For Wake County Board of Commissioners, the INDY Endorses Sig Hutchinson, Matt Calabria, Erv Portman, James West, and John Burns | Our Endorsements | Indy Week
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For Wake County Board of Commissioners, the INDY Endorses Sig Hutchinson, Matt Calabria, Erv Portman, James West, and John Burns 

Instead of considering these five Democratic primaries as individual races, we're instead going to address them collectively. After all, to a large degree, they're being fought over the same issue: these five incumbents voted for a budget last year that granted the Wake County Public Schools System $21 million of the $45 million in new funding it requested. The challengers say that's not good enough.

click to enlarge Sig Hutchinson
  • Sig Hutchinson

We're backing the incumbents, though not without some hesitation. There are some races that made for easier decisions than others, owing to the quality of the competition. In District 1, for instance, Jeremiah Pierce is a fine newcomer, but he doesn't hold a candle to Sig Hutchinson, the board's foremost advocate for greenways and greenspace. Similarly, in District 5, Robert Finch, a member of the county's Open Space and Parks Advisory Committee, argues forcefully that the county is not adequately managing growth, but he also holds the seemingly contradictory viewpoints that the county pays too much in taxes and spends too little on schools, even though schools are where nearly all the taxes go. What's more, there's no good reason to oust James West, who has served well on this board for eight years and on the Raleigh City Council for eleven years before that.

click to enlarge James West
  • James West

But in other races, our decisions were more difficult. It did not escape our attention that all five incumbents are men, and four are white men, and that the board has only one woman on it. That's suboptimal, to put it mildly.

More important, though, we believe the other challengers would make effective commissioners. In District 2, Lindy Brown is a former county commissioner who got into this race when everyone assumed Matt Calabria was going to run for the state House. She advocates for better school funding and affordable housing, and criticizes Calabria for supporting the multimillion-dollar renovation of a defunct golf course near his Fuquay-Varina house into a park.

click to enlarge Matt Calabria
  • Matt Calabria

Brown is smart, credible, and versed in important issues facing the district and the county. But Calabria is one of the board's standout progressives and a leader on issues related to poverty. The county can't afford to lose him.

In District 7, Vickie Adamson, who gave up a career in corporate finance to volunteer in her son's public schools and who has held several leadership positions in the PTA, is a similarly attractive and progressive candidate. She also champions schools and says she wants to bring a mother's perspective to the board. Adamson would make a fine commissioner, but we're sticking with John Burns, one of the board's sharpest minds and outspoken members.

Susan Evans would be a good commissioner as well. In fact, this District 4 race, against Erv Portman, was the one we struggled with most. A former school board member who chaired the school board's finance committee and knows the ins and outs of its budgeting process, Evans fully understands the problems facing the school system and the choices the county will have to make. But here again, we're siding with the incumbent, as we believe Portman's been an effective policy maker, even if he's sometimes more cautious than we'd prefer.

click to enlarge Erv Portman
  • Erv Portman

There's merit to the argument that Wake County should better fund its schools. While most of the blame lies with the Republican legislature, which has largely shirked its constitutional duty to provide for a sound basic education, Wake's property taxes are relatively low compared to Durham, Orange, and Mecklenburg counties. And that would still be the case if the county decided to give the school system what it asked for.

Were our endorsements only focused on that one budget vote, we might well be backing the challengers. Instead, however, we've looked at the commissioners' entire body of work, and there's a lot to like.

The board has increased education funding by about a third and has the highest teacher supplement in the state; after this year's budget cycle, it will likely return per-pupil spending to county highs, adjusted for inflation. We'd encourage commissioners to be bold and push beyond that; taxpayers are willing to shoulder the burden if they see results—and they will.

click to enlarge JOHN BURNS
  • John Burns

Beyond school funding, the board pushed through a game-changing transportation bond that will bring Wake's public transit system into the twenty-first century (if a couple of decades late), tackled complex issues like affordable housing and food insecurity head-on, and passed nondiscrimination and living-wage ordinances for county employees (state law forbids the county from doing the same for private workers). It also enacted ban-the-box legislation, a paid parental-leave policy, and hired an economic development officer whose mission is to work with underprivileged communities.

Just last week, the board began discussing incentives to lure businesses to these neighborhoods and prod them into paying a living wage doing other socially responsible things. Just this week, the board passed sustainability guidelines for county construction projects, the culmination of three years of work.

The dustups—the school-funding vote last year, the more recent fight over the Crooked Creek park project—get media attention, but, on the whole, this has been a very functional, diligent, pragmatic, and, dare we say, progressive Board of Commissioners. These five incumbents deserve another term in office.


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