Political newcomer, veteran vie for seat

The only contested race in this fall's city election pits two candidates who couldn't share much less in common.

Incumbent Kathy Pender teaches Sunday school at First Presbyterian Church. Challenger Rodney Deason manages a strip club.

But that's not the only unusual twist in the contest for Ward 2, an economically diverse northern district that runs along Cherry Road and out Mount Gallant Road toward Lake Wylie.

A year ago, when Rock Hillians were debating whether to lift the ban on Sunday alcohol sales, Pender became the first elected official to speak out publicly in favor of doing so. Some insiders thought her stance might draw a religious conservative into the race, eager to unseat someone who favors allowing beer and liquor sales on Sunday.

Instead, Pender faces a strip club manager in the Oct. 16 election.

Two different backgrounds

Deason, who oversees the adult entertainment at Emerson's on Cherry Road, is a political newcomer who describes himself as a champion of the little man. His focus is on bringing blue-collar jobs back to town rather than building multimillion-dollar amateur sports parks.

"Me and Kathy agree on a lot of things," Deason said Thursday. "She's a little more polished. But she's no more passionate than I am."

In 14 years on the school board and four on the City Council, Pender has emerged as a well-liked, moderate voice willing to support progressive causes such as a public transit system.

Though not one of the council's most outspoken members, Pender has offered a number of critiques of the city in recent days. She voices regret for not doing enough to explain a new downtown jaywalking rule, saying city officials should have admitted it was imposed, in part, to help a planned restaurant get a liquor license.

"The jaywalking thing, we get an F in communication on that," she said at a business forum on Thursday morning, later adding, "That's been a real prime example of how a small issue can become a big one. We all looked pretty foolish."

Deason hasn't seized on the jaywalking rule as a major issue, but said he wouldn't tolerate the appearance of deception if elected.

"I'll always be straightforward," he said. "I'll always be honest. There's nothing going to happen up there that's important enough for me to lie about."

A licensed building contractor who has worked at Celanese and Philip Morris, Deason said he knows about managing budgets and supervising employees, including those who must perform in the public eye.

Pender said she can't rule out a future run for mayor if Doug Echols ever decides not to seek re-election. But for now, she is eyeing more immediate tasks.

She favors new bridges over the Catawba River both at Dave Lyle Boulevard and Sutton Road, so that drivers have another route into Charlotte. She's willing to listen -- even before the next budget cycle -- if city staffers ask for more police officers.

And she calls for a new incentives program on Cherry Road between Oakland Avenue and Mount Gallant Road, where aging buildings and strip malls are clustered.

In other races, Susie Hinton is running unopposed for the Ward 1 seat formerly held by the late Winston Searles. In Ward 3, Kevin Sutton faces a write-in challenge from Vince Blackwell.