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Mayoral primary historic and understated
Mitchell-Cannon race generates little fanfare
Published Wednesday, September 4, 2013 12:30 pm
by Herbert L. White

Charlotte’s mayoral primary lead next week’s ballot, but it isn’t generating much interest.

Charlotte Democratic mayoral candidate James Mitchell said timing has taken focus off the primary race. The Sept. 10 primary is three weeks earlier than most other races in North Carolina.

For the first time, two black Democrats – City Council members Patrick Cannon and James Mitchell – are squaring off for the chance to advance to the November general election. Yet  the race hasn’t sparked anticipation beyond hardcore political junkies. One reason is Charlotte’s Sept. 10 primary date, three weeks earlier than most races in North Carolina.

“Our timing has been bad,” said Mitchell, who represents District 2. “The primary used to be the last of September, now it’s right after Labor Day. You’ve got school, you’ve got Labor Day. People are not going to focus on us until  (a week before the primary).”

The winner will get a chance to challenge Republican Edwin Peacock for the seat now held by interim Mayor Patsy Kinsey, who is running for the District 1 seat she left to replace Anthnoy Foxx in July. Foxx is now U.S. transportation secretary.

Early vote statistics confirm the lack of fervor. As of Aug. 30, 629 people cast ballots. Mitchell suggests a later primary date would improve the numbers.

“Look at the early turnout – only 420 people voted (in the first week of early voting). If you had put it right at Sept. 21, people are in school, people are concentrating on the campaign.”

The lack of voter engagement could also be a sign of Charlotte’s growth as an urban area. Voters went more than two decades between electing the city’s first black mayor, Harvey Gantt (1985), and its second, Anthony Foxx (2009). In other major cities with large African American populations, like Atlanta and Washington, D.C., black candidates running and winning mayorships is routine.

“It’s ho-hum right now because people are really concerned about what they see,” Cannon said. “They don’t like the idea that you have two African Americans running against each other. You’re going to have some Mitchell supporters, you’re going to have some Cannon supporters and there have been people who’ve not jumped all the way on his bandwagon because of me and vice versa.”

Cannon said he and Mitchell agreed during the campaign to minimize mudslinging although there have been pointed exchanges.

“We’re still growing, mind you, so it hasn’t really morphed per se like it has in other cities,” Cannon said. “Mind you, there is an undercurrent of support out there but some people don’t want to be on top of it and don’t want to see the pulling of punches, if you will.”

Election officials expect less than 10 percent of voters will cast ballots, which places more emphasis on organization and turnout.

“It’ll be interesting,” Mitchell said.


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