Thursday, June 13, 2024

2021 Election: Bill Saffo running for re-election as Wilmington mayor

Mayor Bill Saffo, who is up for re-election in 2021, spoke at Screen Gems about the local film industry impacts during Gov. Roy Cooper’s visit (Port City Daily photo/Alexandria Sands Williams)

WILMINGTON –– Long-time mayor Bill Saffo, Democrat, is running for two more years at the helm of the dais. He is the city’s longest-serving mayor with 15 consecutive years of experience, plus three as a councilman.

Port City Daily has sent a questionnaire to every candidate running in municipal elections, which are nonpartisan, and has dropped its paywall on the profiles to help voters make informed decisions ahead of the 2021 election year. (Though, your support of local, independent journalism is appreciated through a monthly subscription. Also, consider signing up for Port City Daily’s free newsletter, Wilmington Wire, to get the headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.)

As a reminder, the early voting period begins Oct. 14, with the registration deadline on Oct. 8. Voters may partake in same-day registration throughout the two-week early voting period, which ends Oct. 30 (check if your registration is active at your current address).

Election Day is Nov. 2.

Saffo’s stances on local issues are discussed below. Port City Daily has included all responses in full, and only edited responses for grammatical and spelling errors.

READ MORE: Catch up on all political coverage

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Bill Saffo — Democrat

  • Education: UNCW BA in Political Science
  • Job title: Broker 
  • Experience: Elected since 2003 to serve the citizens of Wilmington

Port City Daily (PCD): What is your top priority, if elected a seat on council? How will you address it?
Bill Saffo (BS): My goals are to continue to move the initiatives of the city council forward. Specifically, I would like to see additional support for our police department who combat crime daily and makes our city safe; implementation of the new land development code which was created with the help of much citizen input and outlines how the city will look in the next 40 years and includes more walkability and protection of our environment including tree canopy; creation of more affordable housing opportunities by incentivizing and working with private developers; and continue to create jobs and job opportunities for citizens within our community. I also want to continue to support our film grant that has produced hundreds of film-related jobs in our community.

To accomplish these goals, I will continue to work as a consensus-builder to get things done.

PCD: What do you believe is the solution to the affordable housing crisis? Are you supportive of a housing bond? Why or why not?
BS: I have always supported the city’s affordable housing program. Affordable housing is critical in being a great city and this community has been a priority of city council’s for many years. I and the council made affordable housing as one of our major priorities and made an historic investment in affordable housing to the tune of $5.2 million in this year’s budget. These funds will support and expand our affordable housing programs including the Homeownership Opportunity Program and both the Rental Rehabilitation incentive loan program as well as the rental assistance program. 

In addition, the city has invested $17.8 million in affordable housing over the last 10 years. I am in support of putting a housing bond up to a vote of the people.

PCD: What about other infrastructure in our city: What needs the most attention in your opinion and how would you address it?
BS: With the impact of hurricanes and other weather-related events, the city is making a significant investment in stormwater related projects. The total value of these projects is $76 million. To date, the city has completed 52 projects totaling $46 million. We are also spending $4 million a year to maintain our stormwater infrastructure. Within the next five years, the city will be spending an additional $17 million on other stormwater related projects.

PCD: What kind of environmental protections would you like to see the city focus on and how?
BS: The city has implemented three significant environmental policies. The Wilmington Tree Initiative, which is a public-private initiative to plant 1739 trees per year, every year. In addition, we have protected more species of trees from development. We have also implemented the Clean Energy Plan and developed a sustainable strategy to transition Wilmington to 100% renewable energy by 2050. We increased the protection of our waterways and creeks, by increasing the amount of protected buffering for any new development that impacts those waterways.

PCD: Do you think enough is being done to confront gang violence? What else should be done?
BS: Crime knows no jurisdiction. Through coordination with law enforcement on the federal, state and city level, we are combining our efforts and creating a unified gang task force, investing money in cutting-edge technology, increasing our uniform presence in areas with high crime, working with the state legislature on a gang injunction legislation, and funding our police department to provide all the tools necessary to protect our community.

PCD: Residents often raise concerns about clear-cutting and overdevelopment. What is your response when hearing this sentiment? How should the city respond to these complaints?
BS: With much citizen input, the City of Wilmington implemented several tree protection and enhancement codes to protect our tree canopy: developed an urban forestry management plan, worked with developers to shrink the development footprint to minimize impervious surface. I would support having a tree-canopy assessment every four years to determine where we need to plant more trees. 

Trees along all roadways must be protected according to our new code. Increase the protection zone around the base of trees during construction. Require tree canopy coverage percentages by land use. Reduce the amount of area that can be paved thereby protecting more trees. Publicize Wilmington’s Right of Way tree-planting program and encourage more citizens to plant in right-aways. Created Wilmington’s Tree Initiative a public private partnership to plant 1,739 every year.

PCD: Is our city prepared for the influx of growth that’s being predicted over the next 20 years? What are the top priorities you think must be addressed to prepare for the population increase?
BS: The city, for the first time in 40 years, has developed a new land development code for today’s new challenges. It will reduce sprawl by encouraging development of vacant and underutilized properties. Locates residential housing closer to retail, restaurants, and offices lessening the need to drive major corridors. Prioritizes tree preservation and replacement. Encourages on-site storm water management and structured parking in lieu of expansive surface parking. Locates buildings closer to the street, creating a sense of place and improving walkability and connectivity.

PCD: How would you rate Wilmington’s job market? What can the city do to create more sustainable jobs?
BS: There has been 30,000 jobs created in our community in the last 10 years. Jobs create opportunities for people to live and work within the community. Specific to what the city can do is to work with our economic development partners in attracting good paying jobs to this community. 

For example, the city and New Hanover county have incentivized several companies that have created hundreds of jobs, like Verizon Wireless, Castle Branch, PPD, nCino and Live Oak Bank, National Gypsum, Advantaca. In addition we have worked with the state legislature to continue to support and incentivize our film industry, which is having a record year in Wilmington.

PCD: Would you approve an ordinance establishing a social district in downtown Wilmington? Why or why not? What provisions would you advocate for within the district?
BS: The City of Wilmington will conduct a pilot program to determine if this is something our community would like to have. It would involve stake holders, neighborhood associations and elected leaders, all working together to establish the parameters on how this program would work in our city with a trail period of six months to a year. Ultimately, it will be the citizen’s decision.

PCD: What changes, if any, would you make to the city’s current spending strategy for its $26 million in American Rescue Plan funds? Is there an initiative you would like to see funded? If so, which expenditure would you cut in its place?
BS: The city’s American Rescue Plan funding plan is a living, breathing plan intended to address the recovery needs of our community and to build public health and economic resilience across our community. Most importantly, we are fully aware the portions of our community that had pre-existing economic challenges and health disparities felt the greatest impacts from the ongoing pandemic.

We are aware of many opportunities to invest in the future of our community, especially the most impacted portions of our community, via these funds. We have staff actively working to check as many boxes of community need that we can with these resources, such as utility payment assistance, while being prepared to alter our plan as the need evolves. The largest single investment in our plan is dedicated to growing the affordable housing stock in our community. We developed our business assistance grants in a way that ensured a strong percentage of the dollars were dedicated to minority owned businesses. Our plan also invests substantial funds in the first year towards non-profits. Council had the foresight to appoint community leaders to lead the effort in scoring the non-profit applications and deciding how to distribute that assistance.

Finally, I want the community to know that in the coming weeks and months we will have several game-changing funding announcements. Staff is actively working with both private sector and non-profit partners on collaborations that will, ultimately, create a talent pipeline that will provide a more diverse and skilled workforce for some of our most valued and well-paying employers.

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Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at or on Twitter @alexsands_

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