Cover Story: Campaign 2009 Election Interest

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The changing face of politics in Charlotte Mecklenburg.  Friday was the last day to file for local elections - and the ballot is filled with names you've probably never heard of before.  In our Cover Story, PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson takes a look at how local democracy is about to do a total one-eighty.

116 candidates have filed to run for political office this season in Charlotte Mecklenburg.. the most in recent memory.  90 candidates ran for office in 2007 in the last municipal elections.  That's a 30-percent increase from two years ago.

Charlotte will get a new mayor for the first time in more than a decade.

A rush of new blood will take over the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board.

And we could be looking at the highest voter turnout for a local election in history.

"I hereby file notice as a candidate..."

Jerry W. Drye.. making the noon deadline by the seat of his pants.   A man you probably don't know.. but he made the cut.  Filing for office in the upcoming city elections.

"I think we need to have more people off their couches that have experiences in life that can offer something to the city and to the citizens. And that's one reason I wanted to do it," says Drye, a Republican candidate for City Council At-Large.

But Drye has plenty of company in his race for office.

Altogether--- 14 candidates are running for four At-Large seats on the Charlotte City Council

Seven Republicans and seven Democrats.  They'll face off in the primary.

The top four from each party will meet in the General Election in November.

In the mayor's race.. John Lassiter.. the frontrunner has competition in the GOP Primary from two other candidates.

Anthony Foxx.. the Democrat won't face primary opposition.. he gets free ride till November's mayoral election.

But in the City Council district races.. six races are contested.  Three at the Primary level.  Three in the General Election.

Political watchers like League of Women Voters' Beth Springston say they've never seen a field this crowded.

"So many of the district seats have been uncontested," she says.  "Two years ago there was one seat. One district seat contested in City Council."

It led to abysmal voter turnout in the city elections in 2007.  Just 5-percent of the voters went to the polls in the primary.

"We are hoping all of this filing.. all of this interest out there means that more voters will get excited and come out and vote," says Springston.

Interest is running high in the races for Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board.

Five of the six district races in November are contested.. first time in years.  In one district race there are nine candidates running!

Last year's historic presidental election ignited interest in the process.

And now an economy in the tank is driving people to get involved.

With many incumbents throwing in the towel.. it's made room for some new names.

"I think it's great that more people are involved. And that provides more competition, and think there's some real benefits to that," says city council at-large candidate Jerry W. Drye.

Speaking of competition, a CMS Board of Education race just got more competitive.

Ken Gjertsen in District 6 dropped out unexpectedly at the last minute before today's noon filing deadline.

With so many names.. new names.. on the ballot we're really going to have to do our homework this time to find out about these candidates.

And that gets back to what we said at the top. Candidates are going to have to work harder to get their message out.. and voters will have to study up.