As another local election campaign nears, new and familiar faces have been filing to fill three Wilmington City Council seats. Mack Coyle, Harry Smith Jr., Kimberly Spader, Kevin Spears, Scott Monroe and Matt Thrift are on the ballot, and up for re-election are Margaret Haynes, Paul Lawler and Neil Anderson (Alexandria Monroe pulled out of the race).
encore has reached out to candidates to get their thoughts and views on top-of-mind issues concerning our city (read them all at encorepub.com). This week we chat with Harry Smith Jr. about his upcoming council seat bid.
encore (e): Tell us why you decided to run for council. Why now?
Harry Smith Jr. (HSJ): I was drawn into the short-term-rental fight. Even though I did not have a short-term rental at the time, I felt council was giving preferential treatment to a very vocal small group; they were not listening to a majority of its citizens. The more I watched what council was doing, I felt they did not have the best interest of the entire city in mind as they proceeded.
e: How do you think the short-term-rental issue should have been handled? Tell us why you think the outcome isn’t advantageous for the majority of citizens?
HSJ: The city held two input meetings that appeared to be more in support of STR than against. The city had an online survey that overwhelmingly supported STR; I don’t think it was affecting a majority of the city. I think council overstepped it’s legal authority. But time will tell on that.
e: What qualifies you to run for council?
HSJ: What disqualifies me? What makes one more or less qualified to be on city council? I would say I am honest, I want what is best for the city and all of its citizens. I am not interested in being a career politician; I am interested in seeing a change in how our local government works. I want to see more accountability, transparency and a general listening to the citizenry.
e: Can you give clear examples of this being overlooked currently and what are your ideas to correct it if you serve on council?
HSJ: The city has been called out by Port City Daily and others for things like the northside bathrooms and no one responded for months. There have been questions about how the Northside Park is $2 million over budget. No answers. Why were fines dropped against a developer for cutting down trees? No answers.
e: What do you like about what our council is doing and what do you think needs to be improved upon?
HSJ: Honestly? Not much. I have watched them put development ahead of citizens’ concerns. I have seen votes on items that members of council have financial or personal interests in. We are not going to stop development, but let’s quit giving away the store. Let’s make sure that it fits more than the “20-year plan.”
e: What are your ideas on handling overdevelopment or at least handling it in ways that are more appropriate than a “20-year plan”?
HSJ: I think that we need to make deals from a position of strength. The developers need the city more than the city needs the developers.
e: What are top-of-mind concerns you have for our city and how do you plan to address them?
HSJ: I want to see voting districts, I have been saying this for the past three years since I really started paying attention to council. We need districts We are a big city—and we need to start acting like it.
e: How do you think this will help us? And how do you propose these districts be drawn?
HSJ: By spreading out representation throughout the city by geography. The needs of downtown is different than midtown, which is different than Sunset Park. Why does a business on the southside (Castle Street/Orange Street) need bars on their windows? We are a representative democracy. Let’s represent by district.
e: What are your thoughts on the current noise-ordinance regulations the council is trying to rewrite?
HSJ: They took a terrible ordinance and actually made it worse.
Again, I think a few loud voices in one particular neighborhood pushed an agenda and they got what they wanted. We, the taxpayers, invested a lot of money to make downtown an attraction, then we turn around and try to crush the businesses there.
e: Do you have new ideas in approaching our water crisis and other environmental concerns our residents face?
HSJ: Unfortunately, there is not a lot we can actually do. The ball is in DEQ and Raleigh’s hands. So we, as a fairly large city, must leverage that and keep pressure on them to get results. I don’t think Raleigh is doing all it can. Do we need to get the Feds involved? I don’t know. The answer is, all we can do is keep pressure on those that have the authority to do something.
e: Any ideas on how the city should help combat climate change in our coastal town?
HSJ: Again, we have very little authority to legislate to greatly affect climate change. That being said, change starts with one small step. So Wilmington can at least look how we can take the lead in our own way.
Personally I don’t know enough about ways that we in Wilmington could accomplish that, so I am willing to listen to ideas that could possibly mitigate our contribution to the climate problem.
e: Where do you stand on tax incentives, say, for historic property renovation, or in any other fashion?
HSJ: Full disclosure: I have a historic home and was eligible for state and federal credits. I would look into tax incentives for housing programs for individuals but not necessarily big business.
e: What would tax incentives for housing programs look like? Could this be a way to ensure affordable housing gets better locally?
HSJ: The city needs to adopt a plan to tax developers a 1% affordable housing fee. That could offset the purchase of regular houses, like the Philadelphia plan. To do this Raleigh would have to change the rules. Though, Raleigh is pushing for municipalities to come up with affordable housing plans, they must untie our hands.
e: How do you plan to represent all the citizens in Wilmington? How, for example, will you connect with people who do not live and work in your comfort zone/neighborhood?
HSJ: The only reason I have gotten involved in this political process was because I felt the council was not representing all of the citizens of the city. I am proving I am truly interested in representing the entire city, and if I get districts I will have accomplished true representation of the entire city.
Have follow-up questions for Harry Smith Jr.? Be sure to leave a comment on the online article, and we will see he receives and answers them for you. His responses will be posted below the article until election day, Tuesday, November 5.
One-stop voting for the municipal elections begins on Wednesday, October 16, and will conclude on Friday, November 1.
Read all candidate interviews here.