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Who's really "right" about Raleigh?

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Regardless of your politics, you have to feel sorry for John Odom as he campaigns for mayor of Raleigh against the incumbent, Charles Meeker. For one thing, Odom is just too soft-spoken, and too honest, to level the kind of scorching attack that would arouse his fellow Republicans and juice the turnout on Oct. 7. Take, for example, the Triangle Transit Authority's planned commuter railroad. Red-blooded conservatives hate it. Meeker, moderate Democrat, is for it. And Odom? "We're gonna build a transit [system] that's not gonna work," he says.

Well, OK, Big John. But just when you think he's going for the jugular, the six-foot-five-inch Odom cannot ignore what a decade on the City Council has taught him. "There will be a day when we need transit," he adds. "It's just a little ahead of its time."

You can almost hear Russell Capps crying in his sound truck.

Which brings us to the second reason Odom's got trouble. His main criticism of Meeker is that the mayor is moving too fast on too many fronts, over-spending--or, at least, over-committing to future spending--on too many major capital projects. But in his first two-year term, Meeker hasn't moved fast at all, nor does he seem that eager to speed things up if he's re-elected.

Meeker promised he wouldn't raise property taxes if elected in 2001. He hasn't. (Fees went up some, but hey.) As a result, all those big capital projects are still on the drawing board, unfunded until the economy improves and tax revenues pick up. In 2003, Meeker hasn't repeated his no-tax promise, saying only that "it's not my intention" to raise them. So where's Odom with the "Sign Here, I'll Never Raise Taxes Ever" pledge that Republicans from Tom Fetzer to Tom DeLay have perfected?

It's just not his style.

Moreover, the biggest big-ticket items Meeker supports, Odom supports, too. New convention center? They're both for it. Tearing up Fayetteville Mall? Ditto. The Hillsborough Street Partnership's plans, roundabouts and all? Yup. Greenways, roadways, the new stormwater utility program to attack Raleigh's chronic flooding woes? Nobody wants to stop the flooding worse than John Odom, whose City Council district in Northeast Raleigh is the longest-suffering of them all.

And if anything, Odom's more enthusiastic about open space and parks programs than Meeker. But Odom wonders why Meeker pushed to have a $47.2 million parks bond issue on the ballot this year when, in the same breath, the mayor promised not to issue the bonds--assuming the voters approve them--until Raleigh can pay the additional debt service without raising that sacred 38.5-cent property tax rate.

But that's how conservative Meeker's been. He poor-mouthed so much a couple of months back, the daily newspaper got the impression Raleigh had reached its legal debt limit. Actually, Raleigh has used one-eighth of its borrowing limit; Meeker was talking about the limit without raising taxes.

How can Odom win if he can't get to the right of Meeker? He can't. And Meeker's not making it easy. Think of all the things the mayor hasn't tried to do. He hasn't pushed for campaign spending limits or public financing; no move to give fringe benefits to the domestic partners of city employees; no move for a death penalty moratorium--Raleigh remains the only major city in North Carolina that hasn't called for one.

And the mayor, who didn't used to do so, now is accepting big contributions from developers. Though this year, with construction in the toilet, neither candidate's getting that many.

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There is one clear difference between Meeker and Odom. The mayor wants to "focus growth in central and southeast Raleigh." TTA rail will help do that, he argues. Odom says the state should stop raiding its highway trust funds for transit and hurry the completion of Raleigh's Outer Loop.

At the University Park candidates forum, Odom was asked what he would do to improve air quality in the Triangle. After stumbling through some nonsense about lawn mowers being the real problem, he finally said he doesn't know--that's Honest John for you. But curbing automobile travel "is not the panacea of air quality problems," of that Odom was sure.

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Johnny or the General? Our lame-duck Sen. John Edwards formally announced his presidential candidacy this week. But suddenly Edwards isn't looking like the Southern moderate alternative to front-running lib'ruls Dean, Kerry and Gephardt. Arkansas-born, West Point-bred Wesley Clark, who was expected to announce his candidacy this week, may take that mantle from him. Gen. Wesley Clark, that is.

Clark, a four-star Rhodes scholar, opposed the war on Iraq. And for those who suspect that he might still be too-military, too-conservative for your progressive tastes, check the letter filmmaker Michael Moore, of Bowling for Columbine fame, wrote for Clark last weekend. "This is not an endorsement," Moore said. But it was real close. You can read it at www.commondreams.org/views03/0913-06.htm.

Next week: Cary. All those up-to-speed on Cary issues, write rjgeary@aol.com--pl eeze!

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