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Debnam's backing; Kirkman's flacking 

Did anyone see that Meeker rout coming? Well, yes, just about everybody did, thanks to good Democrat Dean Debnam, who took his own poll a week before the election and shared the results with a select group of many. Debnam had Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker beating John Odom 55 percent to 29 percent, which exaggerated the outcome only slightly: Meeker ended up winning 59 percent to 41 percent. Debnam hit the District D race on the nose: Councilor Benson Kirkman forced into a runoff by Thomas Crowder, both with one-third of the vote in a four-way contest.

Who is Debnam? He's a Raleigh businessman with strongly held progressive views, so strongly that--after losing his temper with a few fence-sitters back in '99 when Stephanie Fanjul, his wife, was running for mayor--he's now letting his mastery of things technological speak for him in campaign season. Since one of his businesses, Workplace Options Inc., includes a large call center (it finds child care, elder care and other helpful services for the employees of client companies), Debnam can offer progressive candidates an inexpensive way to do polling, targeting, mailing lists and telephone canvasses. "It's a business, too," he says, "but the main thing is, we can buy down the cost of running campaigns by aggressively applying technology in volume."

Debnam's specialty: "Helping people who haven't run before--helping them figure out how to do it." (His clients this year included Crowder, as well as school board members Susan Parry and Beverly Clark).

Like so many things, campaigns are easily understood when they've over--and you've made every mistake in the book. Unfortunately, most folks with real lives only run once (if that). They run without professional help, because they don't think they need it or else can't afford it. Debnam is so determined to be affordable to candidates he likes, he contributes a lot of money to them too.

Debnam's pre-election poll was his way of advertising. He was back in the field last weekend, polling the Crowder-Kirkman race (still a dead heat); the District B runoff (Jessie Taliaferro 2-to-1 over Karen Moye-Stallings),and the Cary runoffs.

In Cary, he found Councilor Julie Robison with an edge (40.8% to 38.8%) over Ernie McAlister, reversing the order of their finish Oct. 7. No surprise there, since Robison's views are closer to those of incumbent Mayor Glen Lang, who finished third. He also found incumbent Harold Weinbrecht with a 16-point lead over Michael Joyce in the at-large runoff.

***

The problem with Benson: People who regard Kirkman as progressive--a pro-neighborhoods type of guy--are puzzled that he's in trouble in District D, a progressive stronghold. Here's a small illustration of why.

Following the Coker Towers debacle, the Raleigh Council gave neighborhood leaders what they'd pleaded for from the outset--the chance to do a new small-area plan for development from Cameron Village to Wade Avenue. For a year, 26 of us worked on it--me included. When it was done, it wasn't a great success, mainly because we couldn't agree about the future of Cameron Village itself--should it stay the same or get bigger? Still, we put together some ideas for improving the "walkability" of our neighborhoods and sent the finished product to the Planning Commission, which sent it to the City Council, which was on the verge of adopting it when Kirkman popped up with a motion.

Kirkman had gotten a letter from attorney Gray Styers, representing one Edythe Poyner--she of the Olde Raleigh Poyners, as in the firm of Poyner & Spruill. Ms. Poyner owns several acres on the east side of Oberlin Road (across from the little deli); her land is zoned residential (R-6). and it's in the historic Oberlin Village district. It's covered by an existing small-area plan, and the special "Oberlin Village Conservation Overlay," adopted in 1995 to save what's left of the community started by free blacks before the Civil War.

The existing plans call for Poyner's tract to remain residential. Our new plan did nothing to change that, except we termed it "historic residential." Ms. Poyner, we've since learned, had many private discussions with city officials about her desire for more "flexibility"--as Styers' letter put it--though she never came to any of our meetings to suggest the offices-and-condos project she now has in mind.

At the 11th hour-plus, however, Poyner wanted Kirkman to buck us into a Council committee "to discuss her desire for this flexibility and to see if it could be expressly incorporated in the Small Area Plan," as Styers wrote.

Instead of doing what he should have done, which is to stand behind the neighborhoods while telling Poyner that she will get every consideration when and if she presents an actual project requiring a rezoning, Kirkman made the motion for her--and the "flexible" Council concurred. So, Poyner gets a special committee hearing on Wednesday, Oct. 15, at 10 a.m. That's certainly a convenient time for all concerned, isn't it?

Kirkman says he did this to "tighten up" the definition of historic residential. Oh really? EndBlock

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