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Beam me up, voters 

Candidate's Log, Stardate Nov. 6, 2001: An enterprising young politico seeks to boldly go where he has never gone before.

The upcoming municipal elections could bring some dramatic changes to Triangle politics, but some of the races--and some of the candidates--could accurately be described as humdrum. Here to keep things lively in Hillsborough is Scott Neal, a businessman, water-rates expert, crime fighter, Star Trek aficionado and mayoral candidate.

Neal had expected a two-way race against incumbent Horace Johnson, who has served as mayor since 1990 and is ripe for an electoral challenge. But things have gotten trickier since Joe Phelps, a real-estate developer, joined the race. "Before it was like a black cowboy hat versus a white cowboy hat," Neal says, "but with the third candidate, now it's shades of gray."

Phelps and Neal do share a lot, namely their pro-development stance; both candidates support the controversial Hampton Pointe development plan, which, if enacted, will bring a larger Wal-Mart and a bunch of other big, boxy buildings to town. But there's plenty about Neal that distinguishes him from his opponents.

To begin with, he's the only one who can boast a writer's credit for a recent episode of the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. "I guess I would be considered a self-described Trekkie," Neal says, adding that "they call it 'Trekker' now, I understand." He's making plans to write for the new series, Star Trek: Enterprise.

But don't let Neal's fondness for sci-fi give you the wrong idea: His run for office is decidedly down to earth. Though he's only 33, he says he's logged sufficient experience in his business and civic pursuits to prepare him for the mayor's job. Neal has run several businesses, including a restaurant and a landscape maintenance company. His present preoccupation is writing copy for his new Web site, which he hopes to build into a comprehensive review of North Carolina historic sites. The site, www.infonc.com, is still under construction.

When it comes to public service, he's pitched in for the last year as the deputy chair and then acting chair of the Citizens' Water Advisory Task Force, which has grappled with the task of reducing Hillsborough's exorbitant water bills. In that post, he has become intimately acquainted with one of the town's most vexing financial problems, and been one of few voices to posit workable solutions.

Neal has also done more than his part for law and order. He's served on the board of Carrboro-Chapel Hill Crimestoppers, the volunteer group that assists police by offering rewards for crime tips, since it's founding in 1993. He just concluded a three-year stint as chairman of the group. This summer, he went on an all-night ride-along with a Hillsborough police officer. "I've always been very pro-law enforcement," he says.

There's more to Neal's campaign than big box development, cheaper water and more policing. He also wants to breathe some life into Hillsborough's historic town center, build more sidewalks, and introduce a parks-and-recreation program with state and federal funding.

Though he's a registered Republican, and moderately conservative, Neal says he considers himself an independent. Who else but a political free spirit would tout his ties to Star Trek?

"I think the series has such a positive influence on people in general," he says. "Star Trek is one of the best things you can let your kids watch, because it teaches you problem solving, teamwork and ethics"--the same skills and values which, incidentally, he says he wants to bring to town government.

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