Wilmington Mayor Candidate Q&A: Harper Peterson

By Staff Reports, posted Oct 26, 2021
This year’s municipal elections for the city of Wilmington include candidates for city council and mayor.
The Wilmington City Council has three open seats with eight candidates running. Those include: Clifford Barnett (current councilman), JB Brookins, Paul Lawler, Charlie Rivenbark (current councilman), Angie Ulmer, Jonathan Uzcategui, Luke Waddell and Philip White.
For the mayoral seat, current Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo is seeking another term while Harper Peterson, a former state senator, is also pursuing the mayoral seat.
Early voting started on Oct. 14 and Election Day is Nov. 2. To look at sample ballots, check voter registration status, voting options, polling places and more, visit the New Hanover County Board of Elections website.
The Greater Wilmington Business Journal sent questions to all city council and mayoral candidates and will be running a different candidate’s responses every day on our website.

Harper Peterson - Wilmington Mayor Candidate

Name: Harper Peterson
Occupation: Small business owner with his wife, Plunkett Dodge
Political experience: City council member from 1995-1999, Mayor of Wilmington from 2001-2003 and state senator from 2018-2020.
GWBJ: What are your top economic development priorities? 
Peterson: “I would like to see Wilmington become a leader in one of the most lucrative and dynamic sectors in the nation: environmental resiliency and sustainability. Creative and effective responses to climate change -- from green building retrofits to solar installation, to land and stormwater management, to transitioning to renewables -- all represent historic business and entrepreneurship opportunities for our community. Most of the firms that will move into this space are small businesses, many employing twenty or fewer employees. Green jobs pay well, often do not require a college degree and are non-outsourceable. I will make attracting existing firms and supporting start-ups in this sector a cornerstone of my economic development goals.

Worker shortages are a big problem in our city, but we are not fully utilizing our workforce resources. I will champion economic opportunity and workforce development for those in our city and region who have been denied access to both for too long. Local businesses and nonprofits are already coordinating on this goal, but I believe the city should take a stronger role in facilitating these efforts. Identifying, recruiting and training teens and young people who already live in our region will have benefits that ripple out in so many ways. We know that when kids don’t see a future where they belong, where they will have economic opportunity, we can lose them to the streets, and community crime goes up. Strong partnerships between nonprofits, the faith community, our educational institutions, local government and the private sector are crucial to getting our local kids ready for work, and I look forward to being an enthusiastic advocate on this front.”

GWBJ: If elected, what are two goals you would like to have completed by the end of your term? 
Peterson: “In survey after survey, Wilmingtonians have told us they want a more bikeable and walkable city. This is a bipartisan request from our community, the payoffs of which would be significant to so many of our shared goals, and yet we have accomplished very little. The Wilmington/New Hanover County Comprehensive Greenway Plan, which proposed hundreds of miles of bike paths, walking trails and blue ways, was adopted in 2013, and yet we have so little to show, principally the Gary Shell Cross City Trail. I will work to revitalize this connectivity master plan, with funding and a tight timeline, so that more folks can easily get to the places they work, shop and play, safely and without a car. 

Climate change is a crisis, and it’s time we start treating it like one. The City of Wilmington Clean Energy Task Force was a great start, but we need to get serious about the scope of the challenges we face. I will propose a new Department of the Environment and Sustainability, staffed by environmental specialists, to ensure we undertake best practices to reduce our carbon footprint, transition to renewables and prepare for more frequent and severe storms. Under this umbrella, we will create a Youth Conservation Corps, educated by and partnering with city staff, educators, local businesses, environmental and agricultural organizations. With these vital mentorships established the YCC will be responsible for planting and properly maintaining 10,000 trees, park and greenway maintenance, natural erosion control, resiliency data collection…These experiences will provide a path forward for real career jobs that will form a key component in our plan to make Wilmington a true leader in sustainability.” 

GWBJ: How can the community address the issue of a lack of affordable housing?
Peterson: “The city has squandered too many opportunities on this front over the last two decades and the problem has spiraled downward. I support the housing bond, but I think it should be much larger if we are to make a difference. We are told that there is a deficit of 10,700 affordable living units. If we don’t effectively address this crisis, working-class folks will be forced out of our city and we will be dealing with the repercussions of worker shortages and increased traffic.

My emphasis will be on the following: 1. A robust land trust leveraging public and private funds to effectively take land costs out of the equation; 2. Maximum utilization of state tax credits for affordable developments; 3. Incentives for new market-value housing projects to include 10-20% affordable units;  4. Establish a living wage so that hard-working folks can afford adequate housing without sacrificing family time and basic needs, or working multiple jobs; and 5. Fully invest in Wave Transit. We know that commute time is the single most important factor in upward mobility and access to professional opportunities. Our community deserves a modern, well - resourced and environmentally responsible public transit system that meets the needs of commuters and businesses.”

GWBJ: From roads to bridges to more accessibility, what are some of your infrastructure concerns and ways to deal with them? 
Peterson: “I have a number of major concerns in addition to those I have already discussed. 
Protect what we have. Build what we need. Routine street flooding is now a reality, and our infrastructure can’t keep up. Investment in stormwater infrastructure - natural wet ponds, wetlands, greenways, stream restoration, and hard drainage systems, above- and below-ground channels and outflows - is essential to protect our safety and our economy. We can enlist the participation of the public by encouraging common-sense strategies to ‘Slow It Down, Let It Sink In.’ Examples include rain gardens and bogs filled with water-loving plants and shrubs, infiltration zones around buildings, cisterns for roof runoff, permeable pavement, restoring the tree canopy, and green roofs and walls. 
Cape Fear Memorial Bridge is nearing the end of its lifespan after 50 years. With more than 60,000 trips per day, increasing N.C. Ports traffic, exploding growth in Brunswick County and the region, and projections exceeding 80,000 daily trips over the next two decades, this must be our top priority. The challenges are lack of funds and state prioritization. With N.C. Department of Transportation funding scarce and projected to be unavailable for the next decade, federal assistance questionable and yet to be earmarked, we face a daunting challenge. Maintenance cannot be our only short-term strategy, though. Rather, solidarity among all of our Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO) members, persistent and effective lobbying at state and federal levels and consideration of creative, complimentary local and regional funding sources. This can and must be done without implementing tolls. Finally, any design for a replacement and/or an additional facility cannot negatively impact existing residential and traditional neighborhoods that border the bridge. Rather, neighborhoods, downtown businesses and industries, must be valued participants in all design discussions going forward.” 
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