Time to clean out the Citizen basket(s), lest the piles of notes, printouts and reports reach unsustainable heights. Good stuff and bad in there. But the best, I decided, because it was so surprising to me: I've gotten five postcards from Chuck and Laura Richardson of Chapel Hill, who are bicycling across America to end world hunger. I'd have guessed two, maybe three. But no, I found five handwritten updates, in tiny little print, from Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Kansas, and now they're in New Mexico; and each one concludes by urging me to write something, anything, about the fact that people are starving to death by the thousands every day in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
I do not know the Richardsons. Cynical me, when they sent a press release awhile ago previewing their trip, I remember thinking what a fine thing it was (and great exercise), but maybe they were a little too good to be true? Now, after reading their cards and their Web site, www.altruisticaction.com, I'm totally sold. So, before I bum us both out with Lawrence Wray and the minuses, I'll put Chuck and Laura at the top of my list:
Heroes"Idealism is a good thing," the Richardsons say. "One should not be ashamed of it." He works for a nonprofit that supplies food to low-income daycares; she works for an insurance agency. Summer of 2002, they rode (and camped) across America for Doctors Without Borders. This year, they're going Virginia-to-California raising consciousness, and money, for Pratham USA, an arm of an India-based nonprofit started by UNICEF. Their goal is $40,000--$10 times 4,000 miles--and maybe they'll get there and maybe they won't, but here's another Richardson maxim that every do-gooder will second: "Our success is dependent on the effort, not the outcome." To support both, though, contributions can be sent to: Pratham, USA, 5890 Point West Drive, Houston, Texas 77036.
I saved a simple but spot-on essay by Martin Jacobs, ethics chair of The Interfaith Alliance of Wake County, which begins: "Do we, as a country, have the courage to take an honest look at ourselves?" We're the greatest country in the world, Jacobs wrote, but we've got problems, too. "We are a 200-plus-year 'experiment in democracy.' Our nation's leaders need the courage to evaluate the success of our country by answering the broad, basic question, 'How are we doing?'" For the rest of Jacobs' thoughts: www.interfaithalliance-nc.org , or call him at 781-8490.
Because three folks stood out at the final public meeting on the Dorothea Dix property. Greg Poole Sr., of Poole Equipment fame (not to mention Poole Road), was eloquent in making the case for using all 300-plus remaining acres as a park. Doug Rader, the environmental scientist, was blunt in saying the two supposed "master plans" presented by LandDesign, the state's Charlotte-based consultants, were "a lot of smoke and mirrors" that actually promised nothing. And Jan Ramquist, of Friends of Dorothea Dix Park (www.rtpnet.org/dixpark) was equally blunt that the LandDesign plans were disappointments and the three meetings a waste of time. But when LandDesign's Brad Davis said the state should create a "Dix Authority" to manage the property, I suddenly had a clear picture in my mind of what'll come next: a Dix counterpart to the state's Centennial Authority, with a Steve Stroud as the chair, representing development interests, and a Carmen Hooker Odom as the vice chair, to assure that the state offices up on Dix Hill will never leave. Whatever Dix should be, a state office park ain't it, nor the suburban-style sprawl either that LandDesign seemed to favor. City of Raleigh--your move. But don't wait too long.
Progress on the verified-voting front. After much gnashing of teeth by the good guys, who'd like our votes to be recorded in a way that they can't be lost--or changed--by a machine, Sen. Ellie Kinnaird's reform bill, SB-223, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. This was version 29--literally--and while it still has a dubious "pilot test" of paperless voting technology embedded in it to placate the State Board of Elections, N.C. Voter's Joyce McCloy (www.ncvoter.net) thinks no such technology exists to test--at least, not at any price the Senate Appropriations Committee will want to approve. Otherwise, the bill's been cleaned up to McCloy's satisfaction and that of Wake Progressive Democrats leader P. J. Puryear, who called the committee vote a victory for citizen activism.
Democracy North Carolina's summer interns took a survey, and they found that less than 2 percent of folks aged 18-24 knew that under state law you have to be registered 25 days before an election to vote in it. No wonder turnout here in 2004 was just 38.4 percent of this cohort. The answer: same-day voter registration. And last week the House Election Law Committee took a big step in that direction by approving HB-851, which would allow registration throughout the early-voting process--in effect, same-day registration up to, but not including (unfortunately), Election Day itself. The latter would be "studied" to see how six other states manage to do it, presumably.
ZeroesAt the July meeting of the South Central Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) in Raleigh, there was Greg Hatem, of Empire Properties, presenting his vision for rapid redevelopment of some 40 abandoned, city-owned houses in the Martin-Haywood district and mixed-use infill on the neighborhood's many vacant lots; and there was Assistant City Manager Lawrence Wray telling Hatem to always come to him first, before talking to actual citizens. Hatem's done enough good work downtown that Wray should've been listening, not obstructing. But instead, Wray kept on insisting--as Hatem just smiled and nodded--that any such redevelopment plans must come through him, to the point that CAC Chair Danny Coleman finally shouted, "Sit down, Lawrence." And even then, Wray kept at it, earning a mild rebuke from mild-mannered City Councilor James West. Yes, this is the same Lawrence Wray who landed in the county jail last September for failing to comply with a court order involving his financial assets and his ex-wife. That he's an embarrassment to Raleigh is bad enough. But that he thinks he's the King of East Raleigh, an area that needs real leadership, just tears it.
Former Raleigh City Councilor John Odom, who's running for an at-large Council seat this year, got off to a terrible start with the very first words of his first fund-raising letter. "What happened?" it asked. "We are spending $20 million taxpayer dollars on a luxury hotel...." Yes, the same convention center-related hotel Odom supported when he was on the council, as The News & Observer was quick to point out over the weekend. Odom went negative at the end of his '03 mayoral campaign against Charles Meeker, accusing Meeker of backing the TTA commuter rail project as a money-maker for his law firm. All Odom accomplished then was to belie his own nice-guy image. This time, it's his straight-shooter reputation that's in the line of fire.
The Wake County commissioners, who dumped Raleigh Planning Commission Chair Erin Kuczmarski in that developers-spawned coup (see Citizen, June 29), have a chance to make it all better. One of their replacement picks isn't eligible. And now they don't have the excuse that Kuczmarski didn't tell them she wanted to be reappointed. She did, and does.
Contact Bob Geary at firstname.lastname@example.org.