by Bob Geary
WakeUP Wake County and the League of Women Voters combined to put on a candidates forum Thursday -- City Council candidates only. Last night, the four mayoral candidates joined in at the University Park Homeowner Association's forum. Goodness, these were genteel events. Everyone there was so nice. (No Joe Wilsons.) But not everyone was there.
Top 10 things said and heard:
10 -- Where was Mary-Ann Baldwin? A lot of people were asking. Or Champ Claris, for that matter? Two of the four at-large candidates made it to neither forum, including incumbent Baldwin, who scheduled a fundraiser opposite the WakeUP/LWV event and told UPHA organizers she'd be out of town for theirs. Also MIA: Waheed Haq, one of the two candidates in District E, and Charles Reisinger, one of the two in District C. Otherwise, every mayoral and council candidate made it to one or both events, including District A Councilor Nancy McFarlane -- she was one for two -- who's running unopposed.
9 -- The Baldwin/Claris no-shows opened the door for Lee Sartain, also running at-large, who did well in both forums by tossing out some ideas of his own (a Raleigh-centered transit system separate from Triangle Transit, for example) while also riffing on the other at-large incumbent Russ Stephenson's good answers ...
8 -- ... but Sartain was tripped up toward the end of the UPHA forum when he was asked if he has any experience that would help on council. His answer: Not really, and that could be his secret weapon. "In some ways, the lack of experience, uh, won't bog me down," Sartain said.
7 -- What's the better way to pay for growth, impact fees or property taxes? District C incumbent James West said taxes, as did District B challenger John Odom. (Though Odom, a Republican, was quick to add that he favors neither; Democrat West called for "balance.") Most interesting: Republican mayoral candidate Larry Hudson II, self-described fiscal conservative ("I am a heavy non-spending person," he exclaimed at one point), who said developers should pay higher impact fees before property owners are hit with higher taxes. Hudson went on to say that, as an anti-sprawl measure, the city should think about charging developers for water & sewer hookups (capacity fees) based on how far out they are. "Distance rates," he called them. New one on me.
6 -- Is more affordable housing needed? Yes, said Councilors Rodger Koopman (District B) and Thomas Crowder (District D). Koopman would raise impact fees on developers in general, but cut them for projects with 10 percent affordable units. Crowder said major mixed-use projects should be required to have 14 percent affordable units -- with no impact fees as the carrot. Sartain agreed in general and said Raleigh should go to the legislature for approval to use graduated impact fees. West said he was pro-affordable housing, but against any sort of inclusionary zoning requirement. (Odd for a SE Raleigh rep who's always complaining that all the low-income housing is in his district and should be spread across the city.)
5 -- Is affordable housing a priority? No, said mayoral candidate Gregg Kunz. "Not everybody can afford to live at the top of the RBC tower," Kunz opined. "[They] gotta move to where the affordable housing is." Kunz several times put himself in the running for worst answer in the simple question category. (Example: You say you're an entrepreneur ... how will your experience help on council? Nothing about Kunz's answer was decipherable after he said he attended the University of Arizona and used to work for a big corporation.) But the prize for worst answer, simple question category, went to ...
4 ... John Odom, who was asked if thinks community garden projects are a good idea as part of the city's efforts to conserve open space. Odom, honest to a fault, said he'd never thought about it so his answer would have to be no. Koopman, who is trying to keep Odom from re-claiming his old seat, gave the correct answer: "A great idea."
3 -- What's the next controversial (or maybe not) idea you haven't heard about yet? Mayor Charles Meeker hinted at it when he asked aloud what should follow such blockbusters as the reopening of Fayetteville Street. A new Blount Street plan? he said. Or a pedestrian bridge connecting the two sides of North Hills? Bingo. City Council said no -- with Meeker in the lead -- when North Hills developer John Kane wanted a $75 million subsidy for his parking decks. But when North Hills East opens for bidness, will folks need their track shoes to get from their apartments, on one side of Six Forks Road, to Coquette on the other side?
2 -- What's the least controversial subject in Raleigh? It's transit. Everybody's on-board, it seems. Even Bonner Gaylord, awkwardly managing to say nothing else of consequence at the LWV/WakeUP forum, said he'll vote yes on the 1/2-cent sales tax for transit when it's put on the ballot. Hudson II, the Republican mayoral candidate, said it would be worth the extra money to extend the transit system -- when it comes -- across I-40 from RTP to RDU International. It would save a lot of $60 cab rides home, he observed. (Although he later said that while he's pro-transit, he's not for building anything yet.)
1 -- And the No. 1 thing we heard came from mild-mannered mayoral candidate Mark Enloe, who raised the subject a couple of times at the UPHA forum, but so softly that it barely registered. Why is Raleigh 10 years behind Charlotte in transit? Why are we behind in water conservation? Why are the baseball stadiums in Durham and Zebulon but not in Raleigh? "Is Raleigh everything you think it should be for a city that's had all these top rankings?" Enloe asked. "Is there perhaps a fundamental lack of leadership here?"