Black business owners quiz candidates
By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 7, 2008 1:46 PM
Delores Kennedy moderates Monday night's candidate forum at St. James African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church on South George Street and sponsored by the Black Business Owners, Professionals and Entrepreneurs, the NAACP and the church. Twenty-four state and local candidates participated.
Each of the 24 candidates appearing at Monday night's political forum had nearly equal time to speak, but the evening wasn't without a bit of controversy.
It began when District 8B Superior Court judge candidate Arnold Jones II was interrupted by the moderator, Delores Kennedy, while giving his opening remarks.
Responding to incumbent Judge Jerry Braswell's contention that Wayne County is ranked No. 1 in the state in the disposition of criminal cases, Ms. Kennedy said that Jones was rebutting a comment made by his opponent, whom he had addressed by name -- something she explained they "weren't going to do."
Later, however, Jones explained that his point had simply been that as of the end of August, District 8B, which includes Wayne, is actually behind District 8A in the disposition of both criminal and civil cases according to statistics from the North Carolina Court System.
But that wasn't the only question raised about the forum, which was held at St. James African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church on South George Street and sponsored by the church, the Black Business Owners, Professionals and Entrepreneurs and the NAACP.
Several audience members complained afterward that their questions, which had to be submitted in writing, were not put to the candidates.
"I am indeed," said Willie Battle when asked if he was disappointed the questions didn't probe more deeply into specific details about candidates' platforms and qualifications. "There weren't quite enough questions."
In particular, he said he would have liked to have asked the judicial and county commission candidates about young men wearing baggy pants, and whether that should be outlawed.
But, explained organizer Loo Oates, chairman and founder of the Black Business Owners, Professionals and Entrepreneurs, the problem was that there were simply too many questions to ask in the two-and-a-half hour long session.
Of the 35 submitted, only five were asked.
"We would have liked to have asked 10, but we had a huge amount of questions and we couldn't answer all of them," he said.
He also noted that several were submitted by people known to work on the various candidates' campaigns.
"And that's not what we're about," he added. "We're not here to support one candidate. We're non-partisan."
However, through the questions that were asked, and the opening and closing statements each candidate was allowed to make, most audience members, like Willie Shirley, said they "learned a lot."
Among the most popular of topics were education and the need for further economic development.
Generally, those county commission candidates challenging for a seat said there needed to be better cooperation with the school board, while the incumbents defended their relationships.
In terms of economic development, one question put to the candidates asked what they thought about the current state of Wayne County's economy and how it could be improved.
Republican District 6 candidate Joe Daughtery led off the answering, stressing the need for more planning, and the need for an inland port -- a popular answer among many local and state candidates given Wayne County's access to rail and interstate and its proximity to the seaports.
"There's no plan in the county to bring jobs here," he said. "We have the base, but we need to have an economic engine in the private sector.
"(Right now) we're hoping beyond hope that an industry will reach into a pot and just pick Wayne County."
Republican District 3 candidate Frank Pearsall noted that while Wayne County's economy isn't too bad -- "we're in better shape than a lot of surrounding counties" -- he, too, believes in the promise of an inland port.
His opponent, Democrat incumbent John Bell, discussed the amount of competition between counties and states that exists for new industry, but emphasized that the county has a plan for economic development, noting that the Wayne County Development Alliance president just won the state's economic developer of the year award.
Democrat at-large candidate Sandra McCullen extended the compliment paid by AT&T to Wayne County's work force when it opened its new call center, but also said that more attention needs to be paid to small businesses, as well as to other opportunities, such as tourism and bio-technology.
To her opponent Republican Hal Keck, however, the key is improving infrastructure, such as the U.S. 70 corridor.
However, he was the only candidate to comment on the slump the county currently is in, with unemployment at 6.7 percent.
"We've got something going on in the county many of us are unaware of," he said, including rampant under-employment, where people are either working part time or at salaries less than they are qualified for.
In District 4, Republican Steve Keen advocated more land use planning, while Democrat Denny Tart stressed the importance of work force development, explaining that it is what businesses look at most closely when picking locations.
And finally, Democrat District 5 incumbent Bud Gray highlighted the recent number of jobs added -- nearly 800 the last four years -- over those lost, while Republican Willie Ray Starling called for less restrictive zoning and fewer government regulations to allow for more small business growth.
Attending the forum were Republican Louis Pate and Democrat Don Davis, state Senate District 5; Democrat Van Braxton and Republican Stephen LaRoque, state House District 10; Democrat Kay Carroll, state Senate District 12; Republican Efton Sager and Democrat Ronnie Griffin, state House District 11; Republican Frank Pearsall and Democrat John Bell, county commission District 3; Democrat Denny Tart and Republican Steve Keen, county commission District 4; Democrat Bud Gray and Republican Willie Ray Starling, county commission District 5; Republican Joe Daughtery, county commission District 6; Democrat Sandra McCullen and Republican Hal Keck, county commission at-large; Eddie Radford and Ven Faulk, non-partisan school board at-large; Thelma Smith and Charles Wright Sr., non-partisan school board District 3; Charles P. Gaylor and Chris Rogerson, non-partisan District 8 District Court judge; Jerry Braswell and Arnold Jones II, non-partisan District 8B Superior Court judge.
Also in the audience were several candidates running unopposed, including Democrat J.D. Evans, county commission District 2; Shirley Sims, non-partisan school board District 2; and Democrat Lois Mooring, county register of deeds.
Democrat Jack Best, county commission District 6, also was in the audience, but did not participate in the forum despite having opposition who did.
"I didn't have anything to say," he said as he was leaving, adding that he arrived late -- just like Gray who did participate -- because of an earlier commitment.
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