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From the Editor’s Couch: Contestants for Mayor Heard

by Lisa Ellison, editor

The Daily Reflector held its mayoral debate last night. Lots of people and media attended. Why, even the mayor was there!

Ellison and Dudley Moore are roughly the same height.

Ellison and Dudley Moore are roughly the same height. That’s about as far as the similarities go.

I was pleased to get a seat towards the front, between two people I know and was glad to see, even if briefly. The questions were good, covering topics from planning and zoning, to safety, to economic development and the bond, to social justice and leadership.

One question I particularly liked was about what city each candidate holds up as a model for Greenville. Ernest Reeves answered first: Cary. Cary, with its wide lanes and big, shiny new buildings, with land spreading out between them, whitewashed and pristine.

No thank you.

Allen Thomas, who really knows his stuff after four years in office, said Cary’s tax base is twice ours (it is pretty close*). He went on to talk about our “peer cities” — towns similar to Greenville in significant ways, like having a combination of quantifiable things like a major university and hospital, similar population size and demographics, region, geography. He picked out a couple of them and talked about the things they have that we could borrow, citing the prominence of the river in Greenville, SC as an example.

(*The City of Greenville’s plan for 2016 is to operate on $122,460,982. The Town of Cary intends to spend $218,300,000.)

Donna Whitley’s response was nice and showed idealism and independence, but it I found it flat. I appreciate her sentiment that we should “create our own special vision,” but it was vague, lacking specifics.

Here are a few other questions, not verbatim but close, and my thoughts about the candidates’ responses.

Do we need planning and zoning regulations that restrict new development when we already have developed places available?

Thomas’s answer was that we should “follow the best practices of our peer cities.” This first struck me as a boring non-answer, but there’s some good sense in it. We should see what’s worked for cities like ours. Thomas also talked about the importance of being flexible, but not too allowing, though I would like for him to have hit on the “not being too allowing” part a little harder.

Reeves suggested any business willing to come here be allowed to do whatever the hell they please, as long as they come. This would be a disaster. (And what would Cary, with their apparent love of rules, say about it?!)

Whitley mentioned developing density, but her answer again came off as lacking specificity.

What have you done or what will you do about racial profiling in Greenville?

Whitley said she would work with the chief.

Reeves dismissed racial profiling as a real problem. He sees property crime and violent crime as more important issues.

“We do have a problem [with racial profiling],” was the first thing Thomas said. He talked about his work with the police to help make downtown safer at night, and other changes in the police department during his tenure as mayor–including ending the pat-down process.

What will you do to unify a divided council?

Whitley said she will get together with people and talk. Much proverbial bread would be broken.

Reeves said he’ll invite all council members to his house. And to lunch. And to dinner. And to a movie, or even a walk in the park. (What?)

Thomas said that, contrary to what gets talked about, 90 percent of council votes (he could have said 80–my notes are foggy there) are unanimous. The rest of the time (I’m paraphrasing) you just do what you’ve gotta do.

Would you commit, right now, to raising minimum wage to $15 per hour?

Reeves: “No.” He’d commit to raising it to $10, though.

Thomas said, “Anyone who would come up here and commit to a certain number would not be doing their job.” You have to look at the whole budget, a lot of pieces, instead of just deciding on a thing. Furthermore, the council just had a successful vote on increasing all full-time city positions to at least $13.15 per hour (on Kandie Smith’s motion, she’ll have you know).

From our September 12 D1 debate.

Whitley’s response mirrored Thomas’: raise the minimum wage as quickly as possible, but only after looking at all the necessary parts of the budget.

Do we need stricter gun control in Greenville?

Reeves said we need sensible laws that improve gun safety. He also expressed a desire to increase the police department’s ability to surveille the people. He added that he just wanted the cameras for safety reasons, not for liberty infringement. (Because governments have shown they’re really good at knowing the difference, maybe?)

Thomas, a licensed gun owner, believes the right to bear arms comes with a heavy burden of responsibility. He told an anecdote of a close call as a child – a gun went off as his brother was cleaning it – underscoring how seriously he takes gun safety and the responsibility of gun ownership. Thomas also pointed to an ordinance permitting the possession of concealed handguns in Pitt County buildings, which is on the agenda for the next county commissioners meeting, October 19.

Whitley agreed with Thomas about supporting the right to bear arms, but said there’s “something out of control” when we have to be scared for our kids in school. She pointed to a need to repair the mental health system.

Early on, I felt favorably toward Reeves as a mayoral candidate. I liked the way he spoke about poverty and homelessness. His performance in this debate was weak. His let-businesses-do-what-they-like and pro-surveillance attitudes concern me.

Thomas has the advantage here: he’s a good debater, he has four years of experience in the position and so knows the players and the game better than his challengers. He’s able to speak knowledgeably about the issues facing Greenville, and to talk about steps he’s taken to address the issues he’s run on since 2011, namely economic development, crime and roads.

When she’s talking about quality of life and economic development as hand in hand, Whitley speaks with certainty and command.  

Early voting goes from October 22-31. Election day is November 3. See all races county-wide on this sample ballot, or look up your polling place and sample ballot using your address.

“From the Editor’s Couch” presents the opinions of the editor (and quite probably, of the editor alone). 

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