November elections are just around the corner and there are nine candidates vying for Wilmington City Council seats. encore reached out to each candidate to learn more about their reasons for running and their stance on local issues from short-term rentals and economic development, to public health and environmental preservation.
Meet James A. Ray, candidate for Wilmington City Council.
encore (e): If you could give Wilmington City Council a letter grade for performance, what would it be and why?
James A. Ray (JAR): C.
The city is functioning. However, we have too little dissent on the city council. Many issues facing the city are complex and yet most proposals are passed unanimously. Input from citizens seems to be invited only after council members have made up their minds. Because of HB1083, the citizens have no recourse. Council needs to communicate better with the citizens of Wilmington and to listen better to citizen concerns. A prime example of this is the Water Street Deck/River Place Project.
e: Why run for Wilmington City Council now?
JAR: I have observed that there is a history and current system of distrust between the citizens of Wilmington and local government. I want to solve this problem from a perspective grounded in the principles of truth, honesty and trust. We need to be open and honest about the historical and current problems in our city. We need to share solutions that will help this city heal and grow. We need to make sacrifices that can unite each other, therefore increasing trust among Wilmingtonians.
e: What issues are most important to you and why?
JAR: I would say living wages/affordable housing, distrust of local law enforcement and the opioid epidemic. Wages must be addressed by creating incentives for clean, modern companies to invest in Wilmington, and by increasing opportunities for technical and trade education. Distrust between the citizens and law enforcement must be addressed by more community policing, and greater positive involvement by the police in our communities where the most problems occur. For the opioid problem, I believe that a medical treatment based solution is the only way out. We cannot arrest our way out of this.
e: What is your position on short-term rentals and B&Bs in historic downtown Wilmington?
JAR: This is a complex issue which requires a complex solution. The council has the responsibility to protect the integrity of our historic neighborhoods and the freedoms of individual property owners and I believe that we can do both.
First, we must use existing noise, parking and building code ordinances (and perhaps enhance them) to ensure that our historic district remains a beautiful, tranquil place to live and visit. Next we must enact some zoning restrictions to ensure that we are not overrun by short-term rental properties, owned by corporations or long-distant owners who’s best interests may not be maintaining the integrity of our historic neighborhoods. I propose that we limit both the density of short term rental properties and the number of properties that a single individual may own. I also propose that corporate ownership of short-term rental properties and ownership of such properties by individuals who do not live in the Wilmington area be prohibited.
e: What about public transit, such as better bus systems, trains and/or addition of bike lanes across ILM?
JAR: Wilmington has the potential to be a great pedestrian city. To reach this vision we need expanded public transportation, including park and ride programs. We need more biking and walking paths and we need these paths to not just be recreational paths; we need to connect neighborhoods to business centers and to the University so that people can bike and walk to work, school, and shopping.
e: Per GenX, how is Wilmington City Council excelling in leadership throughout this ongoing crisis and how are they lacking?
JAR: Unfortunately the council has little power to directly address the GenX issue. But certain members of the council have fallen into the trap set by the NCGA of politicizing the issue. Council must support the governor’s initiatives to fund regulators and hold polluters accountable.
e: If elected, what actions would you take or pursue to help our community move forward from this issue?
JAR: We must use the influence of our city government to support the efforts of the governor, our state representatives, and state regulatory bodies to promote regulation of what is discharged into our river and clean-up of dangerous discharges. We must also explore legal recourse against any private industry that pollutes our environment.
e: Oil exploration continues to be pushed by some state leaders—where do you stand on this issue and what is Wilmington City Council’s role in protecting our community’s most vital environmental and economic resource?
JAR: The city council has no direct power in this issue, but city leaders must impress upon state legislators the importance of a pristine environment in our city. Drilling off our coast will be devastating to the beauty of our beaches, to the wildlife in our area, and to the economy of our city and region.
e: Are there community nonprofits, groups or other organizations Wilmington City Council could or should be working with in order to tackle some of the major issues our city faces today (opioid epidemic, GenX, clean air/water, etc)? If so, who and why?
JAR: One of the major problems that this city faces is that the city council is failing to sufficiently communicate and listen to input from the community. Working with nonprofits and community groups is vital to correcting this. Cape Fear Coalition for a Drug Free Tomorrow, Coastal Horizons, Cape Fear River Watch, Surfriders, NHC NAACP, Support the Port, Black Lives Matter, Advance Youth Outreach, Cape Fear Equality, Cape Fear Housing Coalition, YWCA, Working Narratives, and many, many more. We have a vibrant community with ideas and resources for solutions to the challenges that our city faces if we will just work with them to address the problems.