Bull City’s news better than Queen City’s

Mar. 29, 2014 @ 06:07 PM

Charlotte, where I spent a decade from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, has long been the envy of many cities as it has emerged as a booming financial center, the very epitome of the latest iteration of the New South.

It has been characterized by outsized ambitions, strong leadership, civic exuberance – and clean government.

So it sent shock waves far beyond its boundaries last week when its mayor, just four months in office but with a political resume that dates to his election as the youngest city council member in the city’s history, in 1993 when he was 26.

City Manager Ron Carlee emphasized the day after the arrest that Charlotte’s government was not a “pay to play” environment. Nonetheless, The Charlotte Observer’s Steve Harrison, in an article detailing the assertions – or perhaps boasts – Mayor Patrick Cannon allegedly made to undercover agents, said the charges raised “questions about the integrity of local government.”

I was thinking about the stunning developments in a place that wears its royalty-connoting nickname of “Queen City” proudly the next day as hundreds of civic and business leaders in Durham gathered for the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting.

It was not so long ago that Durham – which never has experienced anything quite like federal corruption charges lodged against its mayor – felt looked down upon by its flashier urban counterparts around the state.

The spirit of Thursday’s chamber meeting left no doubt that far from feeling overshadowed, Durham is awash with confidence these days.

And why not?

Among the honorees at Thursday’s lunch were three Durhamites inducted into the new Bull City Hall of Fame because they have been internationally honored for their contributions to their scientific fields.

Construction cranes dot downtown and its environs as a renaissance that arguably can be traced to the building of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park – home to the most famous minor-league team in baseball -- continues. And in just a few days, the Bulls will unveil a multi-million dollar renovation of that park.

Also this week, thousands of fans will converge in Durham for the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, an internationally respected showcase. 

Even as downtown booms and becomes a magnet for start-ups and creative-class types, the Research Triangle Park, an early and unparalleled engine of this region’s current prosperity, is re-inventing itself to remain dynamic for future generations.

The chamber Thursday pointed to another year of “economic development on the rise,” with 29 company expansions and 21 relocations here in 2013. In all, $690.5 million in new business investment was announced during the year – and we added 4,568 jobs.

When I moved back here just over nine years ago, much of the public dialogue was about crime, and how people from surrounding areas were reluctant to move or even visit here. While crime remains a challenge – as it does in virtually every city in the country – both reality and perception have improved substantially here.  Citing the city’s most recent survey of residents, Mayor Bill Bell wrote on these pages Friday that “most people in Durham feel safe -- whether it’s in their neighborhoods (86 percent), parks or downtown. Feelings of safety have been steadily improving for the past five years.”

Charlotte will recover from its jolt on Wednesday, and even an allegedly corrupt mayor doesn’t detract from much else that is positive in that vibrant city.

Despite the old saw about journalists bearing nothing but bad news, though, I’ve found the headlines in the Bull City these past few days far preferable to those in the Carolinas’ largest city.

Bob Ashley is editor of The Herald-Sun. You can reach him at 919-419-6678 or bashley@heraldsun.com.