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INDY Week columnist Bob Geary's Raleigh news & politics blog

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wishing Harold Webb a speedy recovery

Posted by on Wed, Sep 30, 2009 at 12:22 AM

Wake Commissioners Chair Harold Webb was taken to Rex Hospital Tuesday afternoon after suffering a stroke, according to WRAL.

(Update: Rex reported Webb in serious condition on Wednesday morning -- but not critical, fortunately.)

The former Tuskegee airman's always been one fit man -- and as nice a guy as I've met.

Here's hoping we see him back in top form soon.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mary-Ann Baldwin takes China tour with campaign cash; McFarlane pays own way

Posted by on Tue, Sep 29, 2009 at 8:47 AM

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The Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and a tour company named Citslinc International have put together one sweet sightseeing deal this fall -- a 9-day trip "to experience the wonders of China" for just $1,999. (Non-chamber members pay $100 more.)

Among the 300 folks signed up so far: Raleigh City Councilors Mary-Ann Baldwin and Nancy McFarlane. McFarlane says she's paying her own way because it's sightseeing. Baldwin, though, says it's an economic development trip, and she's paying for it with contributors' money from her campaign account, including a $1,799 check to the Chamber reported on her most recent campaign finance report. (See below the fold.)

McFarlane, the District A (North Raleigh) member, is running unopposed for re-election. But Baldwin isn't. She's in a four-way contest (Russ Stephenson is the other incumbent) for the two at-large Council seats. And one of her at-large challengers, Lee Sartain, thinks Baldwin should be paying her own way too. "It's sight-seeing," he said to us, "not an economic development trip."

Baldwin disagrees. "This is an economic development trip sponsored by the Chamber to promote Raleigh as a great city in which to invest, hire, and do business, so of course it is related to my Council duties," she said in a written response to our question. She continued:

"I believe that all members of the Council were invited to participate. As the trip is related to my duties as an officeholder, it is a permissible campaign expense pursuant to N.C.G.S § 163-278.16B(2)."

The relevant law on how campaign funds can be used is broad (though not as broad as ex-Rep. Ty Harrell wanted it to be when he was buying dinners for a woman who is neither a campaign aide nor his wife). But basically it says you can spend contributed funds for campaign expenses (touring China? probably not allowed in a Raleigh council race) or on expenditures "resulting from holding office." That's what Baldwin is saying: This trip to see the sights in China "results" from -- helps her carry out, in other words -- her official duties.

We posted the text of the statute below.

According to the Chamber, no other Council members are taking the trip. The brochure for it makes clear that it is for sight-seeing, including excursions to the Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall, the National Embroidery Institute and so on. It didn't seem like there was any economic development outreach to it -- McFarlane didn't think so, anyway.

You can look at the brochure here:  http://www.raleighchamber.org/files/2009_chinatrip_broch.pdf.

Folks are going in three waves. The first two leave October 24 and 25; the third goes November 12. There are still some slots available for the third one. Don't know if Baldwin's confident enough of re-election to have signed up for an October departure. If the October 6 race results in a runofff, she might need to be here then.

The law on campaign spending is below the fold, along with Baldwin's disclosure.

Continue reading…

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Monday, September 28, 2009

There he goes again: "Positive voice" Van Dyk attacks Crowder

Posted by on Mon, Sep 28, 2009 at 10:04 AM

District D challenger Ted Van Dyk, running as "A Positive Voice for Raleigh," went the negative route again over the weekend with an attack postcard aimed at, of all things, incumbent Councilor Thomas Crowder's good work with neighborhood leaders on the comprehensive plan.

Think of it as a kind of minor-league Swift Boating, where you try to undermine your opponent's strength (John Kerry's Vietnam service) by hinting darkly that if we only knew more about it, it woudn't be a strength.

So Crowder meets once a month with neighborhood folks, mostly (but not exclusively) neighborhood association and CAC leaders?

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This is a good, small-d democracy thing that Crowder, a few years ago, dubbed the District D Neighborhood Alliance (DDNA). But in Van Dyk's telling, DDNA meetings are "invite-only"  (untrue; everyone is invited), with the false implication -- via pictures of a guy with his finger to his lips and another of a blurry "meeting" obviously intended to look like it was taken with a hidden camera -- that they are somehow a big secret.

A secret? Crowder's fellow council member Russ Stephenson burst out laughing when he heard that one. Because as Stephenson says, Crowder offers glowing accounts of the DDNA's activities from dawn to dusk and at every opportunity from a (televised) council session to a chance conversation on a street corner. No audience too big or small, in other words.

It's to the point, Stephenson joked, that he's a little tired of hearing about the vaunted DDNA.

Then there's the caption on the blurry-meeting photo: "Last-Minute Changes." Crowder, the postcard insinuates, "brought forward over 50 changes to the [comprehensive] plan, at the last minute, and after the public comment period was closed. Do you know what they are?"

Oooh, scary. Unless you understand that the public comment period closed in January, before the official public hearing in March that began the review process, which was wrapped up earlier this month. Last-minute changes? Well, there were a few, as there always are in these sorts of highly technical and detailed (380 pages worth) plans. But Crowder and the DDNA started work on the comp plan in January, held their own public forum in city council chambers in February -- big secret? -- and made a slew of recommendations that strengthened the plan in myriad ways.

What's the evidence of that statement? As Stephenson pointed out at a candidates debate last night, almost all of the DDNA's recommendations were incorporated into the plan, either by the planning department itself (which produced the initial draft unveiled in December), by the planning commission during its meetings in the spring and summer, or by the full Council when it reviewed a final draft in August and September.

Van Dyk got an earful from DDNA regulars at the debate, incidentally. Mary Belle Pate, the longtime chair of the Southwest CAC, was among them. She said the tradition of District D councilors meeting regularly with neighborhood leaders goes back to the '70s and the late (and highly esteemed) Councilor Miriam Block. "This is not some secret group," she told Van Dyk. "This is citizens."

To which Pate added a word of friendly advice: "A lot more people may understand what's going on than you realize, Ted."

The DDNA meets, fyi, on the third Saturday of every month at 8 am, usually in the community meeting room at the Whole Foods store on Wade Avenue. I'm not much for 8 am meetings, especially on Saturday, but I've been a few, and everyone is welcome. There's usually a speaker (the city manager, for example), and discussion of neighborhood concerns. Attendance varies from a dozen to 75, depending on the season and whether any issue is hot. There's also a DDNA listserv that anyone can join (link to it here) to get updates and meeting info, including minutes of past meetings.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

ACORN's eight N.C. staffers still working, but without pay, McCoy says

Posted by on Fri, Sep 25, 2009 at 12:08 AM

Our story this week about ACORN's work in North Carolina contrasted its tiny budget (in this state, between $400,000 and $450,000 a year, according to state director Pat McCoy) with the "crime of the century" treatment ACORN's national operations have been getting from Fox News, other media and the Republican Party. Today we learned that ACORN's eight N.C. employees -- that's right, this dangerous organization employs all of eight people in a state of 8 million -- have been working sans paychecks for about three weeks.

McCoy told us this afternoon that the cutoff began because private fundraising had fallen fallen short, with foundations and other givers continuing to hold back expected contributions while ACORN worked to strengthen internal accounting controls in the wake of the discovery last fall that a fiscal officer embezzled $950,000 from the national office a decade ago. At first, he thought the cutoff would be short-term; then the new scandal hit, with staffers in ACORN's Baltimore office caught on videotape in a conservative sting. You probably know the rest.

He's still working, McCoy said, as are the other seven employees, either full-time or part-time. "We're still very much working," he said. They don't know when, or if, they'll be paid again, McCoy acknowledged, but he expressed some hope that it won't be long. ACORN had already shut down operations in some other "red" states -- he mentioned South Carolina and Idaho -- where it tried unsuccessfully "and probably unwisely" to establish new chapters in recent years. They were big money drains, he said.

Elsewhere, ACORN may be paring operations, McCoy said, but he doesn't know of another state where all the staffers' pay was halted.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

And then there were nine Ty Harrell replacement wannabees -- so far.

Posted by on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 8:57 PM

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Wake Democratic Party Chair Jack Nichols updated us this evening on the list of folks interested in replacing ex-state Rep. Ty Harrell, who resigned his District 41 seat this week. There are nine thus far. They include, as we reported earlier, Cary Town Council member Gale Adcock and Chris Heagarty, the former director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education, who's now a third-year law student at N.C. Central. Also on the list: former state Sen. Linda Gunter, western Wake Dems activist Matt Danielson, and John Shaw, who's a leader in the Sierra Club and in WakeUP Wake County.

The choice of a replacement will be made by Democratic party officials, including precinct chairs and vice chairs, who live in District 41. They must act within 30 days. Nichols indicated that he's shooting for a selection meeting by October 17.

Whoever's picked will fill the remainder of Harrell's term and -- presumably -- try to hold the seat for the party in the 2010 elections.

Nichols' full list:

--  Gale Adcock, Cary Town Council member and a Nurse Practitioner with SAS;

-- Matthew Danielson, former Wake County Democratic Party Vice chair for Cary and a businessman;

-- Linda Gunter, former State Senator and Government Relations Specialist for the North Carolina Association of Educators;

-- Chris Heagarty, former director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education and a 3rd year law student

-- Christopher Headen, Executive Director of Durham Meals on Wheels;

--Steve Rao, Morrisville businessman who is Director, Business Development at Datacraft Solutions,

-- Janet Schanzenbach, lobbyist for mental health programs and rehabilitation facilities and current Precinct Vice-Chair

-- John Shaw, a retired electrical engineer, Democratic Party activist and current Precinct Vice-Chair;

-- Terry L. "Doc" Thorne, Democratic Party candidate for Cary District A

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Chris Mintz is an embezzler; he was Ty Harrell's '07 Democratic primary foe

Posted by on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 4:21 PM

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Chris Mintz, who worked as a financial advisor and broker's representative, pleaded guilty to a federal charge of embezzling more than $1 million from accounts he controlled for two elderly clients.

Mintz, you may recall, was the ex-pat Republican who ran against Ty Harrell in the 2006 Democratic primary for the District 41 House seat. Harrell won and went on to oust Republican incumbent Russell Capps in the fall election. Now Harrell's out -- forced to resign -- and Mintz is almost certainly headed for prison.

Sad. But at least in Mintz's case, not completely unforseen.

At 78, Capps is unlikely to attempt a comeback. And lord was he right-wing, from denying evolution to thinking that Hurricane Katrina was god's way of telling New Orleans to repent. (Come to think of it, if that was the case, why did the creator knock out Trent Lott's house in Mississippi?) But as far as we know -- and pleeze, lord, don't disabuse me of my last illusion -- ol' Russell never pilfered his campaign contributions to pay for a mistress, nor did he steal from granny's retirement funds. Three years later, he'll have to be forgiven if he's gloating in his iced tea.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Save us from a strong public option (or else we could lose our top-37 ranking)

Posted by on Tue, Sep 22, 2009 at 3:01 PM

From Funny or Die (Will Ferrell et al) and MoveOn.org, a plea on behalf of your friends in the health insurance industry:

And in case you missed it, here's that toe-tapping tune that toured the internets last week called "We're Number 37" -- something every American can enjoy:

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Ready, set ... It's go-time for Ty Harrell replacement wannabees

Posted by on Mon, Sep 21, 2009 at 10:15 PM

[image-1]The ink on Ty Harrell's resignation letter is barely dry, but Wake Democrats today were focused on finding a replacement for him who can hold his District 41 seat in the 2010 elections. As of about 5 p.m., Wake Democratic Chair Jack Nichols said he'd already fielded calls from five folks interested in being that replacement. "And I've heard other names," Nichols added.

Nichols said the five were all at the stage of "checking with spouses or bosses" about whether their hats should be in the ring, and he didn't want to name any names. So we're left with rank speculation. Based on a variety of gossip and some quick look-ups to see who actually lives in House District 41 (Northwest Raleigh, Morrisville and West Cary), I'm speculatin' about John Burns, a lawyer and party activist who helped Harrell win the seat in the first place. Morrisville Town Commissioner Linda Lyons and Cary Town Councilor Gale Adcock are other possibilities. (Update: Also Chris Heagarty, former head of the N.C. Center for Voter Education.)

The party's executive committee meets tomorrow (Tuesday) night in Garner -- 6 pm at the Garner Auditorium, West Garner Street) -- by which time the pot will surely be boiling.

Whoever gets the nod, Nichols said, will have to start campaigning for "re"-election almost immediately. Even before Harrell stepped down, District 41 was a ripe target for Republicans desperate to gain some leverage in the General Assembly over the post-2010 legislative reapportionment, which will establish district lines for the next 10 years. If the GOP can win the House or Senate, they'll have some say over where the lines go. If they don't, but come close, deals are possible. But if they don't -- and with a Democrat in the Governor's Mansion -- they'll be at the mercy of the Dems.

How does reapportionment work? Basically, the majority party (Dems) packa the other party (Repubs) into as few districts as possible, while maximizing the number it can win with comfortable, but not overwhelming margins. The current legislative maps, drawn up after the 2000 census, are the product of such Democratic gerrymandering, which is why -- in a state that splits about 50-50 between the two parties -- the Democrats have maintained comfortable majorities in both houses since 2002.

In that sense, District 41 is an outlier. It was drawn up as a Republican district, but former Rep. Russell Capps was a little too right-wing even for Republican tastes, and he lost it in 2006 to Harrell. Harrell held it in '08, a huge year for the Dems, but at best it's a swing district for them. Hence the need for the strongest possible replacement.

This is the third time Wake Dems have needed to fill a legislative seat in recent months. Sen. Vernon Malone's death created a vacancy that Rep. Dan Blue was chosen to fill, then Rosa Gill -- a longtime school board member -- was picked to take Blue's seat. The process is therefore familiar: Chairs and vice chairs from the precincts in District 41 get a vote, plus any other elected Democratic officials who live in the district, including any state or national Democratic committee members. The total number of voters is likely to be in the dozens, but well under 100 -- Nichols was working on a list when we talked.

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Future of Five Points area is the subject of city charrette on Saturday

Posted by on Mon, Sep 21, 2009 at 5:45 PM

[image-1]City staffers will no doubt be armed with colored dots and paper rolls -- the stuff of your basic planning charrette.

Be there or be unaware of what's coming next around the key Five Points intersection.

Do RSVP, y'all.

Details from the city are below:

CITY OF RALEIGH TO HOST CHARRETTE

FOR FIVE POINTS AREA ON SATURDAY

At the request of business owners in the Five Points area, the Raleigh Department of City Planning and the City’s Public Works Department will host a charrette on Saturday, Sept. 26 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Our Savior Lutheran Church, 1500 Glenwood Ave. The purpose of the charrette is to develop a strategic vision for the commercial area in the vicinity of the Five Points intersection. There will be introductions and a brief discussion of the Five Points area followed by a site visit. Participants will then return to the church for additional discussion about the area’s strengths and weaknesses and possible strategies.

City of Raleigh staff will provide background information, including maps, applicable regulations and plans, and supplies for the charrette.

Following is a draft vision statement for the Five Points area: “To create a vibrant “village center” experience that is pedestrian friendly, safe and attractive. The village center should be a special destination with unifying design features; a pleasant streetscape; ample parking for shoppers; and public spaces, wider sidewalks and safe crossings for pedestrians. The area would serve as a commercial destination that is an asset to the community, with special consideration given to pedestrian routes to and from the surrounding neighborhoods.”

For a map and directions to Our Savior Lutheran Church, go to http://www.oslcraleigh.org/LocationMap.htm.

For additional information, contact Carter Pettibone with the Raleigh Department of City Planning at 807-8482. Participants are asked to RSVP to carter.pettibone@ci.raleigh.nc.us by Thursday, Sept. 24.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ty Harrell resigns his House seat

Posted by on Sun, Sep 20, 2009 at 10:07 PM

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Meteoric rise. Knocked off Russell Capps and his future was all in from of him ... but clearly he went at things too fast. Like my dad used to say, pride goes before the fall.

His resignation, though, gives Democrats a chance to appoint someone who may be able to hold onto this seat in the swing 41st District. The district map is below. Harrell's replacement must live in it when he/she is sworn in. Selection is by elected Democrats, including precinct chairs and vice chairs, who live in the district.

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