that such a giveaway would happen.
So, today, I will cast my vote for Republican Edwin Peacock. And, here’s why, in his own words, from my interview with him at QNotes:
On business incentives:
“Chiquita, I voted no. Panthers, I would have said no. Carowinds, I would have said no. I’m pretty much across the board no. That doesn’t mean I’m against incentives. What I am for is the business investment grant program. That’s the program that we’ve had since 1998 that has worked very well for Electrolux, Rooms To Go, MetLife, Husqvarna. They’ve all used that program and it had specific criteria.”
On why he was against the incentives:
“It’s corporate welfare. I’m against giving folks money that don’t need money and haven’t made a case as to why we should have that. We have incentives so that we can compete against South Carolina and Tennessee, which don’t have state income taxes, and Virginia. We’re competing in that environment. I’m not saying to our chamber or regional partnership that incentives are bad. I’m not at all. But you’ve really got to step back and be an independent voice as a council member and, more importantly, as mayor to say, ‘We want your business, but we’re not so desperate we’re going to just break from rank and file and start giving money.'”
On council closed-door sessions (emphasis added):
“On the Panthers, this is the difference between myself and my opponent. Abe Lincoln said, ‘With public sentiment you can accomplish anything; without it, you can accomplish nothing.’ Who was not consulted in the Panthers decision? The public. They had a public hearing in the end which was after the decision was largely made. They went into not one, but two meetings in closed session. … I wouldn’t have gone into closed session because it’s an existing business here that wasn’t going to leave over night as much as the threats were put out there. And, secondly, they were asking for public money. That’s why they went into closed session, it was to take that and go to the legislature and ask for that one percent food and beverage tax. The state said, ‘We aren’t giving you that.’ They send it back and what the end result is, they’ve gone after a very public-purpose facility — the convention center — and they’ve practically robbed Peter to pay Paul. You’ve got the money from the convention center at $87.5 million and you’ve now transferred it to a private corporation for TVs, skyboxes and escalators. Where’s the public discussion? It’s unbelievable to me that we would just all of a sudden herald ourselves and say for $87.5 million we now have six years of comfort. Six years? That’s like that; that’s a blink of an eye. What’s the next date your readers need to know about? August 2014. They want more money to be tethered here longer. I’m not anti-Panthers. I’m pro-Panthers. I recognize what they want and I understand that they’ve had a good sentiment and obviously our communities are enormously thankful, but where was the public discussion about this? Could they have paid for it themselves? Could they have borrowed it from the name of the bank on their stadium? Could they have used the G4 financing from the NFL? Could they have used, as other states have, the potential to use our lottery to play lottery games to raise money? Was there ever any discussion about adding a fee to the seats and the PSL owners? No. And, then what about the sixth option? A novel option — what about consulting the public? In a public vote? A referendum like Miami-Dade did. That’s six options and then what about the final one: No. I’ve got six things that I would say as mayor. You need to have that discussion and if I was with Jerry Richardson — I’m not against Jerry Richardson — I’d say I’m against corporate welfare to give you the public’s money for a private corporation. There’s nothing more egregious in that situation. That’s so far removed and different than Carowinds and Chiquita, because Chiquita was coming here. Carowinds is similar, because they are already here, but they were looking to expand. I just think that this just reeks of bad, bad decisions. It breaks a lot of rules we just pride ourselves on in North Carolina, especially our open meeting laws.“
For the same reasons I on which I base my decision in the mayoral race, I will not vote today for any incumbent council member. In my district race, I’ll vote for Democrat Al Austin. In at-large races, I will vote for Democrat Vi Alexander Lyles and Republicans Vanessa Faura, Ken Harris, and Dennis Peterson.
I realize that I may have disagreements with some candidates about where they stand on how to use the public’s money. Some are against the street car or the Capital Improvement Plan. I favor both. We can have a debate on how best to use that public money, but, public money can’t be used for the public if it is landing in the hands of private corporations. At the very least, I’m confident these Republican candidates will save public money for the public’s use. Admittedly, I don’t know where Austin and Lyles stand on the Panthers issue; I’ve not seen them address it directly and quite a bit of time searching and looking at candidate profiles didn’t help. But, I’m confident they will have learned from their predecessors’ mistakes in discussing such a controversial proposal in secrecy and without transparency for voters.
The most important role of elected representatives should be to represent and serve their constituents. And, at least on this issue of Carolina Panthers incentives, incumbents have not proven they can truly represent their citizens and residents. Closed-door meetings discussing millions of dollars in public charity to private corporations are inexcusable, especially when such proposals may result in raising taxes to pay for such lavish, unnecessary corporate giveaways.
This decision has been a difficult one for me. I’m a proud Democrat and believe very strongly in the principles my party espouses. I only wish my local Democratic candidates had the same loyalty to those principles.
Photo Credit (top): DigiDreamGrafix.com, via Flickr. Licensed CC.