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). Also, Devon Scott announced his run against Mayor Saffo, who has held office since 2006.
encore has been reaching out to all candidates to get their thoughts and views on top-of-mind issues concerning our city. This week we chat with Paul Lawler about his upcoming council bid.
encore (e): Tell us why you decided to run for council. Why now?
Paul Lawler (PL): My first term taught me a great deal about the city and the needs of her residents. I believe I can do some good by combining that knowledge with my life experiences. We can have better job opportunities, housing, public transportation, use of growth and more to make Wilmington even better.
e: What qualifies you to run for council?
PL: I have a great interest in how this city and state work, and have turned that into concrete proposals to improve what we do. I’m willing to put the work into the job.
e: Can you share what “concrete proposals” you’ve overseen and our city has improved upon?
PL: I’ve offered a proposal for economic development valuing our quality of life as a means of creating more jobs. We have opportunities to develop more jobs in the tech sector, help more small business startups succeed, and make our tourism sector more of a year-round business. These actions provide better opportunities for all of Wilmington. Our quality of life is our greatest asset and something we wish to preserve as the area grows. It’s also the reason we have our dynamic contract research, fintech [financial technology] and other new economy business here. Let’s value that. The creative nature of Wilmingtonians leads to a lot of people starting businesses. More of them will succeed if they can connect with the assistance that is already available. That needs to happen.
e: What do you like about what our council is doing and what do you think needs to be improved upon?
PL: The council works well together and usually reaches a consensus. That consensus gives city staff, who are the people that actually make the policies work, the support of clear direction from council. On the other hand, everything just takes so long to get done.
e: What would you do to expedite the process?
PL: This is one tough nut. Part of the problem here is the gap between needs and resources. Part of the problem is that many projects require agreement between different units of government and that takes time. A greater emphasis on completing projects will help and a greater discussion of what is needed to complete a project will help.
e: What are top-of-mind concerns you have for our city and how do you plan to address them?
PL: Wilmington needs more and better jobs. Too many of our residents are working below their professional ability. Too many of our young people leave for college and can’t return here due to lack of jobs. Our employers are challenged by the trailing spouse issue, and many of our residents would appreciate more opportunities.
With a better presentation of the area that showcases Wilmington for future job creators and grows our tourism business in the slow “shoulder months,” assistance to small business startups and leveraging the interesting activities at the university, this area can enjoy more job opportunities for all Wilmingtonians.
We need housing that our young people, service sector folks, carpenters, restaurant and tourism staff can afford. Careful redevelopment in some areas and more small scale projects can help make this happen.
We need alternatives to driving everywhere. It’s not possible to build enough streets. More sidewalks and a more useful WAVE can help. And, with Dorian’s arrival [last week,] we are reminded we need to be even more prepared for future hurricanes.
e: What would you suggest the city do better to prepare for hurricanes?
PL: Council took an important step toward better preparation for future hurricanes. We created a new position for a city emergency services planner in this year’s budget. That will go a long way toward helping the city prepare for emergencies and, most importantly, understand all the different ways that a hurricane affects Wilmington residents.
e: What are your thoughts on the current noise-ordinance regulations the council is trying to rewrite?
PL: The rewrite makes the existing law much clearer. The sound levels remain the same, generally a 75 decibel level in business areas and 65 decibel level in residential areas. The quieter time remains the same, from midnight to 7 a.m., noisy cars are clearly covered and the police have more direction. The law hasn’t changed much; it is just easier to follow and enforce.
e: Do you have new ideas in approaching our water crisis and other environmental concerns our residents face?
PL: We need cleaner water. I offered the first anti-Genx/PFAS resolution and the resolution opposing lowering the Cape Fear River to a “swampwater” classification, both of which council adopted unanimously.
We also need to worry about the quantity of water available. Pender County had a scare on a hot day when its water reserves ran very low. We need connectivity for emergencies and a better understanding of how much water is needed when the system is stressed.
e: Any ideas on how the city should help combat climate change in our coastal town?
PL: Wilmington is particularly susceptible to sea-level rise, as much of the city is just a few feet above sea level and its highest areas are only 35-to-40-feet above sea level. New construction near the water needs to consider elevating the land in anticipation of higher water levels and the indirect effects, such as more storm surges.
We need Washington to act.
e: Act how exactly?
PL: Global warming, climate change, sea level rise—whatever you want to call it—is real. Washington needs to recognize this and identify policies that will help.
Locally, we can look at the fuels in city vehicles, strategies to reduce time sitting in traffic and other practices that will reduce our local impact on warming. Part of the solution will involve removing carbon that’s already emitted. The university should consider whether it has opportunities in the research area.
e: Where do you stand on tax incentives, say, for historic property renovation?
PL: I support the state’s historic tax credits. The historic areas add tremendously to the charm of the city and serve as a point of appeal for tourism.
We also need to bring back the film credits. Film supports a large number of middle class jobs, as well as adding to the area’s charm.
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?
PL: Wilmingtonians benefit by being represented by all six council members and their mayor. They can, and do, call on all of us with their concerns. That means council members have to pay attention to the needs of all parts of the city. Social media is a great help here. I learn about a great variety of concerns that way. Let council know when you see a problem, email all seven with email@example.com.
Have follow-up questions for Paul Lawler? Be sure to leave a comment on the online article or email him directly to firstname.lastname@example.org 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.