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Clodfelter ponders role as mayor, vision for Charlotte

Clodfelter.webMayor Dan Clodfelter has an impressive resume.

The 64-year-old Thomasville native attended Davidson College, where he was named a Rhodes Scholar, enabling him to head off to earn a second bachelor’s degree at Oxford University and, later, a law degree at Yale.

His political career is equally impressive: U.S. District Court clerk after law school; private practice at Charlotte’s Moore & Van Allen since 1978; District 1 Charlotte City Councilman from 1987-93; member of the N.C. Senate, where he chaired the powerful Senate Finance Committee, from 1998-2014; and trustee of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation since 1982.

Last April, the Charlotte City Council voted 10-1 to appoint Clodfelter as mayor after his predecessor, Patrick Cannon, was arrested on federal charges of public corruption and resigned.

Clodfelter’s term runs through the end of this year. The Democrat appears to be throwing his hat in the ring for another term, having filed campaign-finance reports with the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections.

Mayor Clodfelter recently sat down for a series of 10-minute interviews with local media outlets, including The Mecklenburg Times. Following is a transcript of our conversation.

You have a long career in public service. What has been the most surprising thing about being mayor of Charlotte? How much the Charlotte community as a whole has really diversified and grown since I was on the City Council. It’s something that you know, but it’s hard to keep track of on a regular basis when you’re off in the state capital all the time. To come back and jump right back in it has been great.

What’s been the most frustrating thing for you? It’s hard to say what the most frustrating things are.

Is it getting things pushed through the council? I find that the council works together quite well and that’s been part of what I’ve tried to work with … to keep them all sort of working with each other and focused on their agenda. It’s been good.

How about gridlock in dealing with the state? There are some real challenges there now, especially with some of my former colleagues who have surprised me a little bit with how aggressively they’re pushing to reallocate resources away from urban areas. That has surprised me a little bit.

Why did you decide to run for a second term as mayor? I’m still exploring the idea. I’m interested in doing it. I had said at the beginning of last year that if I thought that it was working out pretty well I might want to do this one more time. I don’t want to make a long-term engagement out of it. I think there are some things that could get done that might need more than a year.

What are some of the biggest issues, including development, facing Charlotte now? The two biggest, as I mentioned in my (recent State of the City) speech, are figuring out where the money is going to come from for infrastructure in the next couple of decades, especially transportation infrastructure. Secondly, how we keep the community together as a whole and make sure all parts of the community are going to benefit from the vibrant economic growth that we’ve got.

Could you touch on commercial or residential development? I think one of the key initiatives that would be of interest to your readers is that we’ve got Gartner Consulting looking right now at the city and county processes for inspections and permitting. I think that’s a very important area in need of some redesign, rethinking and some major improvements. How we go forward with that is something I think both the county commission and the council are going to spend some time looking at this year.

We don’t place restrictions on developers regarding units that must be devoted to affordable housing. How do you view that issue? There are constitutional and statutory limitations on what we can do. But, we’ve been fortunate here in that citizens have supported public bonds to put into our housing programs. The city of Charlotte probably has one of the most robust affordable-housing programs around. There are some who might be better than us, but we’re going to be in the top ranks among cities with strong affordable-housing programs, and it’s largely backed by local funds that voters have approved. Ideally, I’d like to see North Carolina reinstate the low-income housing tax credit. That’s been tremendously valuable in North Carolina. Ours was designed differently than typical tax-credit programs in other states and on the federal level. Ours was much more productive in terms of the value we got for the state tax-credit investment. It expired last year and the legislature did not renew it.

What are some important issues coming up this year? (Clodfelter referred to his recent State of the City speech, in which he said Charlotte faced decisions on developing an amateur sports complex near Bojangles’ arena and financing “the remainder of the 2030 Transit Plan in light of the apparent withdrawal of state support and possible limitations on future federal spending.” Clodfelter also mentioned the need for a development plan for the Gateway Station on West Trade Street, a new concept for the site of the former Eastland Mall, and funding options for the city’s stormwater services and water and sewage systems.)  

What is your vision for Charlotte? As I said in the speech, we are a very resourceful and resilient community. This is a city that is constantly reinventing itself and engaging with new people and new ideas. It’s a very creative city. My vision of the city is that we are going to become one of the leaders in developing the new economy and a more diversified economy than what we have had in the past. One of the things that is always interesting to me is how many startups there are that are small-scale in things like financial innovation, design and other creative endeavors, energy and high-tech manufacturing. These are areas where there is an awful lot of ferment in the community right now.

What would you like people to know about you? I’m very much a consensus builder and collaborator. Those would probably be the primary hallmarks of how I like to work. I consider myself a newcomer to Charlotte. I wasn’t born or raised here. The city welcomed me and took me in and I’ve benefitted from that. It’s been wonderful and I feel like that’s the attitude you need to have.

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