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Raleigh

22
You had to be here in the 1950s to appreciate how much Raleigh and Wake County have changed on the way to one million people. And, to this old-timer, it’s a much better place today.
 
We were poor, provincial, rural and racist to the core. Today we’re affluent, global in outlook, urban and suburban, and a much more tolerant place for all races, backgrounds and lifestyles.
 
It didn’t just happen. Some people – like my friends (and heroes) Tom Bradshaw, Wade Smith, Terry Sanford, Jim Hunt, John Winters and many, many others – made tough decisions that weren’t popular. But look where they got us. Ask yourself whether today’s leaders have the same combination of drive, vision and sheer guts.
 
When people hear I grew up in Raleigh, they often ask: “Inside or Outside the Beltline?” Well, I’m not OTB or ITB; I’m PB (pre-Beltline).
 
Before I started school, we lived in a new development called Northside, because it was on the northern edge of town. Today it’s the area around J.Y. Joyner School, near the car dealerships and fast-food shops along Wake Forest Road. We played in the woods around Crabtree Creek. It was nothing but country.
 
When we moved to west Raleigh, I went to Lacy School. It was a Raleigh City School even though it was outside the city limits, which ran along Brooks Avenue down the hill from our house. Wade Avenue ended at Dixie Trail. Just ended. You took Highway 70 to Durham and points west.
 
There was no North Hills, no Crabtree Valley. The only thing the same is that downtown is (again) booming. Back then, the only places to go shopping or to movies was downtown or Cameron Village.
 
Raleigh was smaller than Durham. But when RTP caught on, our city fathers had the sense to build middle-class neighborhoods to attract the new transplants. (We joked that it was called North Hills because everybody living there was from the North.) Then local leaders had the sense to merge the city and county schools and build the kind of schools that smart people coming to RTP wanted for their kids. Raleigh boomed, and Durham fell behind.
 
Of the numbers used by the N&O to show how much we’ve changed since 1960, perhaps the most striking is this: Then, of adults 25 and over, 12.7 percent had bachelor’s degrees. Today it’s 47.6 percent.
 
Then we were 74 percent white. Today it’s just over 61 percent. Then our rural population was almost 37 percent. Today it’s 6 percent.
 
Yes, this place is busier, more crowded and sometimes more maddening than it was then. A lot of people I grew up with will shake their heads and say, “It’s just not like it used to be here.”
 
They say that like it’s a bad thing.

 

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13
Rob Christensen’s column about Tom Bradshaw accurately captures one of the most remarkable people I’ve met through 44 years in newspapers and politics.
 
My first encounter with Bradshaw was much like Christensen’s. Tom was the “boy mayor” of Raleigh, and I was a cub reporter at The N&O. City government was my beat, just as it was Rob’s later; that’s where new reporters started. I was assigned to write a Tar Heel of the Week profile on Tom. And I first experienced the hurricane of energy, intensity and enthusiasm that Tom still brings to life and work.
 
Bradshaw is like a hero out of a Horatio Alger story: an underprivileged kid who worked his way to the top in business, government and civic life – yet never forgot where he came from and how other people deserved the same opportunities to succeed.
 
Rob’s portrait of Tom is spot-on. He also asks the question Tom gets every day: Why do this at this point in your life?
 
Good question, and Tom has a good answer. Read Rob’s column and go to Tom’s website to learn more - and to help him.

 

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12
My first thought when I read that The News & Observer is 120 years old was, “Holy cow, that’s old.” My second thought was, “Hold the coffee, I’ve been reading the paper for HALF ITS LIFE!”
 
My dad moved to Raleigh to work in the N&O composing room when I was a year old. It’s a morning paper, so he worked nights, often getting home near or after midnight. I liked waiting up for him, or waking up when he got home. The newspaper that he brought home literally hot off the presses, with ink that came off in your hands, was probably one of the first things I read as a boy. It was neat to read the news hours before everybody else did.
 
Fifty years ago next summer, I went to work in the N&O newsroom as a teenaged copyboy. I spent 10 years working there, until I joined Jim Hunt’s first campaign for Governor. I learned to write fast and short; to edit copy, lay out pages and write headlines; to cover politicians and bureaucrats. I learned to, as my mentor Bob Brooks told me, “ask ‘em the hard questions.”
 
(I remember when the news about the Jeffrey MacDonald family murders broke. When told that MacDonald claimed it was a gang of hippies, Brooks said gruffly, “He did it. It’s always the husband.”)
 
In that decade I was lucky to work with two generations of remarkable writers, reporters, editors and publishers, some living today, some gone: Pat Stith, Roy Parker Jr., Claude Sitton, Ferrel Guillory, Florence King, David Zucchino, Leslie Wayne, Jack Aulis, Rick Nichols, Peggy Payne, Al May, Woodrow Price, Grady Jefferys, Karen Tam, John Coit, Charlie and Russell Clay, Rob Christensen, Frank Daniels Jr., Sam Ragan, on and on.
 
The talent pool today is just as deep, even if the ranks have thinned. Today, as always, I can read the N&O and know that smart people who aren’t easily fooled are driving to get to the truth of things.
 
It helps, surely, that I like the paper’s editorial stands. If the editorials reeked of Fox News, my blood pressure would probably be as high every morning as the Republicans and conservatives who get apoplectic about it.
 
It has been a good and faithful friend for all these long years. I wish it many more. I’d hate the thought of a morning – or a world – without The News & Observer.

 

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05
A year ago I didn’t know anything about food deserts and food insecurity. I’ve learned, thanks to my dedicated young friends at the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation and at the Interfaith Food Shuttle – and WRAL’s eye-opening special HungerFreeNC.
 
A big problem right here in Raleigh is that low-income families don’t have access to grocery stores and can’t get healthy foods, fresh fruits and vegetables.
 
Now there’s a ray of hope in Southeast Raleigh. And it comes from none other than the Prince of Darkness himself, Art Pope.
 
Pope’s Variety Wholesalers bought a shut-down Kroger property on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Southeast Raleigh. Pope says the space will have a Roses store and a separate grocery, something community leaders have wanted since the Kroger closed last year.
 
“It is a way to serve our community,” Pope said.
 
So here’s a tip of the TAP hat to Art.
 
Which leads to what may be a foolishly hopeful thought. Suppose Pope and some of the young (or not-so-young) activists on food issues were to sit down together. Maybe break bread downtown at Van Nolintha’s Bida Manda or at one of Ashley Christensen’s great restaurants. And talk about how they might somehow work together on this problem.
 
No doubt some of my progressive Democratic friends will have heart lock at the very thought. But I’m reminded of the Baptist minister who was a dedicated opponent of the state lottery. Then a member of his congregation won $1 million in the lottery and said he would give a tenth of his winnings to the church. A pious worshipper asked the minister if he would take the tainted money.
 
He replied, “Indeed I will. That money has done the work of the Devil long enough. It’s time it did the work of the Lord.”
 
Amen, brother.

 

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31
Shades of John Edwards and “Two Americas!” The state Senate seemed to channel the former Senator in the debate over how to help the state’s stagnating rural areas keep up with booming urban areas.
 
One Senator said we need to “level the playing field.”
 
There is a political angle to this, of course. Republicans tend to live in rural areas and Democrats tend to live in urban areas. This is not a trend Republicans want to see go on. It is a serious threat to their majority.
 
Beyond the politics lies a serious policy issue. Since the 1960s, as we moved from an economy built on farms and small factories to an economic built on science and technology, North Carolinians have tried to arrest the decline of rural areas. We’ve had Rural Economic Development Centers, Rural Prosperity Task Forces and a host of rural economic initiatives.
 
Notwithstanding all these studies and policy recommendations, people keep moving away from rural areas in droves and cities like Raleigh keep booming.
 
So the theory seems to be that, if the legislature makes it harder for cities to raise revenue to pay for both schools and transit, Company A will decide to locate in Onslow County rather than Wake County. Or will Company A instead go to Austin, Texas?
 
Recently Governor McCrory has announced a slew new companies coming to the state. Many of them are in Charlotte, where he and Speaker Tillis are from. That’s one of their differences with Senator Berger, a product of small-town North Carolina.
 
The unavoidable issue here is that bright young people today like urban living. They want to walk to work, stop a coffeehouse on the way and then meet their friends after hours in a downtown bar or restaurant. See downtown Raleigh any day after 5 p.m. 
 
Now, you might think that free-market conservatives would say this is the Invisible Hand at work and government shouldn’t interfere. But sometimes in politics you have to rise above principle.

 

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09
It is a well-known fact that the not-so-great state of South Carolina has only two things going for it: the coast and the city of Charleston.
 
The coast is there by the grace of God and the gifts of nature. But it turns out that much of what makes Charleston a great place – the arts, the historic preservation, the restaurants – is there thanks in part to a liberal Democrat who has been Mayor for nearly 40 years.
 
A New York Times column Sunday about Mayor Joe Riley called him “America’s Best-Loved Mayor.” He pushed for the Spoleto arts festival as a way of making the city aim higher, and he sees the arts as vital to a great city. He has concentrated on concrete accomplishments: public safety, parks, housing and the beauty and vibrancy of the city’s historic streets.
 
Most amazing, he stayed in office in South Carolina’s rabidly red-hot Republican politics despite being an early supporter of a Martin Luther King holiday, hiring a black police chief in 1982 and leading a five-day, 120-mile march to Columbia calling for removal of the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol in 2000.
 
Maybe it’s that Riley is accessible and personable. Maybe it’s that he’s Old Charleston; he looks like we walked right out of the famous (and famously expensive) Ben Silver men’s store downtown.
 
Maybe it’s that some cities – like Raleigh with Mayors Meeker and McFarlane – take to progressive mayors who push policies that attract bright, creative people who transform the quality of life downtown. And maybe that’s a sign that government can work.

 

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25
You couldn’t design a more perfect Democratic candidate for Wake County in 2014 than Sarah Crawford. Proven success in a professional career and in community service – check. Attended public schools and college here – check. Young mother with children in public schools – check. Energy, smarts, savvy and a fiendishly hard worker – check, check, check and check.
 
Crawford is as in tune with her district (Senate 18 – Franklin and eastern Wake) as incumbent Chad Barefoot is out. Barefoot’s anti-education, party-line voting record in an unpopular legislature is poison in a moderate swing district.
 
The NC Free Enterprise Foundation rates the race as one of the three most competitive Senate seats this year. Crawford will give Barefoot fits.
 
I admit to bias, but only because I’ve seen Crawford at work. We met a year ago, when we were thrown together in a fast-moving effort to launch the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation. Crawford,, who works in nonprofit development and public relations, was one of the main fundraisers, and she was a major reason the foundation raised more than $200,000 in just six months.
 
Sarah is one of the all-star candidates in Wake County who could ignite a Democratic comeback this year. The others are Gale Adcock (House 41), Kim Hanchette (House 49) and former Mayor Tom Bradshaw (Senate 15).
 
As John (Locke) Hood noted in his column a while back, “for Democrats, Wake County is probably their best potential investment of time and resources in 2014….Democrats have gotten their Wake-up call.”
 

 

 

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19
Maybe it’ll be Charles Meeker. Or Nancy McFarlane. Or one of their successors. Whoever, a mayor of Raleigh will be Governor. And soon.
 
The Raleigh media market is huge, reaching maybe as much as 40 percent of the Democratic primary vote and close to a third of the general election vote.  A mayor who has been visible and successful has a running start.
 
And, mayors can have an image of getting positive things done in a nonpartisan way in what is otherwise a toxic political environment. Meeker can point to the rebirth of Raleigh’s downtown, plus its growth and attractiveness for jobs, investments and new businesses.
 
That contrasts sharply with most of today’s governments, which either don’t work (Washington) or work in a way that angers half the voters (North Carolina).
 
Pat McCrory parlayed being mayor of Charlotte into a can-do image that elected him Governor. Now, of course, he is busy belying that image. But he overcame the “Charlotte myth” – that a Charlotte mayor couldn’t be elected Governor.  Raleigh won’t be far behind. It’s inevitable.
 
As North Carolina becomes a more urbanized state, we will no looker look to rural areas and small towns and cities for our governors, the way we did for generations.
 
You can be sure of one thing Meeker heard on his “listening tour” of the state. People are bound to have said, we’re tired of what politics has become. We want somebody with a quieter, less polarizing voice, a proven leader who can get things done.
 
Now, that’s easier to do in city hall than in the Capitol. But it may be enough to get you to the Capitol.

 

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12
A TAPster reports seeing a State Capitol Police car equipped with a radar gun – miles away from any state government building.
 
Inquiring minds want to know:  Why does the State Capitol Police need a radar gun in one of their cruisers? What possible explanation can there be? Are school children running too fast across the Capitol grounds? Are lawyers heading to the Supreme Court building at a reckless pace? Are the pigeons flying at unsafe speeds? Why do they even need a cruiser, for goodness sakes?

And how many classroom supplies could be purchased for the cost of a wasteful radar gun?

 

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20
John Drescher down at the News and Observer hit the nail on the head last week when he wrote:  ‘Steve Beam needs a boss.’
 
What’s happened to Mr. Beam (the Director of the Raleigh Housing Authority) isn’t unusual. He’s got a government job and a political board with political goals.  No one spends his own money. No one pays for his mistakes.  Instead the bills land on the taxpayers’ doorstep.
 
That’s one glitch.  Here’s another:  After over a decade in office, like Billy Ray Hall of the Rural Center, Mr. Beam runs his board – it doesn’t run him.  He takes eleven weeks of vacation a year – which is more than Mr. Hall.  State auditors reported to Hall’s board that his $221,000 salary was ‘unreasonable’ – Mr. Beam makes $280,000 and his board thinks that imminently reasonable.
 
John Drescher’s point is simple:  Mr. Beam needs a boss – and he suggests Beam’s boss ought to be Raleigh’s City Manager.
 
That would be a step in the right direction. But it may come up a bit short.  So why not get the question out of the hands of the bureaucrats and politicians entirely.  And put it to a vote.  Let’s hold a simple referendum on the ballot this fall and let voters decide: Should Raleigh’s Housing Authority Director earn $280,000 a year and receive eleven weeks vacation?
 
That should settle it.

 

 

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Carter & Gary
 
Carter Wrenn
 
 
Gary Pearce
 
 
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
 
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
 
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
 
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
 
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
 
 
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