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Monday, May 27, 2024

Elections 2019 Candidate interview: Paul Lawler, running for reelection to Wilmington City Council [Free read]

(Port City Daily photo / NHC Board of Elections)
Downtown resident and current city councilman Paul Lawler is running for reelection to Wilmington City Council. (Port City Daily photo / NHC Board of Elections)
WILMINGTON — Paul Lawler is running for reelection; he currently holds one of three contested seats on Wilmington City Council. All of the council seats are ‘at-large,’ and represent all areas of the city.
Note: Candidate interviews are published largely without editing (besides minor typographical corrections) and without limits on length. All council candidates received the same questions, which appear in bold with answers in italics below.

Affordable housing: One of the most common concerns we hear from readers is the need for affordable housing. Is the city doing enough to address the issue? If not, what specific plans would you suggest?

People who work in Wilmington should be able to live in Wilmington. That’s becoming difficult for money. Wilmington should adopt these five steps to increase housing options. First, review what the City is doing now. Is our existing program the most effective possible? Second, review the City’s zoning rules. Do they allow for, or prohibit, workforce housing? Third, we need the development community to include workforce housing when practicable. We need to look at ways to incentivize them to do that. Fourth, we need to adopt new economic development (jobs) strategies that work for all of our residents (see below at Employment). Fifth, there are people who can afford to buy a house that don’t know how or don’t believe they would be welcome to buy a house. We need a grassroots effort to encourage them to consider buying a house. These are actions Wilmington can and should take.

Mass transportation: WAVE is in financial crisis and, by some accounts, fails to adequately connect low-income areas with workplaces efficiently (sometimes called a ‘last mile’ problem). Some have suggested cutting back services, others have called for more local support for WAVE. Where do you stand, and what would you like to see public transportation look like in the Wilmington area?

New Hanover and Wilmington need a useful bus service to provide residents with an alternative means of getting around and to relieve congestion on our roads. WAVE isn’t there, yet. WAVE must become a customer-oriented organization with an appealing ride. It’s moving in this direction by building a more appealing multi-modal station, is trying a radically new route with its free trolley and examining new equipment and dramatically different signage. The lessons learned from these steps will create an appealing WAVE that works for all of us.

Employment: What are your thoughts on Wilmington’s job scene? Are you satisfied with the way incentives have been used in the past? What other specific plans would you suggest to bring jobs to the area — and what kinds of jobs would you like to see here?

Wilmington has an opportunity, an opportunity to create a stronger and more dynamic economy that benefits all of our residents. We should seize that opportunity. 

Wilmington’s recent economic successes have largely been companies begun by residents. Contract research entities, fintech, equipment rental and more are all great additions to opportunity for our residents but begun by people who lived here, and lived here because of the quality of life. We should encourage that. Success there begins by recognizing that the economy is the area so we need a tri-county approach and recognizing that our quality of life is our economic asset. Our marketing should reflect that the area has a high quality of life in order to appeal to the skilled people those companies need and help assure that the people moving here appreciate what we appreciate. This will also help the tourism business evolve from a summer oriented business to a year ‘round business as people visit for our history, arts, festivals, film, food, music and more. 

Lots of people start businesses here every year. Too many don’t last. We need to do a better job of connecting those creators to the services that will help them succeed. 

And we need to have a concerted effort to leverage the initiatives at the University [of North Carolina Wilmington] and elsewhere. These simple steps building on our real strengths and nurturing what our residents are doing will advance opportunities for all of our residents. 

Downtown: Wilmington has paid special attention to its downtown area in terms of incentives, police presence, marketing, and other services (including those provided by WDI). What are your thoughts on the current state of downtown. Are there any specific changes you’d like to see in the downtown area?

It may be time to consider what we mean by ‘downtown’ for economic growth purposes. Is downtown just the Central Business District or is it the area stretching from Greenfield St. to N 4th St.? 

The CBD is doing quite well. Expanding the focus area may allow more areas to enjoy that economic success as well as creating an even more appealing destination for residents and visitors. We always need to be considering how current practices can be improved.  

Development: There’s been a lot of discussion about how development has taken place in Wilmington. Are you satisfied with that process? Is there anything about it you’d like to change?

It’s time to focus more on redevelopment. There are many areas in Wilmington that could be redeveloped. Parts of Market St., Oleander Dr., Carolina Beach Rd., S. Front St. below the bridge and other areas offer opportunities for renewed uses that accommodate the people moving here, new businesses and more and doing so in places with infrastructure and sidewalks and alternate transportation. Developers will need to look at these areas as Wilmington now has very little undeveloped land. 

Green space/trees: Every city approaches its green spaces and urban canopy differently. What are your thoughts on Wilmington’s approach? What changes, if any, would you make?

We need more trees. 

Environmental concerns: Could Wilmington do more to address environmental concerns? If so, what, specifically, would you suggest?

Our quality of life, the feature we all enjoy and is the key asset for our economic success, depends on having a good environment.  Council has been clear on this with resolutions opposing offshore drilling, reducing City greenhouse gas emissions, adopting my resolutions calling for a reduction in PFAS emissions and opposing lowering the water standard for the Cape Fear River (a position the Federal EPA agreed with!) Transit improvements including better traffic flow and a useful WAVE bus system will also help.  

Opioid epidemic: What are your thoughts on the city’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis? Anything specific you would change, encourage, avoid?

Wilmington has joined the lawsuit against the irresponsible parties that contributed to the current opioid disaster. Wilmington also led efforts to create a better way to handle people treated with narcan and approved a rezoning for the County’s new recovery facility to treat people addicted to these and other addictive drugs. 

Jim Crow-era monuments: The two ‘Confederate monuments’ in downtown Wilmington — erected in 1911 and 1924 — have been a source of controversy. Do you have any specific ideas on how to address these monuments?

Council has approved designating 3rd St. as Commemorative Maj. Gen. Joseph McNeill Way. McNeill was one of four students who used their Constitutionally protected freedom of speech to press for the right to sit at the same lunch counter that I could use and order a coffee or a meal. His success made a better America. His name should be known as far and wide as Rosa Parks. We need to identify additional ways to recognize important Wilmingtonians. 

Transparency: Do you think the city and its leaders conduct business transparently? If not, what concerns do you have?

I try to be very transparent in my policy actions. I post a great deal of information on my website, www.electpaullawler.com and on my Facebook page Elect Paul Lawler. You’ll aid transparency by liking the page and getting the word out. Transparency is created by distributing information widely. The City has an opportunity to more effectively explain what it does so that Wilmingtonians can have more confidence in our future.

Law enforcement: Are you satisfied with the approach that Chief Ralph Evangelous and the Wilmington Police Department is taking in providing law enforcement for the city? Are there specific aspects you’d like to encourage or change?

Wilmington has done an admirable job in recent years of reducing crime, on both a total basis and per capita basis, and in reducing complaints about Police actions. That’s an accomplishment that all Wilmingtonians can take pride in. There is still more that can be done to improve relations. Standing offers of ‘coffee with a cop,’ Police Activity League, a Boy Scout troop and other community relations activities help. 

City management: Are you satisfied with the approach the City Manager Sterling Cheatham is taking in providing leadership for city staff? Are there specific aspects you’d like to encourage or change?

Wilmington has an opportunity to better tell its story. I am regularly addressed by Wilmingtonians who seek changes that have already been made but which we haven’t explained. New signage for houses facing condemnation and a better explanation in the budget of efforts to improve streets are two new successful examples of better explaining city actions. The City also needs to pursue opportunities to utilize data analytics.

Experience and conflict(s) of interest: What experience do you have that you think would be beneficial for a city leader? Do you have any conflicts of interest that might cause you to recuse yourself from city business?

City leaders need to be open to new approaches and new ideas for addressing peoples’ needs. We have gone from a quiet town to a bustling city at the heart of a rapidly growing region. The old ways have to be updated. 

Prior to serving I advocated for the creation of a downtown walking loop (think Wrightsville loop) but have dropped the initiative as it would pass near my house and could be perceived as a conflict. 

Other thoughts: Anything else you’d like to add that hasn’t been covered?

The area is becoming a region as Pender, Brunswick and New Hanover become more connected and interdependent. Future government decisions need to be cognizant of this change. Water availability needs to be monitored. Pender had a scare this summer when it barely had enough water to meet eastern county needs. All three counties need to be sure they have thought through growth and water demand. 

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