The Mayor: Ray Eschert
The founder of the Ballantyne Breakfast Club is No. 25 on our list of 50 Most Powerful People in Charlotte
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RAY ESCHERT, known as “the mayor of Ballantyne,” founded the Ballantyne Breakfast Club in 2001. Through his connections, persuasion, and willingness to take on controversial topics (including whether Ballantyne should secede from the city), Eschert has made the club a must-attend for anyone hoping to accomplish something with the support of south Charlotte. At the club’s six meetings a year, you’ll find everyone from powerful developers to representatives of the waste services department facing the public and making their case—notable names such as CMPD Police Chief Kerr Putney and former mayor Anthony Foxx have attended—all thanks to Eschert’s invitations. —E.E.
Interview has been condensed and edited for space and clarity.
Charlotte magazine: This is for Charlotte magazine’s Power List—
Ray Eschert: Uh-oh. How did you find me? I try to stay under the radar. I like to tell people, “I’m Switzerland.”
CM: You host all these officials from all these different departments, all kinds of areas, big names in local politics. Were they always willing to show up?
RE: It’s word of mouth. And it just grows and grows and grows. … It’s kind of like NoDa. It happened without the help of planning.
CM: What makes the breakfast club different from other groups in Charlotte?
RE: I had one politician say to me, “I don’t like coming to these meetings, because I like to give speeches.” And I said, “That’s the thing I’m trying to avoid.” … Eye contact, verbalization, I want to judge the person for who they are. I want to see the person behind the mask.
I had one politician at one of the chili cook-offs. He came over to me three or four times introducing himself. And I thought, “OK, this guy can’t remember who I am after four tries. He doesn’t need to be running for office.”
There’s no hidden agendas. It’s trying to tap into the controversial issues. Obviously, abandoning Charlotte was one of them, so we set a meeting up for that, good, bad, or indifferent.
CM: What kind of changes have you seen as a result of these meetings?
RE: There’s more awareness of the interaction that takes place. Before, people used to think that (Ballantyne developer) Bissell could just do this in a vacuum. Well, they can’t, because they had to go through a rezoning for their increased capacity out here. A realization that roads don’t just happen. There has to be funding for it; there has to be an understanding for how things get done.
CM: Is there anything about the meetings you want to change?
RE: I thought about, at one point, going to four meetings a year. And that got shot down. … As the city has become more controversial, there’s always other things that are going to pop up.