Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter in his office in Uptown Charlotte. Photo Credit: Matt Comer.
Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter in his office in Uptown Charlotte. Photo Credit: Matt Comer.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Dan Clodfelter, a more than decade-long veteran of the North Carolina Senate, was welcomed back to local government with open arms on April 9. His return to Charlotte government was prompted by former Mayor Patrick Cannon’s arrest and same-day resignation for federal public corruption charges just two weeks earlier.

The city, Clodfelter told qnotes in a recent interview on May 6, has “bounced back.”

“I think there’s still a lot of sadness that it happened to us,” Clodfelter said, sitting in the same mayor’s office where federal investigators allege Cannon received a briefcase filled with $20,000 in cash.

“The resilience of folks is just really amazing. It makes me smile,” Clodfelter added, noting Council’s, city staff’s and the community’s response. “It makes me a real believer and I was before, but it reconfirms my belief in this place. People have bounced back and said, ‘That’s not who we are. Let us show you who we are.’”

As mayor, Clodfelter brings his Raleigh connections to the city. Serving in the state legislature since 1999, his relationships in there are certainly a boon as the city continues to discuss contentious issues like ownership and operation of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

He’s already put some of those relationships to work.

“I have had conversations about a couple of issues of interest to the city,” Clodfelter said. “I know who to call, I know what their thinking is and I know what the issues are.”

But, some of the biggest issues still facing Charlotte need solutions and good strategy. The redevelopment of the old Eastland Mall site, overall economic growth, business incentives and other issues remain at the top of the city’s agenda.

Discovering natural strengths

Clodfelter — who lives in Elizabeth, a stone’s throw from areas on Charlotte’s Eastside in need of revitalization — said he sees a way forward.

Community redevelopment, he said, must take a multi-pronged approach.

“I’m not sure that one single project is going to solve all the issues or all the problems,” he said. “I look at communities in Charlotte that 30 or 40 years ago when I came to town where down on their luck and have turned around and really are now great success stories. They didn’t turn around based on a single, big project. They turned around based on lots of little things happening over time.”

NoDa — or simply North Charlotte, as Clodfelter said it was known when he moved here — is a good example.

“If you look at that transformation, it did not happen with a big project being plucked down there,” he said. “We have to discover things on the Eastside that are its native strengths, it’s natural strengths and build on those and ask what is it that makes this a great place to live over here, why we like living in our part of town. We have to take those things and expand those, grow those and build those, rather than trying to buy somebody else’s solution.”

Closely related to redevelopment is lingering discomfort over increased private business incentives. Recent debates to give big tax or cash incentives to companies like Chiquita and the Carolina Panthers convinced some the city didn’t quite have its priorities together.

But, Clodfelter said incentives are needed.

“You can’t have unilateral disarmament,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are in a game not of our choosing or making. Until Congress takes action on the question of public incentives, people are still going to compete for jobs, for employment, for entertainment, for projects. You can’t just stand aside from that. It’s not a winning strategy to simply exit the game.”

Yet, playing the “game” should be balanced, he said.

“I do worry sometimes about the distortion of resources,” he said. “If you’re going to have incentives programs for businesses, we have to match those programs with other investment programs in the community that yields benefits that are different than those for the businesses you’re trying to recruit to bring jobs to Charlotte. You have to have complete strategy. You have to have a balanced strategy.”

Clodfelter says ‘I do’

On May 12, former Mayor Anthony Foxx, now the U.S. transportation secretary, spoke for the first time on his personal views on marriage equality.

“I support same-sex marriage,” Foxx said at a White House briefing, in response to a question from Washington Blade White House reporter Chris Johnson. “Who someone loves should never be an issue at work, or any place else.”

A week earlier, in his interview with qnotes, Clodfelter, too, spoke out on his personal support for marriage equality

Clodfelter responded affirmatively when asked if he would follow the example of City Councilmember Patsy Kinsey, who served briefly as mayor last year, and join Freedom to Marry’s national Mayors for Marriage coalition.

“I would support that, too,” he said.

Clodfelter also spoke briefly on the importance of inclusion, saying it was “absolutely essential” to the city.

“This is a very diverse community in all kinds of ways and I think it’s one of its great strengths,” Clodfelter said. “You can’t move forward if you’re constantly sort of treating any group of your community as if they don’t belong or if they are not really full citizens of the community. You’re shackling yourself. You can’t do that to anybody.”

In the Senate, Clodfelter was an ally — a co-sponsor of the 2009 School Violence Prevention Act and, in 2011, voted against putting the state’s 2012 anti-LGBT marriage amendment on the ballot.

“That amendment, we kept it bottled up in committee for many years and wouldn’t let it out — almost a decade,” Clodfelter said.

In that decade, he said he’d witnessed great change.

“I remember every election cycle we would poll the question on all our private polling as a caucus,” he recounted. “Then, when the vote was taken on the amendment … what I remember was — wow — was all the movement over the decade of the polling we had seen privately on the issue to the actual vote on the amendment was a sea change in itself. A decade ago, you would not have even broken 20 percent on the issue and here we were pushing 40 and above, and I thought, it’s just a question of time.”

Longtime ally

Before his time in the state Senate, Clodfelter also served as a member of City Council from 1987 to 1993.

It was on Council in November 1992 that Clodfelter took a publicly-inclusive stand on non-discrimination efforts. He was one of only four Council members to support a proposed employment policy and public accommodations ordinance that included sexual orientation. Notably, current Gov. McCrory, a Council member at the time, voted against the measure.

According to Council minutes from that meeting, Clodfelter told his colleagues that he had “been struck during the time he has been in Charlotte, that after knowing an individual for a period of time he learned they were gay. Every time it has happened it has caused him to stop and reflect on his encounters with that individual before he knew they were gay, his work experiences, his life experiences on a community activity and he has always had to say how would I have treated this person differently had I known they were gay. He cannot find that he should have acted differently.”

On public accommodations, Clodfelter told Council that businesses shouldn’t be able to discriminate against the public.

“…[I]n America when a business says they are a public business, that has a special meaning,” Clodfelter said according to minutes. “Public means all of us, where ever we came from with all our sins, flaws and failings. That is what a public accommodations ordinance is about.”

Clodfelter remembers that vote.

“I was on City Council when the manager brought [it] forward,” Clodfelter said. “I remember we lost on that vote … and I think how far things have progressed in the city since then.”

In 2010, former City Manager Curt Walton added sexual orientation to the city’s employment non-discrimination policy, following up in December 2012, right before his retirement, by adding gender identity. Earlier that year, Council also approved Walton’s proposed city budget, including his addition of domestic partner benefits for city employees. Yet, in the more than two decades since Clodfelter’s affirmative vote for inclusion, Council has not directly taken up another specific vote on LGBT inclusion. : :

more: Read more about Anthony Foxx’s May 12 comments.

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.