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De-bunking the Price conspiracy theory
I am responding to the article that appeared in the March 6 edition of The Independent ["Is There A Price On Gary Phillips' Head?" March 6].

The premise of the article--as best I can glean it--appears to be that I support CP&L on the basis of contributions to my campaign, that I "hate" Gary Phillips for "openly criticizing [me] on big ticket Chatham issues such as Carolina Power & Light's nuclear storage facility," and that, as a result, I am attempting to direct a behind-the-scenes effort, using current and former members of my staff, to defeat Commissioner Phillips in his campaign for re-election. All of this was news to me. It's not true, and I want to make every effort to set the record straight.

First, I have not and will not have anything to do with the primary challenge to Gary Phillips. I do not have a position on either candidate, nor have I asked current or former staff to get involved in this race.

Secondly, I neither hate, dislike, nor bear any ill will toward Commissioner Phillips. Gary and I have worked together for years--most recently to bring a vital water reuse project to Pittsboro. It's true we don't always agree on everything--but that's the case with every constituent in this diverse congressional district. Our representative democracy is founded on the principles of open differences of opinion, public debate and compromise. A disagreement on the issues may indicate a lack of consensus, but it simply isn't grounds for hatred--not in my book.

Thirdly, I base my positions on input from all my constituents and on my best judgment about what constitutes effective public policy. I wrote the Nuclear Regulatory Commission seven times to convey constituent concerns about the storage of spent fuel rods at the Shearon Harris plant and to promote an open, transparent decision-making process. I also helped N.C. WARN with a related Freedom of Information Act request. If there is any question about my commitment to environmental protection, I would point out that the latest League of Conservation Voters scorecard rates me at 93 percent, the highest in the North Carolina congressional delegation.

In closing, I pledge to continue working cooperatively and cordially with Commissioner Phillips and with every member of the Chatham Board of Commissioners.

Priced out
Jennifer Strom's latest articles, "Is there a Price on Gary Phillips' Head?" and "By the Numbers," [March 6 and 13] demonstrate the need for comprehensive campaign finance reform, in particular public financing for candidates who accept strict spending and fundraising limits.

Private, special-interest money is going to find a way, legal or illegal, to seep into the political system unless comprehensive reform is enacted; whether it's CP&L buying access and influence with their mountains of money or candidates selling property at inflated prices to their political supporters for amazing "profits."

These cases are symptoms of an epidemic in our political system, where moneyed interests are determined to make elections viable for an elite few who will protect their financial interests. Currently in North Carolina only 1 percent of the population contributes 90 percent of all the campaign contributions for state races. Recent studies of campaign contributors have shown that donors are most likely to be white, male, and have incomes over $100,000.

What is the result of this dominance of our political system by a wealthy few? Our most powerful political positions are devoid of diversity. Of 100 U.S. senators there are exactly zero people of color and only 13 women. Of the 50 governors, exactly zero are people of color and five are women. Of the 4,064 people who have ever been a U.S. senator or governor, only three African Americans have ever been elected to those positions.

The first step toward a healthy democracy is to enact a clean money system of public financing for all elections, from city council races for Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh all the way up to the White House. Without a clean money system that provides voter-ownership of elections, our democracy will continue to be a private affair for those who have the luxury to afford the price of admission.

Pedaling the bike cause
Thank you for the informative and enjoyable article on TTA's proposed Regional Rail System. Regarding the need for connecting services to get riders from the rail station stop to their destination, please do not underestimate that clean, efficient, time-proven and exceptionally enjoyable vehicle--the road bicycle. While a distance of one half a mile may discourage many from walking, a mere five miles is a trivial distance for even the most casual cyclist.

As a connecting service, cycling offers a huge advantage in that it eliminates the need for coordinating scheduling, relieving anxiety for both the commuter and the transit planner. Your bike hits the station, ready to roll, when you do.

Since becoming a year-round bicycle commuter, I've been approached by countless Raleigh residents who have told me they would love to bike commute, if they could avoid the heavy traffic on the Triangle's larger connecting roads. We're already blessed with an ideal climate for cycling. Regional rail has the potential to turn many more Triangle residents' daily commutes into two of the most enjoyable parts of the day!

What about a gondola?
I came upon the point that was made about the planned TTA station being out of the loop ["Basic Training," March 13], and away from the activity centers of downtown Raleigh. Interestingly enough, during my short stay here in the Triangle, I had been working on a proposal that would have addressed that. However, since I am unable to stay and promote this, I am submitting it to the public for grassroots consideration. It also offers alternatives to some of the milquetoast plans perpetrated by certain downtown entities that would ensure that downtown Raleigh would remain mired in mediocrity, if not outright poverty.

The proposal concerns not only retaining and revamping the Fayetteville Street Mall, but also constructing a cross-sectioned mall on what is now Martin Street. This would connect Nash Square to Moore Square by a pedestrian plaza, and create a more serene environment for downtown patrons and workers. The two malls would be covered with atria, a la Fremont Street in Las Vegas, which would provide shelter from the weather, and could also function as a working arboretum. The confluence of Fayetteville and Martin could feature the city's centerpiece--perhaps a large active water feature--with lots of room for tables and benches, along with kiosk and pushcart activity.

The Fayetteville Street Mall lacked only one vital element from being a feasible design. It lacked a transportation component that would move people the five-block length across five busy streets. This plan incorporates an elevated gondola running between the Capitol and BTI Center via the Fayetteville Street Mall, and suspended above Martin from Nash to Moore Squares. These gondolas are pollution free and would operate underneath the atria and would be serviced by raised platforms. They would provide an attraction in and of themselves, with much less energy waste than a jitney.

Interested parties can view the plan in full at:

I'm not a developer, just a Raleigh native who has been perpetually embarrassed and disgusted by the perennial mismanagement of the mall by the city, and the impending return of the Fayetteville Street Mall to its 1970s design, at which point it was already obsolete.

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