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2017 Wilmington Municipal Elections

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Nov 3, 2017
Nine candidates are vying for three seats on Wilmington City Council in the 2017 Municipal Elections. And Bill Saffo faces a contender for Wilmington mayor for the first time since the 2011 elections. The races are nonpartisan. One-stop voting wraps up 1 p.m. Nov. 4, and Election Day is Nov. 7. Seats are also up at area beach towns.
 
The full list of candidates, sample ballots and results can be viewed at elections.nhcgov.com.
 
Ahead of this year’s races, the Business Journal invited all Wilmington City Council and mayoral candidates to answer questions on business-related issues. Their answers have only been edited for space.
 
The following were asked of the candidates:
 
  1. What can you do as an elected official to help bring the next big employer to the region and from what sector do you see that employer coming from?
  2. What development issues would you tackle?
  3. If elected, what would be your first priorities going into office?

 

Wilmington Mayor Race

 

BILL SAFFO 
Democrat (Incumbent)
Real estate broker
Political experience: Elected to City Council in 2003; appointed to mayor in 2006, elected as mayor since


1. “My job as Mayor is to work with our economic development partners … in helping to recruit companies to our area. Economic development involves many stakeholders ... Making sure we have an educated workforce, good schools, parks, riverwalks, a vibrant downtown, low crime and a beautiful environment. It also includes a good transportation network of roads, ports, and airports as well as first class medical facilities and a business-friendly environment … When the next company comes to Wilmington they will be looking at all of these criteria and more. We must continue to improve and expand our assets.”
 
2. “I will continue to improve upon our new comprehensive land use plan and work with many stakeholders within the community as well as the city council to update the city’s outdated land codes which haven’t been approved upon since the 1980s.”
 
3. “To continue to ensure that Wilmington, NC, is one of the most attractive and best places to open and relocate a business, which involves working with the many stakeholders in our community, as well as region, on the improvement of community assets that employers always look for.”


TODD ZOLA
Republican
Retired from construction and other jobs
Political experience: None elected

 1. “I am trying as of now. I am emailing corporate companies like Samsung, Adventure park which I am talking now about going over to Supply, NC. And emailing M&M’s co. And others to come to this area of southeast. But Brunswick has the biggest land mass than we in New Hanover. We need to cut taxes like Trump has said. As stated incentives tax incentives from 35% down to 20%-15% would be tremendous help.”
 
2. “New Hanover can’t build more residential homes. We don’t have space to occupy people here meaning we have land but, not the road structure to build upon. We should’ve had this dealt with 50 years ago before thinking about this maybe longer than that.”
 
3. “Well everyone I met and talked to said the same we can’t put 300,000 people or even over 200,000 people into this county. They want this to lower the taxes. There are ways to do that. I wanted to push on medical marijuana law would help lower property tax and most likely get rid of vehicle tax … And try to bring in gambling boat on the river … They pay us every time they win over the amount taxed NC lottery Tax table.”
 

Wilmington City Council Race

 


CLIFFORD D. BARNETT
Democrat
Pastor
Political Experience: None elected

1. “I am willing to support financial incentives when appropriate, in other words, when Wilmington is competing for a particular company and when they will bring significant jobs that fill gaps in our overall jobs situation. I am also willing to support agencies that improve our appeal such as the Arts Council, UNCW’s and CFCC’s business development efforts, and Film Commission. Showcasing our quality of life and widening the types of jobs available, … will help our appeal to new businesses.
 
2. “Wilmington continues to plan for more and more growth and primarily for housing, although we are still short of affordable housing. I will tackle the need for more jobs and a wider range of jobs. I will support the planning for mixed use and ways to manage the growth. We need to plan for managed growth, not just growth, in order to protect the interests of people who already live here and will be my constituents.”
 
3. “I will work to bring more jobs to our area … encourage economic growth in our area such as incentives, which I support. However, I would also like to collaborate with business leaders in our area and work together to explore … everything we can do to bring more and better jobs to the city. I will too address infrastructure concerns and … current needs while building for a strong future.”

 

HOLLIS B. BRIGGS JR.
Democrat
Case manager at David & Associates
Political experience: Candidate for both the Soil and Water Conservation in 2002 and the N.C. House of Representatives in 2008; most recently ran for city council in 2015

1. “I am encouraged by recent attempts by the City Council to enter into public-private partnerships in order to bring large scale employers to Wilmington, and I plan to continue those efforts … Providing incentives to businesses both locally and through the state legislature will be key to Wilmington’s business future. Of course bringing the film industry all the way back … is certainly a goal of mine. Finally, the employers that exist in Wilmington now need to know that the City supports them and wants their employees to live and work in a clean, safe city, this too will be a priority of mine.”
 
2. “One issue related to development that I would like to address is transparency. There is a level of distrust in our community right now between the City officials, the developers and the people that at times leaves people feeling uneasy about the elected official’s motives. I want Wilmington to grow in a smart and efficient way, but I also want everyone that works and lives in our City to feel as though they have a hand in that growth.”
 
3. “First and foremost among my priorities is the youth of Wilmington … The recreation system in Wilmington needs to be repaired and expanded, and so, my primary objective would be the prioritization of all recreation related projects during my first term in office.”

 

PERRY FISHER
Unaffiliated
Former restaurant operator, broadcast news reporter, editor
Political experience: None elected


1. “Wilmington’s next big employer might well start small and grow into the role … Studies show that cities offering lots of entertainment for young adults also find themselves hosting new business: promote arts, entertainment, recreation. Officials’ involvement – especially mayors – in recruitment also gets high marks. Imaginative incentives should be devised: offering an alternative to prospective employers to pass a tax break to their employees for buying homes in the city.”
 
 2. “The foreseeable future bodes well for Wilmington as a sought-after place to live. We should be able to exact stricter controls and standards over our land use rules because of it. Those rules are in the process of being reviewed now, and we should be reasonably assertive about density and making developers accountable for projects’ maintenance post-occupancy wherever possible, like in apartments.”
 
3. “Accepting committee assignments, establishing working relationships, becoming a reliable team member. Immersing myself in land use policy. Becoming involved in the biennial review of the funding of outside agency (non-profits) process, in my effort to strengthen Wilmington’s families, address opiates, and help those who want to help themselves to more fulfilling lives.”

 

DEB HAYS
Republican
Broker/Realtor with Intracoastal Realty
Political experience: Served on and appointed to boards and commissions; none elected


  1. “Enhance the quality of job creation in our area. Working diligently over several years with a variety of organizations, I am committed to locating and securing vibrant, economically strong, and environmentally friendly businesses; to supporting and improving our existing business structure so our citizens, families, students have long term quality jobs and careers … I will continue to maintain a strong presence and be persistent with our local economic experts, county, and state officials to result in the recruitment of companies beneficial to our City.”
 
2. “Traffic and transportation issues will always be at the forefront of our city’s agenda. We must be creative in looking for future opportunities to reduce vehicle usage: making our city more walkable, bike-able, pedestrian friendly; multi-facet transportation options that are reliable, clean, and serviceable; build complete pedestrian friendly streets; and maximize connectivity by providing areas of supportive services adjacent to our neighborhoods.”
 
3. “We live in an exceptional thriving city that continues to attract new residents. We are responsible to our current citizens as well. Traffic/ Transportation issues, quality and quantity of Jobs/pay scale, Safety/ Crime concerns, and affordable/workforce housing continue to concern our citizens … they are my priorities.”


CAYLAN J MCKAY
Independent
Accountant at Earney & Company LLP
Political experience: None elected


1. “Wilmington is uniquely situatedto attract the tech industry, which has the luxury of being able to locate anywhere, since all they need is a laptop and internet connection to be connected to the world … But these companies are led by young entrepreneurs who want to live in cities with efficient public transportation options and affordable housing. Unfortunately, Wilmington isn’t quite making the cut in those two areas, and they are two policy issues at the top of my agenda.”
 
2. “Our current path of development is headed toward suburban sprawl. We’ve already seen the dramatic loss of green space and increased traffic, and we cannot continue in that vein. We need to refocus and fully realize the value of our city’s center – the Northern Riverfront, the Brooklyn Arts and Soda Pop Districts, and the area emerging around Castle Street.”
 
3. “As part of this campaign, I went for a week without my car. Because ultimately, I want to live in a city where that wouldn’t be a struggle. But, of course, it was. For Wilmington to attract high-paying employers, we have to do better. We have to look towards new technologies and strategies other cities have successfully employed … I’m also passionate about affordable housing, greenspaces, water quality, and addressing the opioid crisis.”


KEVIN O’GRADY
Democrat (Incumbent)
Retired commercial litigator
Political experience: Eight years on Wilmington City Council


  1. “The best role for local government in economic development is to lay a strong infrastructure foundation – roads, schools, green space, parks, and housing with economic diversity, so as to present an attractive area for business. Our area has thrived in the past several years because of the investments made in the public infrastructure. Government does not create jobs, it attracts them, by presenting high quality of life. If we preserve and extend the good quality of life here, more jobs will come.”
 
2. “Being more skeptical about NCDOT projections of traffic capacity. Our most critical constraint on growth is the inadequate State road planning that has failed to consider the projected growth of the region … Furthermore, we need to address the lack of planning in the unincorporated areas surrounding our City. The poor choices and urban sprawl in the unincorporated areas directly effects the quality of life in the City.”
 
3. “Protecting the character of our neighborhoods. Dealing with growth by implementing the principles of the Comprehensive Plan and sticking to them. Improving economic diversity through affordable housing. Keeping our crime rate low and our fire rating high. Completing the projects of the Transportation and Parks Bonds to rebuild our Infrastructure and expand green space.”


JAMES A. RAY
Democrat
Retired postal employee, associate pastor
Political experience: None elected

1. “The best thing we can do to attract businesses to our area is to maintain the cultural and environmental quality that makes Wilmington a great place to live. Tech companies are the future for Wilmington. Green jobs from companies like nCino and Untappd are already growing here.”
 
2. “Development for the sake of growth alone should be discouraged. We need smart growth: increased bicycle and pedestrian routes, increased green spaces and good quality affordable housing must come first.”
 
3. “I would first address the opioid epidemic with a focus on treatment rather than punishment. I would also tackle the growing distrust between city officials and the community. I would oppose the purchase of gas launchers and riot gear that have been requested by the police because this only increases the distrust.”


CHARLIE RIVENBARK
Democrat (Incumbent)
Real Estate broker with Maus, Warwick, Matthews & Company
Political experience: Four terms on Wilmington City Council, 1993-2001 and 2009-17


1. “Economic development is a very complex process and it is incumbent on elected officials to insure that we convey our A game every day. We also must be very aware of the companies that are already here and stay tuned to their needs in order to keep them here. So many factors come into play; schools, workforce and workforce housing for their employees, cultural amenities … to name a few of the criteria that CEOs consider. I have been a part of the success in attracting new businesses and retaining those alreadyhere.”
 
 2. “It is imperative that we finish the work of refreshing our land development codes to reflect the times we live in.”
 
 3. “To continue the excellent working relationship that I and the other members of the city council have with our staff, the county, our state delegation and … the citizens of Wilmington. I take calls and emails every day from citizens who may experience a problem of some sort and take great pride in being able to help them navigate through what can seem like a maze. I also am diligent to listen to all sides of an issue and am a strong believer in tackling matters quickly and work towards resolutions sooner rather than later.”


PHILIP WHITE
Democrat
Management/business analyst for Mattress Firm
Political experience: Serves on the New Hanover County Long-Term Healthcare Citizen Advisory Committee

1. “I believe that often times, we focus far too much on large scale employers. As a member of the Wilmington City Council, that is not my goal. I will focus on Family-Owned businesses. Growing up in a business like this, I can personally speak to the passion that goes into operating your own business … I will continue to support and foster entrepreneurs, who pay a livable wage.”
 
2. “While development is a reality for our area, we must approach it, using a long-term feasibility model. Not allowing for further destruction of our wetlands, will protect current homes, and those already slated projects from additional flooding problems … Developers must contribute to, and improve our Community, in order to do business here. The days of rubber stamping every apartment complex and development that applies, must stop or we risk losing the natural beauty that makes Wilmington truly unique.”
 
3. “My first priorities are to establish 2 Community input boards. I would like to see the first bring our residents as well as recovering addicts, into the dialogue of how we approach and address the Opioid Epidemic. I will establish a board to establish guidelines for Short Term Rentals, as their growth and development has become essential to the growth of our local economy.”

Correction: The version of this story reflects a change to the election date on Nov. 7.

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