Being Impractical

For the first time in my fourteen years at this magazine, Charlotte has a mayor's race worth writing about. Democrat Anthony Foxx ("A Man of the Past," page 60) and Republican John Lassiter ("Being John Lassiter," page 64) are fine candidates and excellent public servants. They are fair and have level heads. They are known for being pragmatic leaders.

It's that last sentence I have a problem with. Historically, Charlotte has been run by pragmatic leaders. Clearly, that has served the city well. It's been enough for local government to recruit and serve large corporations, with the understanding that those corporations would in turn create jobs, which in turn lead to a healthy city. And our elected officials have worked with those companies to build arenas and art museums. It's added up to a pretty decent place to live.

I wonder if that model is still appropriate. This is a big, sprawling city now. There are entire swaths of people who never venture downtown. The east side is in decline. The west side has struggled for years. Our public school system has been battered by budget cuts. Perhaps it's time for impractical leadership.

Our story "The Big Squeeze," page 50, discusses the school budget cuts as well as the subdued public reaction. There were no marches on City Hall. No town hall meetings. No billboard campaigns. Nary a peep from the mayor. To be clear, schools are funded by the county and the state. Our mayor has long hid behind that fact -- it hasn't been practical for him to enter that debate. But someone with a microphone has to stand up for our schools. Personally, I'd trade a hall of fame or an art museum for an across-the-board upgrade of our local education system.

And so I challenge our next mayor to be a little impractical. Muddy the waters. Mix it up with the county and the state (although maybe not so much via noisy press conferences and caravans to Raleigh, which are strategies our current mayor has been using to little effect -- that's politics, not leadership); employ the bully pulpit effectively, for issues that matter.

In the spirit of impracticality, I'll close with a quote from a television character, Sam Seaborn, played by Rob Lowe in the late, great West Wing:

"Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don't need little changes. We need gigantic, revolutionary changes. Schools should be palaces. Competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be getting six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge for its citizens, just like national defense. That is my position. I just haven't figured out how to do it yet."

And that is how I want our next mayor to think.

Richard Thurmond

Coming Next Month:
The Restaurant Issue • Top Dentists • Charlotte's Forgotten Basketball Program