ELLIOT: Game over, Mayor Roberts

Mike Blake—Reuters
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts answers questions during a news conference regarding the police shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte

It’s been quite a year for
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts. She’s been playing the political game for
over a decade, but after 12 years of relative obscurity in elected office, the
incarceration of Mayor Patrick Cannon gave her the chance come off the bench
and take the ball.Roberts, who won the Democratic
mayoral primary by hard work and determination, seems to be motivated by the glow
of the limelight — and an inferiority complex. Obviously born with the energy
and drive to win elections, she was once quoted as saying that the best way to
help her do something “is to tell me I can’t.”That kind of self-focused
motivation is well suited to children’s books and individual sports, but is
particularly ill-fitting for a collaborative office such as mayor, especially
in Charlotte’s weak-mayor system of municipal government.Roberts, who took office in
December 2015, wasted no time seeking the spotlight. Hitching herself to a
movement that fractured the city of Houston, in February Roberts pushed through
a poorly worded ordinance that would have had the effect (apparently
unintended) of opening all bathrooms and shower facilities in Charlotte that
are accessible to the public to anyone, regardless of sex or gender identity.This kind of rushed mistake, passed
over the bipartisan opposition of the council, is the result when egotistic
politicians see collaboration as weakness and hear legitimate questions as
someone “telling her she can’t.” The morning after the ordinance passed,
council member Kenny Smith said the move “is about forced acceptance, it is not
about solving a problem.” Bipartisan opponents were painted as bigots; a promise
from Gov. Pat McCrory to override the ordinance was seen as a political
opportunity. The resulting controversy over the
too-hasty (but at least bipartisan) House Bill 2 allowed Roberts to remain in
the leftward glow of the spotlight while still not requiring much actual work.
She was winning the game — in her mind, at least — and that’s all that
mattered.After the ACC announced it would
move its football championship game from Charlotte because of H.B. 2, McCrory
announced he would call a special session to repeal it if Charlotte would
repeal its ordinance. Most Charlotte leaders quickly got behind the governor’s call
for the status quo ante. But not
Roberts. Again showing no appetite for compromise, she saw the governor’s move
as another play in the long game, a play she was happy to counter: no deal — your move.All this gamesmanship gave Roberts
no foundation for collaboration when it was sorely needed following the Sept.
20 shooting death of Keith Scott by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer. As
protests turned to riots, she resisted timely offers of help from McCrory
(remember that for her, he’s on the “other team”), a decision that resulted in more
property destruction, looting, and another death. Using the lens of a politician, she
worried how it would look if the military were called in to restore order. She
should have been looking through the lens of the protestors, who saw red when
the thin blue line was arrayed against them, where they may have seen National
Guardsmen — who had not shot anyone — as neutral to the controversy. It was no
longer a game, but Roberts was still trying to score points from the parking
lot while two men lay dead and a city smoldered around her. Then on Sept. 26, Roberts penned a bizarrely detached op-ed placing blame on her police chief and a state law that had not gone
into effect yet. Sprinkled with progressive Pablum, the piece’s only valid
point was that trust in the city is lacking.Perhaps if she had spent time building
that trust instead of playing politics and dividing the city by attacking
nonexistent problems, she would have been in a position to lead. But for
Roberts, the clock shows nothing but zeroes. Having lost all authority and
trust, if she has any love for the Queen City she will resign and let a more
serious leader guide Charlotte up from the ashes. The city’s future is too
important to play any more games.Drew Elliot is a member of the North State Journal’s editorial board, separate from the news staff. Unlike other newspapers, the North State Journal does not publish unsigned editorials; every editorial, letter, op-ed, or column has its author or authors prominently displayed. To submit a letter or op-ed column, see our submission guidelines.