by Eric Ginsburg
In a Democratic primary race marked by overwhelming similarities between candidates’ platforms, State Rep. Marcus Brandon argues that he and his opponents should be measured on effectiveness.
At a forum for candidates in US Congressional District 12 race, organized by the Guilford County Young Democrats, most of the differences between contenders were nuanced. A few veteran politicians predictably relied on their records while newcomers promised burning passion to bring change to Washington, but Brandon said in his opening remarks and throughout the debate that the most important characteristic is the ability to get things done.
At points he briefly hammered fellow frontrunners State Rep. Alma Adams and State Sen. Malcolm Graham for politics as usual and ineffectual grandstanding.
Adams, Graham and former Charlotte Councilman James Mitchell occasionally provided specific examples of what they had accomplished, while George Battle and Curtis Osborne highlighted their professional backgrounds practicing law and life experiences to set them apart.
Pushing back against comments by Mitchell and others, Brandon criticized what he said is a tendency to blame Republican control for a lack of progress, saying that putting forward doomed legislation is a failure.
“It’s political malpractice,” he said. “With me you’ll always be at the table and not on the menu.”
On numerous questions, it appeared candidates actually sought to close the gaps between themselves, often reiterating the same terms. For the most part, candidates replied in broad strokes, predictably supporting increased funding for education, expressing dismay at the incarceration rate or vowing to defend or increase Medicare without providing any specifics.
Different ideas were put forward about how to deal with climate change — Battle referencing public transportation and ending oil-company subsidies while Adams noted that she received a favorable rating from a conservation group she couldn’t remember the name of. Candidates differed slightly on how they would improve the Affordable Care Act as well, with Osborne saying he would change the ability of states to selectively decline some benefits and Brandon saying that he supports a single-payer system that isn’t driven by profit.
Adams, who attended a fast-food workers’ protest in Greensboro earlier in March, hit her talking points about her struggle to pass a minimum-wage increase in the 1990s and work on behalf of women’s rights. To validate her claims, Adams listed several endorsements she’s received in the race, including the AFL-CIO. Graham followed her lead, stating that he believes minimum wage should be indexed to inflation.
The candidates only enthusiastically disagreed on one issue, a softball question halfway through pitting Bojangles against Cook Out.
“Chicken supreme!” Mitchell blurted out first.
Fellow Charlottean Graham agreed while Osborne disagreed. Adams and Brandon also prefer Cook Out.
“It’s a savior at 2 a.m.,” Brandon said.
Battle played it safe and drew laughs with his response: “Yes.”
Osborne, a veteran, struck more moderate tones on the military than his counterparts, often speaking more eloquently but without spelling out details.
On immigration, Graham said comprehensive reform is necessary but made several references to playing by the rules and said immigrants needed jobs but would have to “get at the back of the line,” and made a vague reference to citizenship through military service.
Other candidates made more progressive remarks, including Brandon who said he had sponsored an in-state tuition bill for Dreamers, adding, “It’s a justice issue.” Adams expressed similar sentiment, even referencing students, but remained vague.
Mitchell, ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Charlotte last fall, losing to Patrick Cannon who recently resigned after being arrested on federal corruption charges. Throughout the debate Mitchell provided several terse answers, sometimes not even using up his short minute-long time limit, but came alive during the closing comments. As if he had been saving his energy, Mitchell sprung up, pacing in front of the panel tables and emphasizing constituent services and existing relationships with federal department heads.
Battle relied on practically the same canned speech he recited in his opening comments, adding that his background as a lawyer with experience in healthcare and education policy differentiated him from the pack.
“I will be a workhorse for you, not a show horse,” he said.
Realizing the advantage of locals Brandon and Adams with the crowd that night, Graham offered his Triad appeal, stating that one of his daughters attends Winston-Salem State University, his wife was born and raised in High Point and that he has “business relationships” in Greensboro.
Rajive Patel, who lives in Winston-Salem, is also running for the seat but did not participate in the panel debate. Patel, the former mayor of a tiny town outside of Salisbury called East Spencer, said he wasn’t invited but found out about the event and sat in the audience for the latter half of the debate.
Emily Brown, the moderator of the Young Democrats’ forum, said later that all candidates were invited.
“We made one call to every candidate and then sent logistical info to the candidates who replied,” Brown said. “Thankfully he’s informed us that he’s just now receiving messages at the number he used to file at the board of elections.”
Patel, a Vietnam combat veteran, said he is running because he “can make a change” and that there need to be programs for poor black youth who face street violence and a lack of economic opportunities. He said that churches should be more responsible for economic development, adding that change won’t come from outside communities, and expressed concern about the lack of resources and treatment for veterans.
Patel claimed that during the first six months of his term as mayor, a seat he held from 1997-99, he oversaw a 50 percent reduction in crime by passing unpopular nuisance abatement laws that held landlords responsible for their tenants, among other things. Patel’s assertion could not be confirmed before press time.