Mel Watt to resign from Congress Jan. 6

jmorrill@charlotteobserver.comDecember 20, 2013 

  • The hopefuls

    Alma Adams

    Age: 67

    Home: Greensboro

    Occupation: Art professor at Bennett College.

    Education: Bachelor’s degree, N.C. A&T, 1968; master’s, A&T, 1972; Ph.D., Ohio State University, 1981

    Political experience: N.C. House, 1994-present; Greensboro City Council, 1987-1994.

    Raised through September: $89,493

    Known for her stylish hats, Adams is one of the legislature’s longest-serving members. Before Republicans took over in 2011, she co-chaired an influential budget committee. She also was the first African-American elected to the Greensboro City School Board. The only woman in the race, she’s been an advocate for laws protecting women, children and education.

    George Battle III

    Age: 40

    Home: Charlotte.

    Occupation: General counsel, Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board.

    Education: Bachelor’s, UNC-Chapel Hill, 1995; JD, UNC School of Law, 1999.

    Political experience: None.

    Raised through September: $109,620.

    The son of AME Zion Bishop George Battle II is making his first foray into elective politics. Born in Rock Hill, he grew up in Charlotte and attended West Charlotte High. He went on to UNC, where he was student body president. Before joining CMS, he spent 11 years as a lawyer with Carolinas HealthCare System. In 2001 he became a member of the N.C. Board of Community Colleges.

    Marcus Brandon

    Age: 35

    Home: High Point.

    Occupation: Political consultant.

    Education: Attended N.C. A&T University.

    Political experience: N.C. House, 2011-present.

    Raised through September: $143,560

    He’s only in his second term, but no stranger to politics. He cut his teeth on years ago when he worked for a S.C. gubernatorial candidate. In 2008 he was national fundraising director for Democrat Dennis Kucinich’s presidential campaign. The first openly gay state House member, he won his 2012 primary by a landslide – the same day N.C. voters passed an amendment banning same-sex marriage.

    Malcolm Graham

    Age: 50

    Home: Charlotte

    Occupation: Special assistant to the president, Johnson C. Smith University.

    Education: Bachelor’s from Johnson C. Smith University, 1985; Minority Business Executive Program, Dartmouth College 1991.

    Political experience: N.C. Senate, 2005-present; Charlotte City Council, 1999-2005.

    Raised through September: $57,150.

    Graham had two goals when he studied political science at Johnson C. Smith: Run for mayor or Congress. A student of public policy, he began preparing for this congressional run before it was even clear Watt’s seat would come open. He chaired Mecklenburg’s legislative delegation and was the Senate’s most outspoken advocate of Charlotte’s continued control of its airport. He often butts heads on the floor with Republican Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews.

    James “Smuggie” Mitchell

    Age: 51

    Home: Charlotte

    Occupation: Managing director, Integrated Capital Strategies

    Education: B.S., N.C. Central University, 1985.

    Political experience: Charlotte City Council 1999-2013; Lost 2013 mayoral primary.

    Raised through September: Nothing

    The longtime council member surprised a lot of people when he jumped into Charlotte’s mayoral race last summer. Despite an aggressive campaign, he lost the primary to Patrick Cannon, who went on to be elected in November. As a council member, Mitchell was active in the National League of Cities, eventually being elected president in 2011. He’s married to a former astronaut, Joan Higginbotham.

    Curtis Osborne

    Age: 44

    Home: Charlotte.

    Occupation: Lawyer

    Education: Bachelor’s in civil engineering, N.C. State, 1992; J.D., N.C. Central School of Law, 1998; degree in litigation from George Washington University Law School in 2002.

    Political experience: None

    Raised through September: $82,775.

    Osborne was born in Monroe and raised in public housing. He went on to attend Virginia Military Institute and graduate from N.C. State and N.C. Central University School of Law. He practiced employment law in Washington before moving to Charlotte in 2004. He’s active in legal groups and is incoming co-president of the John S. Leary Bar Association, a group for African-American lawyers. Last month he was censured by the N.C. State Bar for a 2009 case involving a potential conflict of interest. “The bottom line is mistakes happen,” he says. “You take responsibility … and you move forward.”

U.S. Rep. Mel Watt announced Friday that he’ll resign from Congress Jan. 6, officially clearing the way for a crowded race – and two separate elections – for his seat.

His resignation will become effective when he’s sworn in as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

The resignation will trigger a special election for the 12th District seat he’s held since 1993. At least six Democrats already are running in the heavily Democratic district that stretches from Charlotte to Greensboro. No Republican has announced.

But when that election will be is unclear. The date will be set by Gov. Pat McCrory.

“We’re working with the Board of Elections on a schedule right now,” Bob Stephens, the governor’s general counsel, said in a statement Friday. “We have to take into consideration setting time for a filing period, absentee voting, primary election(s) and the special election.”

A special election could set up a confusing schedule for candidates and voters.

Next year’s regularly scheduled primary is May 6. Filing opens Feb. 10. Watt’s seat, like other congressional races, will be up for grabs.

But a special election could be held as early as March, even late February. Or it could be in May, concurrent with the regular election schedule. Then there would be a likely runoff and a general election.

To make matters more confusing, candidates running in the special election almost certainly would run in the regular election. If the elections are concurrent, their names could appear twice on the same ballot.

“Obviously what we need is certainty and a schedule that doesn’t confuse the public,” said state Sen. Malcolm Graham, one of four Charlotteans running for the seat. “There’s a lot of … educating that will have to happen.”

Graham already has been campaigning. So have his rivals.

Already running

State Rep. Alma Adams of Greensboro, the only woman in the race, picked up three endorsements this week.

One is from Emily’s List, a national organization that helps fill the coffers of pro-abortion rights, Democratic women. The North Carolina Association of Educators also backs the retired teacher, as does the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

“They’re pretty key,” Adams said Friday. “They’re great organizations that have a large following.”

Rep. Marcus Brandon of High Point touted the endorsement of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. That promises a national fundraising base for Brandon, who already led his rivals in fundraising at the end of September.

The state’s only openly gay legislator would be the first openly gay congressman from a Southern state.

George Battle III said he’ll bring experience in health care and education that his rivals lack. The general counsel for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, he held the same position for 11 years with Carolinas HealthCare System.

“To my knowledge, nobody else in the race has that kind of experience,” he said.

Election ‘reboot’

Charlotte attorney Curtis Osborne, a newcomer to politics, hopes to use that to his advantage in the race.

“People are tired of politics and the gridlock that has come along with it recently,” he said. “They want somebody who’s going to listen to the people … and deal with the issues and not get bogged down in politics as usual.”

The latest in the race is James “Smuggie” Mitchell, a former Charlotte City Council member who ran unsuccessfully for mayor. He met with supporters Friday in Winston-Salem and Greensboro.

“I see this race as a reboot now that we know the seat is vacant,” he said. “I just didn’t think it was right to campaign for a seat that wasn’t vacant.”

Mitchell is one of four candidates from Mecklenburg County, which has 52 percent of the district’s population. Guilford County has 27 percent.

Concurrent elections possible

Depending on the scheduling, all the candidates could face a gauntlet of elections.

The schedule will have to account for such things as a legally mandated 45-day period to get absentee ballots overseas and a required 10-week interval between a primary election and a runoff, if needed.

Mecklenburg Elections Director Michael Dickerson said the options run from three separate special elections (two primaries and a general) – for a total of six with the normally scheduled elections – to holding the special and regular primaries on the same day.

Concurrent elections would have at least one benefit, he said. At a cost of roughly $200,000 per election in Mecklenburg alone, they’d be cheaper.

All of that means that Watt’s seat could be vacant for months. In the meantime, his staff would continue working with constituents, under the auspices of the House clerk.

Morrill: 704-358-5059

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