Just a couple of years ago, Charlotte seemed to be taking its place as the leader in North Carolina politics in the 21st century. For the second time in a decade, one of its legislators was speaker of the NC house. It’s former mayor was elected governor and its sitting mayor was appointed U.S. Secretary of Transportation. In addition, Charlotte Congressman Mel Watt was appointed head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
However, the past year cast a bit of doubt on Charlotte’s political rise. Pat McCrory quickly proved that serving as mayor of the state’s largest city left him ill-prepared to run the state. Speaker Thom Tillis got seriously out-maneuvered by his counterparts in the state senate and now looks like a less-than-stellar candidate for U. S. Senate. And yesterday, Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon got arrested for what looks like corruption based purely on personal greed.
For most of the 20th century, Charlotte was like its own state. Its economy was based on banking and finance while the rest of North Carolina was agriculture and manufacturing. Rarely did Charlotte politicians reach the heights of power in state politics.
As the state began to grow and change at the end of the century, so did Charlotte’s influence. Rep. Jim Black became speaker of the house. Erskine Bowles was twice the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. And by 2008, Pat McCrory was the GOP nominee for governor and Tillis emerged as speaker after 2010, indicating Charlotteans were leading both parties.
Today, Jim Black is back in Charlotte after serving time in prison. McCrory is increasingly looking like a one-term governor. Tillis can’t shake a bunch of no-name competitors in the GOP Senate primary. And now Patrick Cannon looks like he’s probably heading to jail.
Pundits have been asking how it affects the Democratic Party. I don’t think it does. Cannon has never been on the radar of state political leaders and Jim Black is a bit of a distant memory.
However, its very damaging to Charlotte’s attempt to move into the state political orbit. Their leaders have always had a provincial approach to politics and it’s showing. They don’t understand the rest of the state and their values seem out of sync.
Anthony Foxx was smart to take the gig at the Department of Transportation. Putting a little daylight between himself and the Queen City was the best thing he could have done for his political career.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >