In Charlotte’s mayoral race, Stone nails down the industry’s backing

By: Tara Ramsey, staff writer//October 25, 2011//

In Charlotte’s mayoral race, Stone nails down the industry’s backing

By: Tara Ramsey, staff writer//October 25, 2011//

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Until he announced his candidacy for mayor in March, Scott Stone wasn’t a nobody, but he wasn’t exactly a household name in Charlotte, either.

A former vice president of Merrick & Co., a Colorado-based engineering and architectural firm, he ran in the same circles as some of the city’s business elite, having chaired the city’s Business Advisory Committee.

The Republican also founded the N.C. Heroes Fund, a nonprofit that supports military families, and is a member of Future of Our Libraries Task Force and sits on the board of Builders of Hope.

Still, his wasn’t a face that made it on the news often.

But that lack of name recognition hasn’t stopped members of the city’s real estate and construction industry from backing him. Indeed, for many of them, Stone is their boy in the Nov. 8 election, rather than incumbent Anthony Foxx, a Democrat.

“I think one of Scott’s biggest assets is his understanding of the technical elements of the specific regulations that affect our industry,” said Joe Padilla, executive public policy director for the Charlotte-based Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition.

“Being in our industry, and being a civil engineer, he gets it,” Padilla said. “He understands our issues.”

REBIC’s Shelter Providers Political Action Committee Enterprise has endorsed Stone, who was a REBIC member through Merrick & Co. Foxx is not a member of REBIC.

Stone has been way ahead of Foxx when it comes to contributions from real estate and construction industry officials, although Foxx blows Stone out of the water when it comes to overall donations, according to September campaign finance reports.

The mayor has collected $611,481 for his re-election, six times more than Stone’s $100,190.

Foxx had only one construction-related donor, Stephen Cornwell, an owner of Spangler Construction, who gave him $500.

Stone has raised $12,100 from real estate and construction industry sources, 24 times more than Foxx has.

Stone’s message has seemed to resonate with the city’s crippled real estate industry. Construction activity is down, and companies have had to lay off staff just to survive.

Stone, who as a civil engineer has worked with some of Charlotte’s bigger construction firms, has expressed views on major building industry issues that contrast with those of Foxx and his administration.

Foxx has turned down repeated requests for an interview with The Mecklenburg Times.

“If you look at this current City Council and this mayor, their policies have been very difficult for the real estate industry,” Stone said.

There’s been a lack of investment in Charlotte, he said, adding that it is lower than it should be — even in this down economy — thanks to three city regulations that have hurt development: the post construction controls ordinance, the tree ordinance and urban street design guidelines.

The three were approved either during Foxx’s first term as mayor or during his tenure as a member of the City Council.

“All three are very hurtful, but when you combine three of them, together it makes it extremely difficult to build anything in the city,” Stone said. “I think we need to take all three ordinances and look at them together and go forward with one new ordinance that combines all three.”

Foxx hasn’t helped his relationship with the real estate industry.

This month, Foxx, who’s coming to the end of his first term, upset industry officials when he used his first ever veto to block a City Council decision to remove from one ordinance a tree-save requirement that also appears in another ordinance.

Many industry officials supported removing the duplicative requirement. Foxx later rescinded the veto after the council agreed to send the issue to its environment committee. The council is expected to consider the proposal again in November.

Still, some in the industry are hesitant to be overly critical of Foxx.

Take REBIC, a coalition of real estate trade groups that monitors local and state government activity. While SPPACE is donating to Stone’s campaign, it is also donating to Foxx’s.

Padilla declined to say how much the political action committee was donating to each campaign. That information was not included in previously filed campaign finance reports. Final reports are not due until January.

“I would say that we support candidates as well as elected officials who we feel are being effective or who would be effective for the interest of our industry,” Padilla said. “Sometimes there is more than one candidate in a race who would accomplish that.”

That doesn’t mean that SPPACE will support both candidates equally, he said.

“Really, it’s more who we think would be more effective in representing the interests of economic development and job creation,” he said. “Again, a lot of people have been very happy with the mayor’s leadership. There are also a lot of people who realize Scott would be a tremendous advocate for economic development and job creation.

“He has outlined an effective strategy for streamlining regulation in the city if he were to get elected and for creating jobs, which ultimately is what our industry needs to get back on its feet.”

Padilla said fear didn’t factor into SPPACE’s decision to support both candidates financially.

“The idea of repercussions hasn’t come into play since I’ve been here, and it should never work like that,” he said.

The Charlotte chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors has also endorsed Stone, but it’s been more critical of Foxx’s leadership. In a press release, the local chapter cited its strong opposition to the project labor agreement that Foxx signed with the Democratic National Convention.

The agreement limits competition to union-only contractors, eliminating Charlotte contractors from working on those projects, Stone says.

“Mayor Foxx has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of Charlotte,” Doug Carlson, ABC president and CEO, who was not available for comment, said in a press release. “ABC members, as taxpayers in the city of Charlotte, believe that they should have the right to work on these projects whether they are affiliated with a union or not.”

ABC called Stone a champion of free enterprise and said the organization supports candidates that support its core principles, including that contractors should be awarded contracts based on merit, rather than on union affiliation.

Frank Blythe, vice president of Charlotte-based Blythe Development Co., said Stone, if elected, would bring more industry to Charlotte and create jobs. He has donated $1,500 to Stone’s campaign.

“I think we need businessmen running government these days,” Blythe said.

Blythe, whose company does civil construction, said he met Stone, a civil engineer, about 10 years ago. He compared Stone to former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory.

“I think (Foxx) is doing an OK job, but I think we need a more active mayor, one more like McCrory,” Blythe said.

From Dan Millard, principal of Vantage Real Estate Advisors in Charlotte, Stone’s campaign has received a $2,000 boost.

“I’ve known Scott for about 15 years, and I know he is a man of integrity and he has been very successful in business and he can transfer it into the mayor’s office,” Millard said. “I certainly think we need to cut spending and I want to see him do that in the mayor’s office.”

Henry Faison, chairman and founder of Charlotte-based Faison Enterprises, said he’s backing Stone even though he doesn’t know which candidate might be friendlier to the building industry. He said he has no qualms with Foxx.

“I’m supporting him because he’s a great candidate and I happen to know him,” said Faison, who donated $1,000 to Stone’s campaign.

Diane Rivers, who has donated $500 to Stone’s campaign and is managing partner with Charlotte-based commercial real estate firm Brackett-Flagship, said she liked Stone’s conservative approach and thinks he’ll bring good jobs to Charlotte.

Stone hasn’t avoided controversy in this election, and it’s not clear what impact news stories on the spending of his Heroes Fund will have on his chances of winning the mayor’s seat.

This month, it was reported that Heroes has spent more on raising funds than actually helping veterans who need financial assistance.

In response, Stone has said the organization is still new, that it has had to spend startup money in order to grow and that it has had trouble raising funds in this economy. Heroes Fund was started in 2007.

The Mecklenburg Times tried to get other Stone supporters to talk about why they were supporting him, but many wouldn’t do so on the record.

Stone says that might be because of fear of retribution from Foxx should he get re-elected.

“I have wide support from the building industry,” Stone said. “But I would say the mayor has some financial support from the building industry.

“I’ve had a couple people say to me, ‘I had to give him money, but I’m going to vote for you.’”

Eric Heberlig, associate professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, isn’t shocked that the real estate industry is rooting for Stone, since it’s traditionally “pretty solidly Republican.”

Just because lower-level workers in the industry are disgruntled because they’re working fewer hours or are unemployed, that doesn’t mean they’ll turn out at the polls to support Stone, Heberlig said.

“People who are economically stressed are less likely to vote,” he said. “You’re distracted by other things,” like trying to find a job.

Ramsey can be reached at [email protected].

Campaign collections

The following is a look at the five donors in the real estate and construction industries who have given the most to Charlotte mayoral candidate Scott Stone, based on September campaign finance reports.

1. Frank Blythe, Blythe Development, $1,500

2. Dan Millard, Vantage Real Estate, $1,500

3. Herman Stone, Stone Theaters, $1,250

4. Jeffrey Butler, Greencastle Capital, $1,000

5. William Cornwell, Spangler Construction, $1,000

Source: Mecklenburg Times staff research

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