The mayor of Wilmington and seven candidates vying for a seat on the Wilmington City Council outlined their priorities Tuesday morning during the Greater Wilmington Business Journal’s Power Breakfast.
The topics ran the gamut from affordable housing, homelessness and development to the replacement of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge and the city’s Northern Gateway project. The candidates will face off in a municipal election on Nov. 7.
Tuesday’s event kicked off with longtime Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, who is running unopposed for his 10th term. Saffo outlined his priorities, the city’s challenges and his plans to handle the impacts of ongoing growth and development.
During his next term, Saffo said he plans to focus on divesting from the city’s former downtown office space as city employees move into the 12-story building formerly owned by Thermo Fisher. He also wants to work on affordable housing initiatives with other local partners and invest in infrastructure to keep up with the area’s growth.
He listed infrastructure, transportation and quality of life among the city’s biggest challenges amid its ongoing growth. Wilmington is also facing a challenge in dealing with homelessness, he said.
On certain common issues, Saffo said he believes local leaders need to come together to advocate together.
“We just can't speak as Wilmington anymore … we have to speak as a region today,” he said.
The seven candidates for Wilmington City Council followed Saffo with a second question-and-answer session.
Incumbent council member Neil Anderson said his priorities during a future term would be infrastructure, finishing projects funded by the 2014 transportation bond, public safety and jobs.
Anderson said he believes the replacement of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge will be funded by state and federal grants along with some matching funding from city leaders. He also was broadly supportive of the city’s growth.
“I would rather manage through growth than manage through decay,” he said.
Candidate Salette Andrews, a small business owner, said one of her top concerns is addressing the inevitable growth that’s coming to the area.
“Growth is absolutely a balancing act,” she said. “It’s something that is going to happen.”
She also wants to focus on housing affordability along with transportation and infrastructure issues.
Focusing on filling vacancies in Wilmington’s police force and addressing homelessness would be top priorities for candidate and small business owner Kathryn Bruner, she said Tuesday.
Bruner also advocated for being a step ahead in addressing problems that come before city leaders.
“We need to stop sitting around and letting problems fall in our lap before we come up with a solution,” she said. “We need to start being proactive and owning our problems and fixing them before they start catching our community.”
Candidate Marlowe Foster, a former executive, said he would focus on housing affordability, public safety and job creation. Foster also wants to see vertical growth inside the city limits.
“Wilmington is out of space to grow horizontally, but we do know that people are continuing to come,” he said. “So we've got to focus on vertical growth, we've got to focus on increasing density.”
Candidate David Joyner, a local assistant district attorney, said he also supports denser, more vertical growth. He would focus on housing affordability, transportation and the environment. Joyner emphasized his focus, specifically on rail.
“I believe that the future of Wilmington transportation is rail,” he said.
He also advocated for more green space the inclusion of green space in the Northern Gateway project and for the recruitment of green businesses.
Candidate John Lennon, an entrepreneur, said he wants Wilmington to be an “open arm place for business and new development.”
“I think just as important as what city council can do to foster economic development is what it shouldn't do to deter,” he said. “I think we need to make sure that this city is a great place to do business.”
Other priorities include finishing projects funded by the city’s 2014 transportation bond and ensuring city employees are well-paid.
Incumbent council member Kevin Spears told the crowd his priorities would be diversity, equity and inclusion, “but not in the ways that you hear diversity, equity and inclusion,” he said.
Spears said he wanted to apply these priorities to everything the city does. He also advocated for focusing on the city’s existing residents.
“I think you have to focus on the people that are here,” he said. “We spend so much time focusing on who’s coming.”