(pictured above: Candidates (from left) State Rep. Marcus Brandon, Curtis Osborne, State Rep. Alma Adams, State Sen. Malcolm Graham, Ravjive Patel and George Battle.)
A standing room only crowd heard from Democratic candidates running for the U.S 12th Congressional District seat that was left vacant when Mel Watt became head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
State Reps. Alma Adams and Marcus Brandon, State Sen. Malcolm Graham, attorneys George Battle and Curtis Osborne and former East Spencer mayor Rajive Patel took turns fielding questions from moderator District Court Judge Denise Hartsfield at the Rupert Bell Neighborhood Center on April 17. It was the second in a series of pre-Primary forums sponsored by the Forsyth County Democratic Party.
Hartsfield questioned the candidates about their strengths and weaknesses, challenging each one to articulate what makes him or her the best person to represent the 12th, a serpentine district that includes parts of Charlotte, Concord, Salisbury, Lexington, Winston-Salem, High Point and Greensboro.
Battle, the general counsel for the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board, said he is the only candidate who has experience with education and health care federal law and policy. The father of two said he entered the race because he wants to help create a better world for his children.
“I’m running for Congress because I want my children to have the same opportunities that I’ve had,” he said. “…I want my three year-old son to be able to walk down any street in this country without the fear of being gunned down.”
Brandon highlighted his record – including his “Ban the Box” campaign, which would do away with the felony conviction question on job applications – and his ability to garner bipartisan support in the General Assembly.
“Out of everybody in this race, I have the highest effectiveness rating. I have passed the most bills,” he stated. “…You have to be able to work across the aisle, and I’m the only one in the race that’s been able to get things done with Republicans in control.”
Graham, who is in his fifth term in the N.C. Senate, emphasized his connections to the Twin City, including Mayor Allen Joines’ recent endorsement of his campaign. Graham said he is guided by his moral compass, not party politics, when it comes to supporting legislation.
“I will fight for you,” he told attendees. “I know the difference between doing what is right and doing what is popular, and if it’s not popular but it’s right for us, I’m on your side.”
Patel chastised the other candidates for focusing on bills that he believes have done little to effect change in the 12th.
“I heard a lot of bills being passed and a lot of our young kids are still dying,” he intoned. “…If you’re satisfied with our kids dying and living in poverty, don’t vote for me. Let them keep passing bills.”
Hartsfield questioned the candidates about the causes they would champion in Congress.
Osborne, who is licensed to practice law in four states and the District of Columbia, said he would work to strengthen legislation that protects voting rights.
“North Carolina has the most restrictive and – I call it regressive – voting rights laws in the entire country,” he declared. “If you send me to Washington … I will work with my colleagues to amend the 1965 Voting Rights Act so that the full intent of that law will be upheld.”
Adams, who represents Guilford County’s District 58 in the NC House, said she would work to increase the federal minimum wage.
“We need a living wage. That is critical,” she declared. “People should not have to work two and three jobs, work everyday, and live in poverty. This is America. That is not the way.”
Patel, a Vietnam veteran, said he would work to find solutions for the backlog of claims at the Veteran’s Administration in Winston-Salem. The current backlog has created a waiting list where veterans often must wait months for their claims to be processed, a fact that Patel called “appalling.”
“I will address the Veterans Administration about the problem and the backlog that they have,” he promised. “I would address Congress to get some help, to get funding to get those claims sent through immediately.”
Seven-people were seeking the Democratic nomination for the seat. Charlotte City Council member James Mitchell bowed out on April 14, partly citing his inability to raise money.
“The crowded field in the Democratic primary made it difficult to raise the necessary funds to run a competitive campaign,” he said in a statement. “… It became clear that it was not possible to be competitive, let alone win this race.”
Adams is leading the fundraising quest, according to Federal Election Commission filings. She raised $150,853 during the first quarter of 2014, more than double that raised by second top fundraiser of the quarter – Battle, who pulled in $65,108.
If none of the six candidates receives at least 40 percent of the vote in the Tuesday, May 16 primary. The leading two vote-getters will square-off in a runoff that will likely take place in mid-July. The ultimate winner will face either Vince Coakley, a former broadcast television anchor and radio host, or Leon Threatt, a Charlotte based pastor. The men are facing each other in the Republican primary.