I was watching a WSOC-TV interview with N.C. Rep. Craig Horn about education initiatives in a COVID-19 relief bill when I noticed a framed photo of Winston Churchill over his shoulder.
Churchill led Great Britain 80 years ago through World War II, while Horn is among dozens of leaders in Union and Mecklenburg counties working to get us through the COVID-19 crisis healthy and financially stable.
Churchill was a colorful figure in politics with many notable quotes, including “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
I’ve been meaning to spotlight some of the great leadership we’ve seen during this pandemic among our government and elected leaders for a while. There is a lot of work going on at each level of government, much of it behind the scenes.
For example, I can’t imagine how many hours the Charlotte City Council or the Mecklenburg County delegation within the N.C. General Assembly have put into listening to constituents, discussing potential solutions or praying for this to end.
My ranking of the biggest political winners during this pandemic is biased toward leaders who have been more visible.
1. Gibbie Harris
Mecklenburg County’s public health director has become a household name as her updates on the spread and prevention of COVID-19 dominate the news cycle. She has held up well despite long days of information-sharing since March.
2. Dena Diorio
The Mecklenburg County manager formed a roundtable of business leaders to gather input on how to best reopen businesses once the stay-at-home order is lifted. She has shown strong, collaborative and level-headed leadership in spite of the volatile nature of some county commissioners.
3. Thom Tillis
The U.S. senator has led 33 telephone town halls, updating constituents across the state on efforts to flatten the curve. Many of the town halls span upwards of 45 minutes, allowing him to answer several questions, ranging from the whereabouts of stimulus checks to the potential of putting sanctions on China.
4. John Higdon
The Matthews mayor led a public discussion among town commissioners to request Mecklenburg County rescind its stay-at-home order in favor of the state’s less stringent order to help struggling businesses. The county followed the suggestion.
5. Sean Strain
He thought ahead of the curve as the lone member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education to call for immediate closure of schools on March 13 while the others wanted to keep CMS open for three additional days. Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all state schools to close the next day to the relief of parents.
6. Vi Lyles
Local media has been critical of the Charlotte mayor for not being as vocal about COVID-19 response as other leaders, despite community health being more in the county’s wheelhouse. Lyles has held lengthy sessions with reporters and Twitter Q&As demonstrating extensive knowledge of city operations. She also launched a community recovery task force.
7. Dennis Joyner
Union County’s public health director is no stranger to leadership, having led Stanly County’s public heatlh department from 2005 to 2017, as well as a term as president of the North Carolina Association of Local Health Directors. He’s been a calm voice in promoting the idea of social distancing to prevent community spread.
8. Mark Watson
Just as Union County gradually transitioned to doing all of its work virtually during the initial spread of COVID-19, the government is beginning to shift work back to its offices. Last month, he identified May 26 as the target to open all facilities.
9. Brad Simmons
The Mint Hill mayor maintained office hours despite town hall being closed to the public. Aside from responding to residents’ phone calls, he wrote a weekly letter to the community, encouraging them to “stay safe, stay well, stay home.”
10. Michael Alvarez
The Indian Trail mayor had an emotional March with the death of a close friend, the adoption of a child and news that he would have to amputate his arm. But much of his focus remained on the community.
11. Susan Harden
She recently raised concerns about the well-being of older adults in long-term care facilities to colleagues on the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners. The south Charlotte representative has reached out to the community to explore better solutions to protecting older adults than keeping them locked away.
12. Frank Aikmus
The Union County commissioner introduced the idea April 20 of writing Gov. Roy Cooper a letter requesting he lift the state’s stay-at-home order to allow counties to make the call. Whether you agree with it or not, it helped create some discussion about how and when leaders should reopen non-essential businesses.
Honorable mentions: Alma Adams (U.S. House), Craig Horn (N.C. House), Mark Jerrell (Mecklenburg County), Todd Johnson (N.C. Senate), Margaret Marshall (CMS Board of Education) and Don Moye (Union County).