Freshman Mecklenburg County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour will face a challenge from Art Cardenas in this November’s election, while nine-term Commissioner Bill James will not face a registered opponent after no one filed to run against the county’s longest-serving commissioner.
Ridenhour, a Republican who is nearing the end of his first term in the SouthPark-area District 5 seat, will face Cardenas, the Democratic Party candidate who failed in his bid to win the Charlotte City Council District 1 seat last year against long-time Charlotte leader Patsy Kinsey.
“I think there’s still work to be done,” Ridenhour said. “I think I’ve been an effective voice for District 5 and Mecklenburg County as a whole. There’s still work to be done, and I’d like to have the opportunity to continue some of that work for a second term.”
Cardenas did not respond to an email by press deadline.
Ridenhour said he’s been pleased with some of the progress made recently, especially with the promotion of Dena Diorio, the new county manager, and the possibility of a tax decrease in this year’s county budget. Diorio is “doing a fantastic job of identifying some cost saving” options, Ridenhour said, adding the “good financial shape” the county currently is in is an indicator that he and other Republicans were right last year in opposing a tax increase.
A second term for Ridenhour would mean a chance to continue that progress and continuing to address the concerns he’s heard from SouthPark-area residents.
“I’m constantly hearing the need for more schools, funding for more school nurses and tackling the ever-present issue of poverty and everything that goes with it,” Ridenhour said. “… I hear from folks in our community … and for District 5 it is safe neighborhoods, good schools and affordable, low taxes. And I will continue to champion those things.”
His first term has been “incredible,” Ridenhour said, while noting there have been “ups and downs.” He’s enjoyed the opportunity to help local residents with issues ranging from tax concerns and property revaluation to something as basic as helping get trash picked up in a neighborhood.
“I just really enjoy getting out there and doing what I can to help,” he said.
James faced challengers in recent elections – including others from the Republican Party – but will at most have to deal with write-in candidates this year after no one filed in February to run against him in District 6, which in addition to the Ballantyne area included Matthews, Mint Hill and Pineville. And without a campaign to worry about this year, James said he is keeping his focus on county business and looking toward a couple key issues coming up in his next term.
“To me, I just think that this upcoming term is an opportunity to refine some of the policies that Republicans and some Democrats worked on,” James said. “We accomplished a lot in two years: a change over in management, (revaluation) redo, hiring of a new manager, restructuring of (county) government. So it has been a busy period
And it will continue to be busy for a county commission that next has to approve a budget and down the road will deal with another round of school bond money. As for the 2014-15 fiscal budget, James hopes to see a nearly 2.5-cent tax decrease to match a past tax increase from the county, though he said he isn’t holding his breath. The school funding debate could be more challenging.
“… I anticipate some of the debate deferred before will occur (toward the end of the next two years) because most of the (2013) bond money for schools recently approved focused on the inner city and didn’t have a lot for Districts 1 and District 6,” James said. District 1 covers the north Mecklenburg towns of Cornelius, Davidson and Huntersville. “One of the things … I do want to make sure is District 6 gets its fair share of capital dollars for new schools. … I have a very basic approach, which is to build as many schools in District 6 near neighborhoods as possible.”
James also mentioned the next phase of the Mecklenburg County Sportsplex in Matthews as a key for the next few months. The county is funding almost all of the project, which next will include, among other additions, a stadium-style field. Matthews leaders and businesses said they’ve already seen a positive financial impact from the sports facility, which opened last year.
James has become entrenched in his seat in the heavily Republican south Mecklenburg district. There are more than 46,000 registered Republicans in the district, compared to 37,000 unaffiliated voters and 35,000 Democratic Party voters.
“I enjoy serving on the county commission and I know there are people who say I should go to Raleigh or do something else (in politics), but I actually believe I’m in a place where I can contribute the most because I can use my accounting skills during these various … budget problems that come up,” James said. “I was the first person in (1996) that said we needed a bond fund, (which) took me 16 years to accomplish. Sometimes in politics you just have to keep plodding along and trying to change things at a slow pace.
“I feel like I’ve been successful. (We have) neighborhood schools in District 6 … we’ve received our share of park funds and school funds over the years. I think it’s just a question of standing up for the people that you represent. That’s the basis of the district system.”
South Charlotte voters will see a contested election for the board of commissioners’ at-large seats, which are voted on county-wide. Five Democratic candidates and two Republican candidates are running for the three open at-large seats, meaning the Democratic candidates will face a primary vote on May 6. Democratic candidates include incumbents Pat Cotham, Trevor Fuller and Kim Ratliff in addition to Elaine Powell and Ella Scarborough.
The three candidates with the highest number of votes will face the two Republicans for the three seats. The Republicans are Scott Carlisle and Emily Zuyus.
South Charlotte voters also will see the N.C. Senate District 39 primary race between Matt Arnold (R) and Bob Rucho (R- incumbent) and the N.C. House of Representative District 88 race between Margie Storch (D) and Rob Bryan (R- incumbent); District 104 race between Eric Cable (L) and Dan Bishop (R) and District 105, where only incumbent Jacqueline Schaffer (R) filed to
Local voters also will see the U.S. Senate contest and U.S. House of Representatives District 9 seat on the ballot.