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Cotham — no, not that one — faces difficulties in her reelection campaign

Pat Cotham is one of three incumbents running for the three at-large seats on the Mecklenburg Commission.
WFAE photo
Pat Cotham is one of three incumbents running for the three at-large seats on the Mecklenburg Commission.

For a decade, Mecklenburg Commissioner Pat Cotham has easily won re-election, always finishing first or second in the Democratic primary for three at-large seats.

Cotham had her most impressive showing yet in the 2022 election, finishing first by 10,000 votes.

But this year, Cotham is facing challenges.

The biggest: Democrats are furious at her daughter, state Representative Tricia Cotham, for switching in April from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party — a decision that gave the GOP a legislative supermajority.

That allowed Republicans to override several of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes, including one that let Republicans ban most abortions after 12 weeks.

But beyond the policy implications, many Democrats took her switch as a betrayal and a humiliation.

The Democratic primary on Tuesday will be the first time a Cotham has been on the ballot since the switch.

There are three at-large seats. In addition to Cotham, two other incumbents are running: Arthur Griffin and Leigh Altman. Yvette Townsend Ingram and Blake Van Lee are also in the race.

In an interview last week before a candidate forum, Pat Cotham said she was surprised at the rage against her daughter, whose decision she said she understands.

“I expected pushback,” she said. “But I thought people would have conversations as opposed to vulgarities and violent actions that were taken. I didn’t expect my grandchildren to be contacted. I didn’t expect that.”

NC House member Tricia Cotham of Mecklenburg County is switching parties and will now caucus with Republicans, giving the GOP a supermajority in the state House. WFAE political reporter Steve Harrison spoke to Marshall Terry about this political earthquake.

After that intense blowback, Cotham said she expected to hear about the party switch at early voting sites,

“But I really haven’t heard about it,” she said. “When I have been out it’s just 'we know you Pat, we see you in the community.'”

Then she added: “But I have had things like my signs taken.”

Cotham’s politics have always been a bit unusual.

In 2016, she was a North Carolina superdelegate who backed Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton.

But she has had a long history of working with Republicans. To her, it’s common sense. To others, it’s more sinister.

In 2022, just months before Tricia Cotham’s party switch, former school board member Jennifer De La Jara wrote an op-ed in Queen City Nerve titled: "Pat Cotham Is a Republican and It’s Time Democrats Admit It."

She said Cotham was just like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin.

De La Jara was upset at some of Cotham’s votes, including a decision to withhold millions of dollars from CMS until it created a detailed plan to improve academic performance (The county late released the money.)

Cotham says she didn’t read the article.

As for the most progressive members of the Democratic Party, she said: “They seem to have a litmus test for certain things. As a county commissioner, I have to serve all of the people. I didn’t take an oath to serve the Democratic Party or the progressives.”

The party switch has not been discussed at length during candidate forums.

But Cotham has lost support from some prominent Democratic groups this primary season. Cotham didn’t receive the endorsement of the Black Political Caucus, which she got in 2022.

The Meck LGBT Dems rated her "sufficient" in 2022, but "insufficient" this year. The group said it recognized her past support for a non-discrimination ordinance as well as her visible presence at LGBTQ events. But it criticized her voting against the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools bond last year.

In an interview, Cotham was asked about the General Assembly’s vote last year to ban most abortions after 12 weeks — a vote made possible by her daughter, who had previously been adamantly for abortion rights.

“Well, it’s what they did,” Cotham said. “I have to say, I have learned as an elected official, people often don’t like the votes that we have.”

She then paused.

“Yeah, I would have liked a few more weeks,” she said, referring to the number of weeks at which most abortions are now banned.

“But I did like the other things that were added to (the bill) that were help for the mother. Those things I did like. I’m practical, I'm a realist, you don’t always get what you want.”

County commissioners and other political observers expect Cotham to lose some support in the primary. But they believe her 12 years of service and connection with voters will still carry her to victory — possibly even another first-place finish.

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.
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