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Desperate Councilors is Raleigh's Must-See TV


Doggone it, I'm going to be out of town this week. I need somebody to Tivo, or otherwise record, Thursday night's episode of my favorite television show, Desperate Councilors. The Raleigh City Council meeting, I mean. 7 p.m. EST on cable channel 11. For you political junkies, it's must-see TV.

Thursday's installment, according to the previews, is about how two of the councilors are leaving, and the other six have to pick their replacements. Talk about your pathos! Your bathos, even! The two who're leaving, Republican Neal Hunt and Democrat Janet Cowell, have been the conciliators on their respective sides of the--well, there's no aisle, but there is Mayor Charles Meeker settin' in the middle. Hunt and Cowell are headed for the state Senate. Meeker is desperate to replace them, because it takes five votes to pass anything, and five out of six is tough enough, but five of these six is just asking for a migraine.

Ah, but here's the rub. It'll take five out of six votes to pick the replacements. Compromise will be required, you say? And on that note, the hijinks ensue!

Out on the right wing, Councilor Mike Regan votes against virtually everything except cops and sewers, and he's announced he won't support anybody who's not a 'winger too. Compromise is not in his lectionary.

Philip Isley, the other remaining Republican, isn't as doctrinaire. And since his buddies the developers need five votes for all their rezonings, he's more likely to want a compromise. Which brings us to the squabbling Democrats.

Including Meeker, four Democrats remain. But Thomas Crowder is desperate for a progressive ally on planning issues, and Jessie Taliaferro, friend of the developers, is just as desperate about his not getting one. These two go way back to their days together on the planning commission (that's when Days Together on the Planning Commission was must-see TV too, but it's just not the same without its two stars); if one of this duo says the sun is shining, the other looks around for flashlights and a mirror.

Taliaferro has staked out her position: Cowell's replacement must be a woman. Specifically, she'd like her old planning commission mate Joyce Kekas. Not a progressive. The leading progressives on planning issues--former council candidate Richard Bostic, architect and current planning commission member Russ Stephenson, and David Knight, who until recently was the lobbyist for the major environmental groups in Raleigh and now works for The Nature Conservancy, are all men.

All white men, not incidentally. And all of the Republican names floated by Isley are whites, too (they include Ann-Cabel Baum Andersen, a downtown real estate agent, and two guys who work for developers, consultants Tommy Craven and Charles Walker). But the council's lone African-American member, Democrat James West, says he wants another minority member who can help him with the vast needs of his southeast Raleigh district.

Enter the Rev. Paul Anderson, pastor of Baptist Grove Church in North Raleigh and former chair of the city's human relations commission. He appears to be Meeker's first choice. But Anderson's not a woman, per Taliaferro. His take on planning issues, per Crowder, is unknown. And if you're thinking, well, maybe Meeker could talk to Isley about talking Regan into going along with a Craven-Anderson package, say, a liberal minister is probably the last person Regan, a fundamentalist Christian, would ever vote for.

Crowder, meanwhile, is sticking with his early position, which is that former Councilor Julie Shea Graw and a similarly experienced Republican (ex-Councilors Marc Scruggs or John Odom, for example) should be tapped as interim choices who agree not to run for these seats in October.

About the perks: On her way out, Janet Cowell urged that the council salary of $10,000 a year be increased so that "ordinary people have a chance to serve." One reason so few neighborhood activists applied for these two spots is the fact that they have to work for a living; a second reason is that most council meetings, including the committees, are during daytime hours.

Put the two things together, add the phone calls and e-mails from constituents, plus the neighborhood meetings, and you have a 30 to 40 hour a week job if you do it right. A job, Cowell added, for which most people already think the council is well paid.

On the other hand, they do get $100 a month for expenses, plus free parking at City Hall.

About the trees: Lest it be said that the Raleigh Council never agrees on anything, however, it did enact a tree conservation ordinance last month by a 6-2 vote. Regan, as is his wont, was one of the "no" votes, saying it violated private-property rights. Crowder cast the other "no," on grounds the measure'd gotten too watered-down with all the last-minute changes.

When we wrote about this before (Citizen, Dec. 8), our expert was Ted Shear, NCSU forestry professor and member of the city's tree conservation task force. Following the vote, we asked Shear to rate the final "compromise" product. He gives it a C-plus. He adds that his grade will sink to a D if the council adds more loopholes via proposed amendments to the PDD (planned development district) ordinance. Given the way the General Assembly limited what Raleigh could do in the first place, only a B was ever possible, Shear says.

"As a prof, I want every student to make an A. But the reality is that C is average, and that is where most students are," Shear says.

More on Meek vs. Turlington: Last week, we wrote about the contest for chair of the state Democratic Party between political veteran Ed Turlington of Raleigh and Jerry Meek, the Fayetteville insurgent.

This week, questions about Turlington's work as a lobbyist in the General Assembly came to the surface with a message sent to progressives by Pete McDowell, head of the Progressive Democrats PAC, and Mischi Binkley, head of the Progressive Democrats Caucus. Stopping just short of formally endorsing Meek, they said Turlington "will be subject to a number of possible conflicts of interest" if he keeps representing corporate clients while holding the party post. "His asking price as a lobbyist will be bound to go up ... as chair of the party that controls the legislative and executive branch," the two said, adding: "He may well be reluctant to push party positions that are not favored by present or possible future clients."

Raleigh political consultant Perry Woods, who's got a good record as a progressive himself, took strong exception to that. "You implied that [Ed] would use the state chair's position to line his pockets," Woods wrote back. "I know that to be completely untrue."

Woods is for Turlington but thinks progressives win either way, and that Gov. Mike Easley probably tapped Turlington to satisfy the progs. "I have been as big an advocate of grassroots campaigns as anyone within the Democratic Party over the past 15-plus years," Woods says. "There will be changes at the state party, but before we throw the baby out with the bath water, we must remember [that] Democrats have been very successful here in North Carolina, particularly considering the current environment."

For more on this subject, progressives in Durham have called a public forum on the future of the Democratic Party for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 25 at NCCU's Miller-Morgan building auditorium on Nelson Street, with both Meek and Turlington invited to attend. That's just four days before the party's 566-member executive committee meets in Raleigh to decide the matter. For more information about the forum, contact Lanya Shapiro, whose e-mail address is still

Contact Bob Geary at; he'll be in Denver this week, back on Jan. 24.

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