Election 2013: Q&A with Edwin Peacock III, Republican candidate for Charlotte mayor

edwinpeacock

Come November, voters in Charlotte will head to the polls and choose their next mayor. For the first time since 2009, no incumbent mayor is on the ballot. Citizens will choose between Democrat Patrick Cannon, 47, who currently serves as Mayor Pro Tempore and an at-large member on Charlotte City Council, and Republican Edwin Peacock III, 43, a former at-large council member who served two terms from 2007 through 2011 and ran last year for the Republican nomination in the Ninth Congressional District.

Both candidates have long records of public service. For LGBT citizens, Cannon and Peacock represent two of the most vetted candidates to ever appear on the mayoral ballot. Both have received past endorsements from the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC) for their LGBT-friendly stances, though neither received MeckPAC’s nod in mayoral primary races in September. Peacock was endorsed by qnotes in 2011.

qnotes sat down with both candidates for an in-depth Q&A on a variety of topics, including LGBT non-discrimination efforts, economic development issues, community and neighborhood issues and more. A portion of those sit-down interviews were published in our Oct. 11 print edition. Below, you can read the full interview with Edwin Peacock. It has been edited slightly for clarity. Click here to read our interview with Patrick CannonRead our mayoral endorsement editorial here.

The general election is scheduled for Nov. 5, 2013.

Matt Comer: What makes you the best candidate for mayor over your opponent?
Edwin Peacock: Two things — Vision for the future and an interest in improving and changing the culture of local government.

What’s wrong with local government?
Partisan, divided and increasingly one-sided and, as a result, ineffective.

You told Creative Loafing that you thought having a Republican mayor with a majority Democratic Council would bring balance.
I’d like to see balance in the sense of having at least maybe four Republicans on City Council. That would be my ideal scenario. But right now, currently the way we’re districted, there’s only two safe Republican districts. And, with the Democratic majority and the last redistricting we did, there’s really only one district that could be a toss up. … The path to balance is at large. One of the things I talked yesterday about with [Independent District 4 candidate] Michael Zytkow is that he’s had to go through this experience of being an independent on the ballot. He’s had to get an enormous amount of signatures. I’m predicting him to win.

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Is it possible for an independent candidate 
to win?
We’re going to find out with him. I was impressed with him because he’s a smart guy. One of the first things we talked about was my comments that I’d made previously with Patrick Cannon at the Black Political Caucus about partisanship and divisiveness, that it’s got to end. He asked how I propose doing that. I said, really, the problem is we’re now 35 years into district representation, but our problem with district representation is not the same problem that we had when we started it. Then, what John Belk wanted to do was make sure the City Council absolutely looked like the city. Before that, ironically, it was run by four white men. … The bottom line is Zytkow noticed that partisanship and bickering has now turned into safe districts. That’s why we have Bill James and Vilma Leake. Both of them are comfortable making divisive comments. The reason they are safe is the primary system. In a primary, nobody shows up. So, if you’re voted on by all, that’s the model you need to choose. We do have that by statute. In Gaston County, you have to live in the district where you are and then you can be voted on by everybody at large. How’s that? What that basically does is says to Bill James, if you vote for this, you’re voting yourself out of a job because he will be gone for the very reason he’s done to inflame everyone — Republican, Democrat, gay, lesbian, black and white.

Is this a districting issue or a demographic issue? Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 in the city.
You’re still going to have Democrats be 2-to-1. In fact, by pushing for this, what I’m trying to push for is the possibility for a Republican to come back and have them win at large. It’s because more people could participate in voting for me. I keep telling people this will be a close because Democrats voted for me [when I ran for City Council].

You have, over the course of your public service in Charlotte, proven yourself to be what I think many people would call a moderate Republican. You do seem very balanced on many issues you take. But, for my readers — particularly LGBT readers — some people may be put off a bit by the fact that you are a Republican and the history the Republican Party has. How do you separate your personal positions from your party’s platform? I ask that because it seems like, at least in recent years, Charlotte’s mayor’s office has become a launching point for people who want higher office and we saw with Pat McCrory that some of his moderation went away when he became governor.
Well, my past experience has definitely shown my independence. I’ve not agreed [with some party platform ideas] since I answered my first Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC) questionnaire in 2007. What I noticed is what’s causing our party to atrophy and to recede is that they’ve gone from a party about prosperity and economic opportunity and limited government and fiscally responsible behavior to trying to take what they believe is high moral ground on social issues. That, I think, has done more to damage our party. At the end of the day, the more we’ve gotten into the recession the more people realize those types of social issues are not the most relevant right now. The reason I’ve been so frustrated with my party is that, in order to grow, you have to be an open tent party and an open tent party says that there’s a wide ramp for disagreement on subjects like immigration — there should be a wide range of beliefs even on the gay and lesbian issues. I’m not talking about those mundane arguments you see for party platforms which never really dominate anything. It’s interesting this national Republican scene was so divided over their feelings for Romney. It was just bloody and it was unfortunate and he met his match with the most challenging opponent of all time, which was the best campaigner, Obama. Romney came from one of the most liberal states. With a state that’s just 13 percent Republican, how did he do it? I think he did it because at the time they were in bad financial shape. They admired his business acumen. He didn’t come out and offend people. He came and said, “I want to fix something.” I think that’s what Romney did really well. Right now we have a party that wants to inflame one side or the other. And, they want to take a high ground, whether it’s the Tea Party or whether it’s social conservatives on issues like Amendment One or gun control. My argument during the Amendment One scenario…was that was a distraction, that it had nothing to do with getting us back on track with the economy, it was legally unnecessary, which it absolutely was. … In the Republican Party we are deflecting people, not attracting people. What attracts people to both sides is prosperity, inclusiveness and I think most people, particularly in Charlotte, are generally right of center especially as it relates to fiscal issues. I think in urban areas, you see more people who agree with me on that social side. … I’m not apologetic about being a conservative, but I am identifying my campaign in the way I’ve conducted myself in my own personal life. We hope that is what voters look for as opposed to a blind party affiliation.

You came out against Amendment One, and the mayor’s position doesn’t have anything to do with marriage law, but a lot of people might look to the mayor for guidance and leadership. What’s your personal position on same-sex marriage?
I thought the DOMA decision really bounces it back to the states and I felt as though from an LGBT perspective one of the advantages to the way the court set that up was that they struck down the part that really does get us back to allowing each state to identify how they want to be able to conduct themselves. It puts the flexibility back in the states’ hands to do just that. I really felt like you could have same-sex civil unions or domestic partnerships. As a moderate, I always felt like, well, maybe that could be the midpoint ground here. … Tax law is tax law. I do insurance and investment planning for people who are gay or lesbian … When you look at the tax and estate laws and the way the IRS looks at a same-sex couple who have been together for a long time, you have to rewrite a whole lot of things that relate to estate and tax law. When you see what brought DOMA and Proposition 8, these were issues all about the equality of the situation where a [partner in] a same-sex couple dies and one has to pay more in income taxes. That’s a fairness question.

So, you are or are not in favor of same-sex marriage?
I’m not in favor of same-sex marriage from a 50-states [perspective]. Allow each state to choose how they want to define that. The second part is, I understand what the DOMA decision was about, because it was about fairness in a tax and equality scenario. I thought before the DOMA decision, I felt like civil unions was going to be the ground that the courts would find. As it relates to same-sex benefits at the City of Charlotte as a city issue, I was for it. … I studied it and realized it was not as significant of a financial matter as it was previously billed to be. I couldn’t come up with a hard argument that this was going to ruin us.

Would you support expanding protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity under the Commercial Non-Discrimination Ordinance, so that businesses that are receiving taxpayer dollars for services they provide will then be prohibited from anti-gay discrimination?
I don’t have a problem with that. I just want to make sure we are trying to do business with more people within the City of Charlotte and make it fair for anybody who’s bidding to do that. I’m just always cautious when you put another layer on trying to do business with the city. Are you throwing stuff out or giving an unintended consequence? I’m with you on the fairness scenario. You know, Wal-Mart goes out and they can change the market place by just who they are dealing with…

I think activists would say the same thing about the city, that it could have the same effect.
Clearly, I’d want to see — I understood very clearly in 2007 when [former MeckPAC Chair] Phil Hargett was sitting here in this very office explaining to me the problem, the problem of not having sexual orientation [in the employment policy]. I said, well, it’s just a word. I’m with you on it. What’s the big deal? He went into depth on why it’s such a big deal. … I understood the retention needs there. I just want to understand, is there a real problem that we’re doing business with people right now that are discriminating? Is it a big problem? I don’t know. But, if it is a big problem, I want it to be an equal playing ground. We don’t need to be doing business with people that are discriminating.

Would you be in favor of looking at changing the public accommodations and fair housing ordinances, even if it means you have to ask the state legislature for permission to make those changes?
I don’t have any objection. That’s also something you’d have to coordinate, of course, with the real estate industry. This is a real estate issue. You’re talking about the apartment association, the realtor association and their policies. You’re hitting on what I’m about. I want to be consistent on fairness.

There’s been a lot of discussion in the city about the economic incentives given to private businesses like Chiquita, the Carolina Panthers and Carowinds. What’s your position on these incentives.
Chiquita, I voted no. Panthers, I would have said no. Carowinds, I would have said no. I’m pretty much across the board no. That doesn’t mean I’m against incentives. What I am for is the business investment grant program. That’s the program that we’ve had since 1998 that has worked very well for Electrolux, Rooms To Go, MetLife, Husqvarna. They’ve all used that program and it had specific criteria. It’s basically, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. … It’s worked really well because you have some sort of incentives program to compete particularly in the environment where we were before McCrory’s and the legislature’s reforms on our state income tax. … It puts us as close to parity as we can get it. With incentives, we can no longer afford to be in this race to the bottom. On Chiquita, let me talk about that one. The push in 2008 was jobs. Everybody was feeling the pressure. … I pushed for more facts that I was not getting. The push was this is something you don’t see except once every 10 or 20 years; this is an opportunity to bring a world headquarters and a world name. What was not being forthcoming was why are they asking for money above and beyond the business investment grant program. They asked for the tune of a $1.5 million. It ultimately led me to talk to their CFO on the phone before we went into closed session. They could not tell me why they needed the money. And, bottom line, was they were just asking for it. They wanted to see if we could do this or not. … They were moving here because of the airport. We have an asset that we’ve built that we’re proud of. At the end of the day, you can’t race to the bottom. You can’t give it away.

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You think Chiquita would have moved here 
regardless?
Absolutely. The other part of the facts — this is where the leak was everywhere — was when you have commissioned real estate brokers working for a huge lease sale, it was everywhere. The residential realtors were talking as well, too. Chiquita executives, and their wives more importantly, loved Charlotte. So, our airport and our quality of life. You got to stand on that as mayor. You’ve got to say, “Look, we love you, but you’ve got to buy into us.” We can’t give everything away.

That might seem counter-intuitive to the general, average citizen who doesn’t pay that much attention to politics. They see Republicans as being in bed with big business — as a stereotype — but you’re against these incentives for these corporations?
It’s corporate welfare. I’m against giving folks money that don’t need money and haven’t made a case as to why we should have that. We have incentives so that we can compete against South Carolina and Tennessee, which don’t have state income taxes, and Virginia. We’re competing in that environment. I’m not saying to our chamber or regional partnership that incentives are bad. I’m not at all. But you’ve really got to step back and be an independent voice as a council member and, more importantly, as mayor to say, “We want your business, but we’re not so desperate we’re going to just break from rank and file and start giving money.” Quite frankly, I look at this situation and they said, “Well, yes, we know we’re setting precedent here; it’d be a good problem if we had new companies wanting to come here and wanting to negotiate like this.” I don’t know enough about it; I haven’t read the closed-session notes on Carowinds, but I know of view Carowinds as having gotten the wind of, well, this program is out here and even though we’re only creating 15 permanent jobs in the state and it’s great they are going to create more seasonal jobs, but quite frankly, I don’t see a public company moving all their assets out of Carowinds. Would they have made the investment with or without it? These are things were again, put “maybe” for me on Carowinds. And, the reason I say “maybe” is just because I haven’t studied it. But, I was intimately involved in Chiquita. I couldn’t believe the hotbox that they were trying to put on us to vote for that. And, the chamber, really in my opinion, let you know only what they wanted to let you know and I just think voters need to elect someone that is going to have a critical eye on this kind of stuff.

On the Panthers, this is the difference between myself and my opponent. Abe Lincoln said, “With public sentiment you can accomplish anything; without it, you can accomplish nothing.” Who was not consulted in the Panthers decision? The public. They had a public hearing in the end which was after the decision was largely made. They went into not one, but two meetings in closed session. … I wouldn’t have gone into closed session because it’s an existing business here that wasn’t going to leave over night as much as the threats were put out there. And, secondly, they were asking for public money. That’s why they went into closed session, it was to take that and go to the legislature and ask for that one percent food and beverage tax. The state said, “We aren’t giving you that.” They send it back and what the end result is, they’ve gone after a very public-purpose facility — the convention center — and they’ve practically robbed Peter to pay Paul. You’ve got the money from the convention center at $87.5 million and you’ve now transferred it to a private corporation for TVs, skyboxes and escalators. Where’s the public discussion? It’s unbelievable to me that we would just all of a sudden herald ourselves and say for $87.5 million we now have six years of comfort. Six years? That’s like that; that’s a blink of an eye. What’s the next date your readers need to know about? August 2014. They want more money to be tethered here longer. I’m not anti-Panthers. I’m pro-Panthers. I recognize what they want and I understand that they’ve had a good sentiment and obviously our communities are enormously thankful, but where was the public discussion about this? Could they have paid for it themselves? Could they have borrowed it from the name of the bank on their stadium? Could they have used the G4 financing from the NFL? Could they have used, as other states have, the potential to use our lottery to play lottery games to raise money? Was there ever any discussion about adding a fee to the seats and the PSL owners? No. And, then what about the sixth option? A novel option — what about consulting the public? In a public vote? A referendum like Miami-Dade did. That’s six options and then what about the final one: No. I’ve got six things that I would say as mayor. You need to have that discussion and if I was with Jerry Richardson — I’m not against Jerry Richardson — I’d say I’m against corporate welfare to give you the public’s money for a private corporation. There’s nothing more egregious in that situation. That’s so far removed and different than Carowinds and Chiquita, because Chiquita was coming here. Carowinds is similar, because they are already here, but they were looking to expand. I just think that this just reeks of bad, bad decisions. It breaks a lot of rules we just pride ourselves on in North Carolina, especially our open meeting laws.

How is your relationship with regional city council members, mayors, county commissioners outside of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County? I ask that because if the airport commission goes through the city is going to have to work more with these regional partners than maybe they have before.
I’ve talked about in my plan the Three Ps — three partnerships. The third partnership is the transit partnership. The mayor has a formal role in the Metropolitan Transit Commission, which means that you’re in heavy interactions with the six towns within the Mecklenburg County. There’s also non-voting members of the MTC, so to answer your question: I’m friends with and have the endorsement of Miles Atkins, mayor of Mooresville, Duane Gardner, mayor of Waxhaw, who is a friend of mine and would endorse me. I know Michael Alvarez in Indian Trail. I haven’t asked him for an endorsement, but I like the guy and have a good rapport with him. I know the mayor of Weddington. These are all the people who are a part of the regional conversation because they respond to Charlotte’s growth. You need to have a mayor who’s got a strong relationship with that region and realize we’re all working together here because they have people that are in their communities that are commuting to Charlotte to populate our Uptown and the rest of our business community. They are paying Mecklenburg County taxes on a daily basis, from a sales tax standpoint. What you’re talking about there is the urban-suburban relationship. One of the things a mayor has got to be really sensitive to, and it comes out the most in the discussion of transit, is that the urban core is most analogous to the heart. We have a strong heart. … But you’ve also got all these arteries which are all those other little towns and other entities and how you’re treating them when you do decisions like my opponent has done by flip flopping like he’s done on the streetcar. He’s sending the signals to all these other partners that we are willing to not listen to the priorities of the people who are paying for the tax that is paying for the light rail and the bus system. We are willing to leapfrog over you to get pet projects done for political reasons. That has caused the divisiveness and the partisanship has all been surrounded by one issue: The streetcar.

What is your position on the streetcar?
No surprise. Against it.

Completely?
I want a streetcar. I just want to be able to pay for it. My opponent accepted a circulator grant for $35 million from the federal government, but there’s no money to pay for it. So, I put it to the analogy of you bought a house with somebody who gave you the down payment, but you can’t pay the mortgage. That disrupts the regional partnership. But, the more important relationship is what signal does it send to that place that thinks we’re the Great State of Mecklenburg. It says, you can take care of your own transit problems and that’s exactly why we created the MTC, was to say that Charlotte is not the only player here. That has been disruptive to our fault, not to our advantage. So, the streetcar is part of that. My whole message is that city staff has been dedicating so much time to that. City staff needs to move on. What is Plan B to revitalize East and West Charlotte? They’ve basically been pitted against each other. And, guess who’s flaming that whole pit? South Charlotte. Why? Because they are 58 percent of the residential property tax base. If a mayor can’t sell a transit program that can be included in the metropolitan transit plan, be paid for by either the regional tax that we all agree upon — I’m getting back to the urban-suburban question, which is, what’s in it for me? What’s in it for the suburbs? That is the model we’re struggling with right now as we’re looking at it on the Arts and Science Cultural Taskforce that I’m serving on. Our charge is to deal with the fact that 5 percent of our giving is gone. Why is it gone? Because, guess what, the two rich uncles are no longer paying a dividend. And, guess what? What we’re finding is that when they have a conversation what is it that citizens in the creative class want? They want what we have here, but they also want it around them. Meaning like they have it in Matthews or Huntersville has Discovery Place Kids or Mooresville has this program or that program. We have people that travel a long way to come to our shows Uptown but they are not going to keep paying for it unless they get something in return. … Urban-suburban. You’ve got to have a mayor that’s willing to be able to say to those suburbs, ‘What’s in it for me?’ … I want to be able to speak to them and say, let’s come up with a real transit plan here. Maybe even we’ll be coming back with a cultural plan, too. We’ll see.

On Eastland Mall, what are your thoughts on the Studio Charlotte development there and if, for whatever reason that should fail, if the state should not renew the film industry tax credits and that project goes away, what else can the city do to revitalize the Eastside?
I support the current proposal. I don’t know how much they are going to ask for in city money. I’ve encouraged the supporters behind that even before this idea came out, because I believe that film is something we need to have in North Carolina. But, I have expressed to Bert Hesse and his team that they need to know the more government money they have, the more problematic it becomes for them, quite frankly. They are a for-profit entity that wants to really revitalize that area for their own for-profit reasons, but I think they’ve looked and brought, in my opinion, the best use for an area that, I think, is just ripe for opportunity. And, it’s not going to return back to a retail mall. We know that. So, again the film incentives decision that will be before the legislature in the short session, I think is another breaking point here that we can’t — I hope the legislature will look at this. I know there’s a fiscal argument. There’s also a lot of misinformation about film incentives. But, at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, do you want this business going to Georgia because that’s where they’re going. When we talk about incentives, again, we have to ask ourselves what type of business are we attracting here? An amusement park? A company like Chiquita that has got some of the worst financial performance earnings in the last eight quarters that they’ve reported publicly and has been in a lawsuit with the Department of Justice for $35 million for extortion with terrorists in Nicaragua? I mean, we’re talking about a film industry that is bringing smart, bright people to this community that otherwise would never have picked North Carolina. So, I just can’t as someone that appreciates the creative class, that has been welcoming to all and who’s advocating for the best and brightest to be here, I don’t see how we can be known as being a forward-thinking state when we are 48th in teacher pay — which I think they screwed up — and then we’re starting to body-slam the film industry in which we’ve put enormous assets clearly in Wilmington first. … If I’m a legislator and I don’t know anything about the film business and all I see is all this money coming out for incentives or whatever they see, the view of the pro-film people is we are giving them a quarter and they are giving us back 75 cents in our community here. And, by the way, they are not taking up any space in our schools. They are spending pure spend, which is definitely true.

And, if that project should fail, is there anything else the city can do?
I’m certainly a big believer in green space. I’m certain that Parks and Recreation on the county side would be pretty be pretty interested as well, too, I would think. I know there have been some plans because that area is really missing green space. They have to come to Freedom Park or maybe Romare Bearden Park now.

You can read our interview with Republican mayoral candidate Patrick Cannon here. Our endorsement editorial can be read here.

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer is a staff writer for QNotes. He previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015.