I always thought it was Ted Turner who said “lead, follow or get out of the way.”
Actually, it was Laurence J. Peter, the brilliant mind behind the Peter Principle, which states that people are promoted to their level of incompetence. He helped me understand newsroom managers when I was a cub reporter.
When Albert Lee Smith was elected to Congress in 1980, the lede* of my story on election night was “Mr. Smith goes to Washington…” It was a classic, once-in-a-lifetime lede. Of course there’s a rule in journalism that, on first reference, someone’s full name is used and then you can refer to them by their last name.
My copy editor, who’d been in the same job for years, changed my lede to “Albert Lee Smith goes to Washington…”
He could have seized the day, thought out of the box and done the right thing. He didn’t lead. He needed to get out of the way.
Which brings me to what might be a sea change in Lake Norman politics. Some of our leaders did not lead and an informed electorate got them out of the way Nov. 3.
Businessman and stalwart Republican John Aneralla trounced Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain in what amounted to a referendum on how to widen I-77.
He came out loud and strong against the tolls when he ran for NC Senate in 2012. That was leadership.
The public in 2015 agreed with him in a big way, and Aneralla defeated a four-term incumbent 59 percent to 41 percent.
Swain didn’t actively support the tolls, but she seemed to do everything she could to undermine the anti-toll movement.
That isn’t leading.
Former Huntersville mayor Sarah McAulay, the current chair of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization, also got the boot. Dominated by Charlotte, with backing from McAulay, the CRTPO had the rug pulled out from under it by voters.
There has been more leadership, especially in the past six months.
Some of it started with John “Mac” McAlpine, an engineering guru at Michael Waltrip Raceworld in Cornelius. On his own, he organized the I-77 “Emergency Call to Action” back in May. Business leaders attended and paid attention. That’s leadership.
About the same time, in quiet Cornelius, there were vocal—and visual—anti-toll demonstrations on the Exit 28 bridge, such that local TV news covered the event.
A rowdy Facebook page called Exit 28 Ridiculousness, administered by one Amanda Dudley in Cornelius, grew to 4,000-plus members and became a platform for anti-toll information and opinion. That’s leadership.
The Lake Norman Chamber got on board after polling its members. The chamber, with the help of CEO Bill Russell, threw its weight behind the anti-toll movement as well. That’s leadership.
The Committee for a Better Lake Norman, a 501c4, sought to educate the public against the tolls, under the guidance of former Chamber Chairman John Hettwer. That’s leadership.
The I-77 Business Plan meets every Tuesday to strategize on how to fight the tolls, especially in Raleigh. It includes motorsports executive Greg Wallace, who pushed the anti-toll agenda with a pivotal survey of candidates. That’s leadership.
Legislators Jeff Tarte and John Bradford, both former supporters of the toll plan—many people thought it looked like the best way to get congestion relief on I-77 a few years ago—changed their minds, and began fighting the tolls, as well. That’s leadership, too.
Cornelius Mayor Pro Tem Woody Washam, Cornelius’ representative on the CRTPO, voted, perhaps symbolically because the cards were stacked against him, against the toll plan whenever he could. That’s leadership.
“The new political landscape in North Mecklenburg will have a positive impact on the anti-toll efforts. The largest town in the Lake region, Huntersville, has just experienced an overhaul of its political impact on this issue. The governor will notice as will the NCDOT. The Town of Cornelius has been a Lone Ranger in many facets of this effort. As the town that is ground zero of this movement, we have needed help from our neighbors. Appointments in Huntersville will change with CRTPO and LNTC,” Washam said.
There will be a new wave of enthusiasm and support for the anti-toll mission both verbally and monetarily.
Kurt Naas’ Widen I-77 lawsuit still needs to be the focus and behind that, the legislature.
Indeed, that leader was the first to step up to the plate. A sometimes abrasive engineer who rubbed the policy wonks the wrong way early and often, Naas stepped out in front of the toll plan three years ago and said “no way,” and backed it up with facts. That’s leadership.
WidenI-77 is worthy of your support as it wages the legal battle against the tolls.
*In the newspaper business, the first one or two paragraphs of a story are called the “lede.” The mis-spelling is purposeful to distinguish it from the actual hot metal that was once used to make type.