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Coker crazy 

I was sorry to hear that Raleigh City Councilor Marc Scruggs refused to read our story about Coker Towers--the big, big project developer Neal Coker wants to put up next to Oberlin Village and Cameron Village (see Get Smart, Jan. 10). Scruggs, whose district borders the site, thinks The Independent is "smut," according to a friend of a friend who tried to give him the article. I tried to confirm that account with Scruggs, of course, but he didn't return my call. Oh, heck.

I also wanted to ask Scruggs about his comment to another reporter that the people who voted against the project at a neighborhood meeting were incapable of thinking for themselves. He said the leaders of the three citizens advisory councils who organized it--the Wade, Five Points and Hillsborough CACs--"really and truly brainwashed a group of people who wanted information." Actually, the CACs had three meetings. Coker held the floor at the first one, the second one and part of the third one--which ended, however, with a lone neighborhoods' representative, architect Russ Stephenson, making a five-minute presentation against the project. Those in attendance then voted 107-24 for a resolution asking the City Council to reject Coker's rezoning application and calling on the city to initiate a small-area planning process with the neighborhoods.

Calling your constituents mindless didn't seem like the smartest thing, but Scruggs is not without discernment. He is officially neutral on Coker Towers, despite his initial enthusiasm, to wit: "It looks like a tasty piece of cake." And he recognizes that, "with six votes needed and an election coming up, yeah, I think this opposition will affect [the Council's] decision." (Enough of the neighbors have signed protest petitions that, by law, any rezoning will require six votes on the eight-member Council, not the usual five.)

Scruggs was probably helped to this understanding by the fact that neighborhood activist Parker Call, who came within 600 votes of beating him in the '99 election, is leading the opposition to Coker Towers in her post as co-chair of Vision 2020, a group she helped start last year to advocate--guess what?--better planning for Raleigh. Armed with these new Scruggs nuggets, Call could perhaps overtake him this fall, especially if Scruggs finally does vote with Coker. Much as she'd like to try, though, Call says she won't be able to run this year due to family obligations. Geoff Elting, a former Council member (from another district--he's moved), is looking at the race, among others.

Meanwhile, Call's Vision 2020 cohort, former Councilor Charles Meeker, is edging closer to another run for mayor. Meeker ran third in the '99 campaign, just missing the runoff won by now-Mayor Paul Coble over Stephanie Fanjul by a mere 200 votes. Fanjul and Meeker split the "neighborhoods" vote in the first round (they were the top two of four Democrats running in the "nonpartisan" contest) while Coble, a Republican, had the pro-developer vote to himself. Fanjul won't be running again--she still lives in Raleigh, but Monday-to-Friday she's in Washington D.C. working for the federal government. That, and Meeker's expertise on planning issues, gives him a leg up with the anti-Coker forces. But the clear field he was hoping for might not materialize.

That's because popular three-term Councilor Julie Shea Graw, neighborhood-friendly also, is thinking of running. Graw, an at-large member, was the leading vote-getter in the city in '97 and '99. She was thinking of making this term her last, but on Friday she told me she'll probably run again--either for re-election or, perhaps, for mayor. "I've grown and matured in the job," she said. "Don't count me out."

Coker Towers gives the neighborhoods candidates their best chance in years to win a Council majority--but not if Graw and Meeker knock each other off and let the conservatives squeak in again.

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