Council candidate Harris wants return to kinder days

sharrison@charlotteobserver.comOctober 25, 2013 

  • Ken Harris Jr. Age: 41 Hometown: Charlotte Education: graduated Duke University, bachelor of arts in history, graduated Duke Law School. Professional: Juvenile defense attorney for the Council for Children’s Rights Political experience: First time running for office. Community work: Worked on INpact Fund for Foundation for the Carolinas. Served on Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Man of the year Board in Charlotte. Web site: www.kenharrisjr.com Worth Knowing: One of nine children. Likes to draw. His father is a former Charlotte mayor who served from 1977-79 and was the first Republican elected to the position.

Ken Harris believes Charlotte’s traditional way of governing -- what he calls a collegial relationship between elected officials -- has been derailed.

Harris, whose father Ken Harris was the city’s first Republican mayor in 1977, is running for Charlotte City Council at-large seat because, he says, he wants to turn back the clock.

His campaign mirrors Edwin Peacock’s run for mayor, in which Peacock has called for an end to bickering.

“I am very disappointed with the way it has been recently,” Harris said about recent City Council terms, which have been marked by fights over the streetcar and a Capital Improvement Program. “It’s time to bring back people like myself, and people like Edwin. They have an understanding that you can be professional and care about the people of Charlotte without name-calling.”

Harris said a smooth functioning local government is a sign to companies that Charlotte will be an easy place to do business.

Harris is one four Republicans running for four at-large seats. He is facing four Democrats -- two of whom are incumbents -- and a Libertarian candidate.

The Democrats have a 9-2 council majority.

Peacock, who was a council member from 2007 to 2011, is running for mayor against Patrick Cannon, a Democrat. Peacock’s father was a council member and lost a bid for mayor against Harvey Gantt in 1983.

Harris, who lives near the Arboretum, is an attorney who had previously done corporate litigation. He now works for the Council for Children’s Rights.

He said he has long considered running for public office, but the timing hadn’t been right. One reason was his father, who died five years ago after suffering from dementia.

“I always knew I wanted to run because of my dad,” Harris said. “I always had it in my blood, combined with the fact that I don’t like the way things are going.”

Harris said the city’s biggest challenge is how to balance growth while at the same time paying for infrastructure. He said local government has impeded growth with higher taxes, more fees and red tape.

He said the city’s affluent areas in south Charlotte have become increasingly concerned about their share of the tax bill.

“Right or wrong in south Charlotte there is a perception they are paying (the city’s bills) and getting little,” Harris said. “I disagree that they are getting little, but if you nurture that perception people will keep moving out.”

The City Council this year passed a $816 million Capital Improvement Program underwritten by a 7.25 percent property tax increase.

Unlike some Republican candidates, Harris praises the plan, which includes money for roads, sidewalks, neighborhood improvements and a 26-mile cross-county trail for pedestrians and bikes.

“It’s filled with great ideas,” Harris said about the plan, once the controversial streetcar extension had been removed.

But he says he is uncomfortable with raising taxes to pay for it.

“There is a difference between what we need and what we want,” Harris said. “There has to be some kind of compromise.”

Harrison: 704-358-5160

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