Oh nooooo, no one here is saying we need a regional governing body, just because having three (four? five?) county governments and God knows how many local governments all not working together is turning our Triangle into a misshapen mess. But let's just say we did have one. Whom should we pick from the vast array of, um, talent already elected somewhere to something?
Mayor is easy. Cary Mayor Glen Lang is our guy, and not just because he's a walkin', talkin' insult machine when it comes to his Raleigh counterpart, Paul Coble. Lang's full of good ideas, and some of them actually make sense. Durham Mayor Nick Tennyson has the right instincts (visiting venerable socialist Sam Reed on his deathbed was a great thing) but the wrong job--he's the homebuilders' lobbyist, for goodness' sake. Maybe he could be our lobbyist? We'll take sweet Julie Shea Graw from the Raleigh Council and Yevonne Brannon from the Wake Commissioners (yes, she lost the last election, but since we're just pretending, we'll pretend Wake County isn't so stupid). We'll take Moses Carey and Barry Jacobs from the Orange Commissioners, and that way we'll have everything covered from affordable housing to what's wrong with the Tar Heels. Out of Chapel Hill, Bill Strom is a global thinker, he just needs to write it down for us. And from Durham, we'd either like former Commissioner Bill Bell to make a comeback, or else we'll do a job-share and go with some combination of the MaryAnn Black-Becky Heron-Ellen Reckhow gang--Heron can be emeritus.
Did we forget about Chatham Commissioner Gary Phillips? Not at all. He's the first guy we'll hire--as our Triangle manager/spiritual adviser.
Best conservative void filler
You'd think with Paul Coble in charge in Raleigh, Jesse Helms insisting he's up for a statewide race, and George "Dubyah" firmly ensconced in Washington, Tar Heel conservatives would be taking it easy. But a new Web site, www.aardvarknews.com is proof that some on the right still see plenty of supply-side worlds left to conquer. The Web site aims to use "the new sword of politics, the Internet" to empower North Carolina conservatives. Founder John Jordan--a former John Locke Foundation researcher and veteran campaign consultant--hopes the service will fill a "vacuum" in media coverage of conservatives and "provide a new forum for leadership and unity" among those with smaller-government leanings. Aardvarknews does offer some unusual features. Take the governor's "clemency and pardon" page. "Spotlighted today: an armed robber and a drug pusher" says the banner headline from March 23. Where else could you go to find the text of Coble's latest fundraising speech? Or "Liberal Media Watch," which invites readers to e-mail reports of anti-conservative press bias? We'd tell you about the origins of the aardvark name but we can only guess, since Jordan didn't return our phone calls. Maybe he was too busy calculating the number of hits the Web site is receiving. Or maybe, our liberal bias was showing.
Best PR move by a local employer
Maybe it was just coincidence, but the announcement in January that Duke University would be giving some of its lower-paid workers an extra week's salary seemed just a tad bit too ... nice. On its face, the unexpected bonus for 15,000 employees was all about making up for delays that occurred in March when the university installed a new payroll software system. Was it mere serendipity that many of those receiving the bonus were nurses? Last fall, the university Health System beat back a union organizing drive by bedside nurses concerned about the effects of staffing shortages on patient care and working conditions. Things have been quiet since the vote. A new management-led governance council that includes nurses--union supporters among them--has held a few meetings. The hospital is reviewing some policies that were issues in the union drive. But the staffing shortages continue. And PR moves might not be enough to stave off future organizing. As one union activist put it, "If Duke laid pearls at my feet right now, I'd still want a contract. It's our only guarantee."
Best right-wing gadfly
G.R. Quinn has been mistaken for a performance artist: His ultra-right agitating is sometimes so blunt that it reads like parody. But he means every word of the succinct screeds on his handwritten signs. Some of his standbys are "Hunt the Whales," "Cut the Rainforest," and "Janet Reno: Nazi Witch." Although he carries incendiary messages, Quinn isn't exactly the typical in-your-face protester. He's more the nagging, persistent voice in the wilderness, the gadfly in the ointment of Chapel Hill liberalism.
Quinn does more than wave signs at passing motorists on Franklin Street. He's also a prolific letter-to-the-editor writer and radio talk-show caller, and he attends many a left-wing function to make sure that at least one countervailing opinion is voiced. He delights in needling liberals about what he says are their inconsistencies and hypocrisies. Quinn's latest sign was a send-off to his nemesis: "Goodbye Clinton: The Big Creep." Will he wind down his one-man show now that a Republican is in the White House? "No, not at all," Quinn tells us. "I just got married, and my wife is trying to redirect my causes," he says with a laugh. "But there's still a lot of left-wingers around that need to be exposed."
Best candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2002
Can you think of anyone worse than Jesse Helms? So by "best," we have to mean someone who's actually OK and can also actually beat Helms. That leaves out our old friend Harvey Gantt, whom we loved so well but who failed the second test twice. It also leaves out the current field of contenders, which includes state Senate President Marc Basnight, U.S. Rep. Bobby Etheridge, state Rep. Dan Blue and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. It definitely leaves out The News and Observer's favorite, Erskine Bowles. Yes, he's well-bred, and no, he didn't embarrass himself when he went below his station to be Slick Willie's chief of staff. But could he BE more of a WASP? To beat Helms, we gotta have somebody with crossover appeal, somebody black that the white folk can vote for, or white that can turn on what Jesse calls the "bloc vote." Somebody young, vigorous, successful (and, since it's gonna cost a fortune to run, rich wouldn't hurt). We're thinking Mike--remember "I Like Ike"?--but then we're hearing that Mr. Jordan's gonna make a comeback as a Washington Wizard. It's the same town, maybe he could do both?
Otherwise, how about Durham's own jazz diva, Nnenna Freelon? Or perhaps Bryan Beatty, the crime-fightin' guy who headed the State Bureau of Investigation and is now head of the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety? If rich is the key thing--and what could have more crossover appeal than that?--maybe retiring Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl could be persuaded to buy us Helms' seat?
Best coverage of an important story by a mainstream news organization
Some may doubt it, but we read our daily newspapers every darned day in search of just the facts. (We watch the television news, too, to see whether anyone we know was murdered or killed in a fiery car wreck, but that's another subject.) And every so often, they serve us up some good ones. Top marks here for The News & Observer's coverage of the struggle minority students have in our public schools, and the struggles the schools face in giving all students the help they need. Understanding these issues is a Herculean job, and reducing them to readable journalism is even tougher. Tim Simmons, Todd Silberman & Co. are gettin' it done, though.
Best coverage of an unimportant story by a mainstream news organization
Would that The News & Observer brought to all of the real news the same tenacious pursuit of truth that it has achieved in ascertaining exactly when, where, and with what selection of shoes and accessory items the first Nordstrom department store will arrive in the Triangle. Oh, the glory that will be ours when this greatest of great shopping experiences is finally ours! We put "Nordstrom and store" into the search function of newsobserver.com and got back a list of 129 articles, covering everything from the (allegedly) Georgian-style architecture of its planned store at Southpoint mall to which charities it will support when it arrives a year from now. "Nordie's," as one fashion-starved N&O scribbler gushed, has flirted with other malls, but its heart belongs to Southpoint, that vast slash of dirt along I-40 where everyone with taste and refinement will surely be once they know the splendors that await them there. Or once they read the Nordstrom ads in, um, whatever newspaper the store should favor.
Best example of elected folks stepping up when they didn't have to
In all seriousness now, Superior Court Judge A. Leon Stanback had just about no legal ground to stand on when he stepped in to delay the upcoming execution of a convicted murderer in February. The murderer, Ernest McCarver, is apparently mentally retarded. But in North Carolina, unlike many other states, it's not against the law to execute retarded folks. So what was Stanback doing issuing a stay based on the fact that there's a bill pending in the legislature that, if it passed and were signed by our pro-death penalty governor, would make such executions illegal? He was listening to his conscience, and going above and beyond the call, that's what. And even though the state Supreme Court lifted the stay, and Gov. Easley refused clemency, McCarver is still alive today because the U.S. Supreme Court came in at the 11th hour and stopped the butchery while it considers whether to declare killing the retarded unconstitutional.
And then there was Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. He stopped another execution last month on the theory that Easley, who'd once again denied clemency, shouldn't have had the last, life-or-death say because he'd pushed for the death sentence in the case as attorney general. We'll leave that legal argument alone, too, and just salute another judge who, given any reason to choose life over death, picked life. Unfortunately, within a few hours the state Supreme Court picked death and Willie Fisher was executed anyway, but at least the public heard one more judge step up and say that what we're doing as a state might be wrong.
Best voice in the Triangle
We had this award all packaged up and ready to send to WUNC's Beverly Abel. She has such a lovely, not to say precise, British accent, and when her reading of the weather is that 'twill be a lovely day in the Triangle, we are transported to the hills of Herefordshire, or wherever. And yet, it is the sad but inescapable truth that, the longer she toils on our shores, the more her accent abates, until one day, 'twill be carried away on the winds of Devon. (OK, so technically it's a South African accent, but you get the idea.)
Meantime, there's a competitor in the kitchen at rival station WSHA, where Chella is servin' up her "Jazz Flavors" every weekday morning "with a spoon." Chella's voice isn't lovely, it's down-home luscious, plus she seems to know every jazz musician who ever lived--not only do they call her with the news, they stop in all the time to play live in the studio.
Best evidence tampering
There's a lot of talk these days about how the government is losing the drug war. The Chatham County Sheriff's Department stands accused of losing the drugs. You might have seen the Oscar-winning Traffic, a movie that distilled the drug war to its cynical essence, with various armed groups (some of them in uniform) fighting turf battles for a piece of the narcoprofits. If you didn't, no matter: Just pick a local newspaper and follow "The Case of the Pilfered Pot," an equally disillusioning tale.
It began back in February 2000, when officers nabbed two suspects in Siler City with a whopping 5,000 pounds of marijuana. Recently, news reports revealed that the suspects--and the pot--are nowhere to be found. Someone lifted about 3,000 pounds of the stuff from an armored truck parked behind department offices. The remainder was supposedly buried next to the Chatham County Landfill, and lo and behold--someone swiped that too. Meanwhile, the authorities either can't or won't say where the suspects--who were never charged and aren't in custody--wound up.
Chatham's Keystone Kops may be the local laughingstock, but the FBI isn't amused, and the feds are reportedly close to cracking at least part of the case. At press time, we still don't have an answer to a crucial question. To paraphrase a recent hip-hop hit: "Beep! Beep! Who's got the keys to the evidence jeep?"
Best example of the Peter Principle at work
They say Gov. Mike Easley was one helluva district attorney. OK, he said that. Anyway, as state attorney general, he was--well, he was good enough to get elected governor. But, as governor, and we realize it's still early, but ... what can we say? That budget of his should be what we all use to plan our next vacation. We'll just spend away, and somehow them revenues is just gonna come in when we--Hey, we could win the lottery!!! That's it! We'll have a lottery! Or, um, maybe there's a better way to raise money, just as long as--Easley actually said this now--we don't end up taxing working people. He must have meant to say rich people. Other 'n that, though, the governor, our leader, is all ears for your ideas.
He did say we could close up some loopholes!!! That's it! We'll just get out the old glue gun and fill up them loopholes, only let's be sure not to dribble the glue on any business loopholes, 'cause that might hurt ... oh, never mind.
But that monstrosity Easley created, the Efficiency and Loophole-Closing Commission (are we paying anybody to write snappy stuff over there?), is apparently gonna dream up new taxes on regular folks and say it's about time we all stopped exploitin' the system. No more free ride on those long-distance calls, y'all. Unless, of course, you make them from your place of business.