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

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Top 10 list at the Raleigh election forums: No. 10 --

Posted by on Tue, Sep 15, 2009 at 3:37 PM

LWVs/WakeUP Wake County forum
  • LWVs/WakeUP Wake County forum

WakeUP Wake County and the League of Women Voters combined to put on a candidates forum Thursday -- City Council candidates only. Last night, the four mayoral candidates joined in at the University Park Homeowner Association's forum.  Goodness, these were genteel events. Everyone there was so nice. (No Joe Wilsons.) But not everyone was there.

Top 10 things said and heard:

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Carolina Rollergirls bounce back to take 5th place in Eastern regional

Posted by on Tue, Sep 15, 2009 at 12:34 PM

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(Cross-posted from Triangle Offense.)

Your (our) Carolina Rollergirls put on a great show this weekend, playing host to the Women's Flat Track Derby Association's Eastern Regional tournament at Dorton Arena in Raleigh. The home team, unfortunately, was upset in the opening round Friday night by Boston, which cost them any chance to advance to the nationals in November. They bounced back Saturday to drub the team from Virginia, and on Sunday grabbed 5th place (out of 10 teams) with a convincing win over the Providence, Rhode Island club.

"What happened Friday was a big surprise to us," said Pink Slip, the skater a.k.a. Laura Slipsky, a Raleigh graphic designer. "After that, I think we all realized we had to pull together and do what we always do -- do what we practice -- and play our own game."

Boston, meanwhile, proved to be the cinderella team of the tournament. The Derby Dames upset Charm City (Baltimore) to finish third, behind Philadelphia and New York -- top three advance to the nationals, scheduled for November in Philly. (Correction: An earlier version of this, based on my misreading of the WFTDA website, said Boston was the regional champion. h/t to Hydra.)

This was your correspondent's first time at an R'girls event -- the first time, actually, that I've seen roller derby since the olden days on New York TV, where the tracks were banked, the villains dirty, the stars clean as snow white, and it was all, ah, predetermined. (Fixed.) But there's nothing fake -- other than the skaters' names -- about these new flat-track events. The women still skate hard, and they battle for position as before, but the officiating -- at least in the two games I saw -- is excellent, which means you win based on speed, strength, strategy and effort. In other words, it's a helluva sport, fast and gritty, and it's a lot of fun to watch. Regular-season games at Dorton draw an average of 1,400 fans, I'm told.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Obama on the public option: We'll trigger it in four years unless ...

Posted by on Wed, Sep 9, 2009 at 10:51 PM

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One of the little-noted details of all the health care reform bills floating out of congressional committees everywhere is they don't take full effect until 2013. The state-level insurance exchanges -- basically, a list of the private insurance products available to small businesses and individuals, plus (perhaps) a public insurance "option" something like Medicare -- aren't slated to go into effect for four years.

The insurance industry reform aspects of the bill -- no excluding folks because they have pre-existing conditions, or over-charging them, or dropping them when they sick, or all the other vile ways insurance companies make a buck by avoiding their obligation to actually insure people -- would come first. So would the money to train more front-line doctors and nurses and to figure out better "standards of care" so that wasteful fee-for-service practices (i.e., the padding of health care bills) can be reined in.

So a little light went on in my head tonight listening to President Obama talk about the public option. He's committed to it or something like it, he said. He mentioned coops. He mentioned triggers. But the point is, he said, and then repeated himself, everybody deserves a choice of good, affordable insurance products wherever they live.

Well, doesn't that mean that the insurance industry has four years to figure out how to offer good, affordable insurance products in every state? And if it doesn't -- if one overpriced United Health or Blue Cross product continues to be a monopoly in Alabama or North Carolina, for example -- reform would then "trigger" the introduction of a public option in the aggrieved state(s)?

Four years to curb their costs, insure all comers, pay out when they should and stop with the blizzard of paperwork, and turn themselves into the health-care equivalent of a public utility, doing what the public wants but in a private, for-profit or nonprofit way. Actually, make it three years, because a public option will need a year or so to get off the ground.

Here's what Obama said:

[S]ome have suggested that that the public option go into effect only in those markets where insurance companies are not providing affordable policies. Others propose a co-op or another non-profit entity to administer the plan. These are all constructive ideas worth exploring. But I will not back down on the basic principle that if Americans can't find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice. And I will make sure that no government bureaucrat or insurance company bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need.

Think lovely thoughts, Congress. But just in case the bastards can't do it, do load the public option into your legislation and attach an easy-to-pull trigger. With a three-year deadline.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

1,000-plus at health care rally chant: Public option! Yes, we can!

Posted by on Thu, Sep 3, 2009 at 11:31 PM

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Excellent turnout in downtown Raleigh for the pro-health care reform rally put together by President Obama's Organizing for America bunch -- easily 1,000. (Update: DNC says 1,500, which I wouldn't dispute; I've copied their press release below the fold. Amazing how the local media just about ignored this event -- for the "why" on that, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne is worth reading.)  Interesting that they weren't all that cranked up by OFA Deputy Director Jeremy Bird the first time he spoke, nor by Congressman David Price, though they liked both. It wasn't until Rhonda Robinson, as she was winding up, declared "I'm for the public option, there's no other way," that people really started to get into it.  Dustin Bayard, the Raleigh ACORN leader, stoked the crowd when he handed Price a stack of petitions with a pro-public option message. Then Dana Cope, the SEANC leader (state employees association), ripped into Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC and its CEO Bob Greczyn's $4 million a year take-home ("and they are a nonprofit," Cope sneered), demanding: "We need a public option, and we don't want to compromise."

Cope got a huge response, prompting him to get even madder. "They are afraid," Cope snarled at Blue Cross, "they might go out of business if they have to compete with a public option? I say, pack 'em up, boys!"

The crowd roared its approval. "Let's keep the fight alive," Cope shouted, his voice at its breaking point, "and don't let those bloodsuckers take it away from us this time!"

Now the crowd was chanting, "Public option! Public option! as Bird came back for a wrap-up. "I thought no one out there was supporting health insurance reform," Bird tried gamely, referring to the idiot coverage of the health care debate on the cable news nets. But the crowd wasn't into the "insurance reform" meme. "Public option! Public option!" Almost everyone there was yelling it out.

Bird, jazzed that the crowd was jazzed -- and stepping up to the challenge of matching Cope's energy -- then went over President Obama's principles going into his scheduled address to Congress next Wednesday night, primetime, for all the marbles. First, "cutting costs," Bird said. Second, for those with insurance, "preserving and protecting choice." And third, for the 45 million Americans without insurance, "We are going to give you an option, including a public option!"

They were the magic words that the crowd needed to hear. As Bird wrapped it up -- no more insurance b-s about pre-existing conditions, or dropping your coverage because you're sick, and no more whopping co-pays and deductibles with your so-called insurance, 1,000 voices let loose with the trademark Obama blast: "Yes, We Can!" they chanted. And then, "Yes, We Will."

No doubt the President's team is polling all the issues of health care reform like crazy. But about one question, they should be in no doubt: The people who are most devoted to Obama, and to health care reform as a cause, want a public option as part of reform -- and think that if it isn't, if the President gives it up, it won't be reform at all.

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Brother, can you spare a dime for my Raleigh City Council campaign?

Posted by on Thu, Sep 3, 2009 at 2:36 PM

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Updated Friday, September 4 and again Tuesday, September 8.

Times are tough, I know. And yes, we all deplore the sway of big money in politics. But c'mon, if you can't raise any money from anybody, isn't that kind of an indication that you, uh, don't have any supporters? Either that or you're not very good at asking people for help -- which, money aside, is a bad trait in a public official.

And on that score, the early returns from our Raleigh City Council candidates, when I perused them yesterday, were pretty punk. Doesn't John Odom have any friends? I know he does, but they're not giving him anything. Lee Sartain? James West? Seriously, with early voting starting in two weeks, these guys ain't -- to quote my old football coach -- showin' me nothin'.

(Fyi, campaign fundraising and spending reports were due to be delivered or postmarked to the Wake Board of Elections Tuesday. On Wednesday, some had arrived, some hadn't. I'll check again today as time permits, but despite the fact that we are now nine years into the 21st century, these reports aren't available online. To see them, you have to trundle downtown to the BOE office and break out the looseleaf binders.)

And now for the early returns:

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Obama rally brings change -- now it's at Progress Energy Center, Thursday 5-7 pm

Posted by on Wed, Sep 2, 2009 at 11:29 AM

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The big pro-Obama health care reform rally you're going to read about in the printed Indy today when it hits a coffee shop near you -- the Let's Get It Done: Raleigh National Bus Tour Stop (Health Insurance Reform Now) rally that was scheduled for Thursday night, 5-7 pm at the WakeMed North campus -- well, they've changed the venue. No, really. I just talked to Lindsay Siler, who is state coordinator for Obama's Organizing for America operation. (She's in Greensboro today, btw, delivering petitions to Sen. Hagan. She's got a lot on her plate.) The WakeMed site fell through at the last minute, she said. OFA will have people out there re-directing folks to the new site, which is:

The Progress Energy Center plaza (in front of Memorial Auditorium)

2 East South St. (south end of Fayetteville Street)

5-7 pm

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So now it's downtown, not in North Raleigh. And it's in front of a symphony hall, not a hospital. Congressman David Price is still on the bill, as is Rhonda Robinson, featured in our July 15 story "A Face of the Uninsured, A State of Denial."

The HCAN website, incidentally, lists the location as "steps of the State House," wherever that is. Pay no attention to that listing. HCAN -- Health Care for America NOW -- is the coalition of labor and activist groups pushing hard for reform with a "robust" public option. OFA, reflecting President Obama's diffident p.o. stance, is for a public option, but not that insistent, if you get my drift. But ... they're allies ... same rally ... somebody tell HCAN Central where the Progress Energy Center is.

Let's Get It Done: Raleigh National Bus Tour Stop (Health Insurance Reform Now)

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Van Dyk won't say if he pushed the anti-Crowder poll in District D race

Posted by on Tue, Sep 1, 2009 at 8:52 AM

After the fifth or sixth person asked me if I knew who was behind the push poll in District D (Southwest Raleigh) last week, I started calling it "the push poll" myself. But since push poll is such a dirty term in politics, let's not jump ahead of ourselves. There was some automated calling done in the district. A recorded voice asked "questions" about the District D incumbent, City Councilor Thomas Crowder -- questions that were not really questions at all. They were along the lines of: Would you vote for Crowder if you knew that he (insert criticism or innuendo)? Well, would you still vote for him if you knew that he (insert additional criticism or innuendo)?

You know, like push polls do.

I called Crowder's opponent, Ted Van Dyk, to ask him if he knew who did the poll. "There are interested people" who did it, he said. "There was a poll done ... I did not have direct grimy hands on the questions ... I am party to the information [collected]."

In short, if he knows who took it -- and presumably he does, because he acknowledged getting the results -- Van Dyk wasn't saying. I finally asked him if he was the client. Was it his poll? "I'm not going to say it is my poll, and I'm not going to say it isn't," he said.

On one point, though, Van Dyk was definite. "It was not a push poll," he insisted.

So what is a push poll?

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Council's 5-3 vote chops the head off the comp plan's FLUM monster

Posted by on Tue, Sep 1, 2009 at 7:42 AM

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Opponents termed it a monster's head, a dragon's head, a clenched fist aimed at their Pullen Park/West Morgan neighborhoods. It was the western-reaching appendage of the new comprehensive plan's FLUM (Future Land Use Map) that sought to extend the Central Business District -- as shown in red in the graphic -- to an assemblage of property at the intersection of West Morgan and Hillsborough Streets known to the community as the Bolton tract.

But the dragon won't be eating the neighborhoods, at least any time soon. Because after months of political in-fighting, the City Council Monday voted 5-3 to chop its head off, lifting the CBD designation from the 6.7-acre Bolton tract and instead making it (along with some nearby properties) into a special study area. In other words, the tract will be the subject of a small area plan to determine the most appropriate future land uses there in some detail.

The vote was a victory for a coalition of neighborhoods including Pullen Park and West Morgan on the south side of Hillsborough Street and the Cameron Park and Cameron Village neighborhoods on the north side. (Disclosure: I live in Cameron Park and supported our neighborhood's position.) On the other side were the owners of the Bolton tract, a Charlotte firm called FMW Real Estate, who fought hard to keep the CBD designation, and some adjacent property owners who supported them. The Bolton tract consists of some 11 separate lots assembled by FMW, including the long-vacant Bolton Corporation building itself.

For some background on the FLUM, see our Indy stories about it here and here. The monster's head has been in it from the December, 2008 get-go, with the Raleigh Planning Department staff and the Planning Commission backing it all the way against a growing chorus of neighborhood voices who argued that the Bolton tract simply isn't in the downtown CBD and shouldn't be treated as if it were.

When the issue finally reached the City Council, a flurry of 11th-hour maneuvering began. The neighborhoods were pushing for a special study. On the other side, FMW principal Jim Zanoni, his Raleigh lawyer Mack Paul, Raleigh Planning Director Mitch Silver and others concocted a 'compromise." The Planning Department's "Memo 9" proposed to change the Bolton designation from CBD to "Community Retail -- Mixed Use," a category defined in the comp plan as:

"... medium-sized shopping centers and larger pedestrian-oriented retail districts such as Cameron Village."

It seemed an odd fit, since Zanoni has consistently said that his firm will seek to have the property rezoned for a mainly residential project of about 1,000 units, or 150 units per acre. Not, that is, for a shopping mall.

The CBD designation calls for densities of up to 320 units per acre (and unlimited building heights). CRMU, on the other hand, is about shopping centers with some complementary residential units, but only 14-28 units per acre unless near a transit stop, in which case the upper limit would be 70 units per acre.

But wait -- in the 11th hour deal, the CRMU definition was proposed to be rewritten (as spelled out in Memo 9) to allow "the highest densities -- no more than 150 units per acre -- reserved for areas within a half-mile of a planned rail transit stop...."

Though the Bolton tract isn't located with a half-mile of a planned rail stop as yet, the Planning Department is pitching the idea of re-drawing the main TTA rail line so that it would be.

The idea is to pull the TTA rail line out of the Amtrak rail corridor as it approaches downtown Raleigh from the west and re-route it along West Hargett or West Morgan street -- making it an electrified streetcar, in effect. If that's done --and it's entirely possible that it will be done -- then a stop could be located not just near the Bolton tract but on it.

The rewritten definitiion -- 150 units, just what FMW wanted -- was posted to the city's website at about 4:30 Friday afternoon. Neighborhood leaders had no idea it was there until late Sunday night. By Monday morning, it was under fire. Mayor Charles Meeker, who on Saturday told me that he was inclined to support the CRMU designation (but at that point, I didn't know about the change to 150 units, and he didn't mention it), fielded a slew of emails and calls from irate neighbors.

When the issue came to a vote at the Council work session Monday afternoon, four Council members were lined up on the neighborhoods' side, and Meeker joined them. They were Thomas Crowder (the neighborhoods' district representative), Russ Stephenson (an at-large member), Rodger Koopman and Nancy McFarlane. Koopman and McFarlane represent other districts.

Voting the other way, against the special-study redesignation, were Councilors Mary-Ann Baldwin (the other at-large member), Philip Isley and James West.

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