Mayor, City Council Candidates Discuss Vision For Wilmington

By Johanna Cano, posted Sep 14, 2021
Wilmington City Council and mayoral candidates discussed their top priorities at Tuesday's Power Breakfast. (Photo by Johanna Cano)
While many topics including affordable housing, job creation and infrastructure were discussed by candidates in the upcoming Wilmington City Council and mayor elections, many expressed that at the center is their desire to steer the region in the right direction.

Wilmington City Council and mayoral candidates took part in Tuesday morning’s Power Breakfast discussion hosted by the Greater Wilmington Business Journal and broadcast live on WECT.

Candidates for the Wilmington City Council include: Clifford Barnett (current councilman), JB Brookins, Paul Lawler, Charlie Rivenbark (current councilman), Angie Ulmer, Jonathan Uzcategui, Luke Waddell and Philip White.

All city council candidates said they were against replacing the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge with a toll facility. Earlier this year, there was an unsolicited proposal for a public-private partnership for a toll bridge that was turned down.

They also agreed that it will be necessary to work with New Hanover and Brunswick County as well as the N.C. Department of Transportation to determine ways to fund the bridge replacement, which has an estimated cost of about $246 million.

On the topic of bringing businesses that will employ locally, candidates Rivenbark, White and Barnett said they would focus on partnering with local universities and colleges to help have a trained workforce and ensure that that talent remains in the region.

Ulmer and Uzcategui said they would work on providing resources to small businesses who they say are important job creators, and Brookins, Lawler and Waddell said they would support entrepreneurship and highlight some of the successes that entrepreneurs have had in the region.

Candidates were also asked what their top issue is:

Rivenbark: “We have talked about affordable and workforce housing the entire 20 years I've served on council and we take it serious, but it's always been a funding issue. This time around… we are going to address affordable and workforce housing.”
Ulmer: “My top priority as of now is definitely circulating around the environment mainly because it affects everybody equally. Our environment is what is going to sustain us.”
Uzcategui: “I'm very passionate about small business. I want to be able to help small businesses in the community and law and order. We need to make sure we have a city where we are living in peace and tranquility.”
Waddell: “I'm not a politician, I'm a small business owner and I'm up here today for one reason and it's the future of Wilmington… we need fresh vision and fresh leadership so that we can capture opportunity and turn it into reality.”
White: “I don't think that we have that luxury [of having a top issue] any longer. Whether we're talking about the creation of jobs, affordable housing, our environment or the stipulation of our economy, I think we have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Barnett: “My top priority is building partnerships. I would be a councilman that looks at every issue from an equity lens. That means that when I look at the situation, I want to be fair.”
Brookins: “My biggest issue is that we need to take care of cultivating this beauty that we have called Wilmington and flourishing that and letting everybody else know 'You know what, you probably need to look at Wilmington and be like us.'"
Lawler: “We have to think regionally, we have to think in partnership terms, but I think we [need to] get back to working on the economy, so people have opportunity... If we can work with each other, we can focus on our assets and I think we can make this a much stronger and better region for all of us."

Mayoral Discussion

Following the council candidates, current Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and former mayor Harper Peterson, discussed their philosophy on economic development, plans for using federal stimulus money, affordable housing plans, inclusion and equity, new development code and how to deal with gang-related crimes in the city.

Saffo, who was appointed mayor in 2006 and is serving his seventh term, said he has had many successes under his leadership.

Peterson said it is important to look ahead and confront challenges with new ideas.

Both candidates, who emphasize their non-partisan stance and willingness to work and partner with everyone, said they would focus on every sector when it comes to creating new jobs.

“We would love to see [tech] companies here in this community. But we also need to be thinking about jobs for people that may not be able to get the four-year degrees or two-year degrees but get the technical degrees necessary to make a living and to have a job,” Saffo said.

Peterson said, “Our youth, there is the key, and it begins with 'love our children' because in 18 years they're going to be our workforce and we really need to bring them up from the cradle to pre-K to give them a good education, self-esteem, keep them off the streets and give them jobs. To that end, I'm proposing the Cape Fear Youth Conservation Council.”

They also discussed their top priorities:


  • Growth and development: “Not stunting it, but controlling and making it fit with a sense of place and community that we have.”
  • Climate change: “We know it's real and the [federal government] is pouring billions and billions of dollars into it."
  • Racial justice and equity: “We need to come to grips with our history.”
  • Status quo: “I think the status quo is broken. And again, with all due respect to the mayor, we need a new direction, new energy, new ideas, new visions, solutions and act on them now.”


  • Crime: “We've got to go after these gangs; they're creating a tremendous amount of havoc in the community, and we cannot tolerate it. And we've got to get these folks off the street.”
  • Growth: “The land development code that we put in place, I believe answers and addresses a lot of the issues and concerns that people have as to how do we grow going forward and how do we move forward as a community.”
  • Jobs: “Jobs are the best thing to eliminate poverty. You give somebody a job, they can move up in the world. They can get on with their lives. They can become productive citizens. We've got to give people those opportunities.”
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