2021 Election: Former councilman Paul Lawler running for re-election, two years after first term

WILMINGTON –– Paul Lawler, a former Wilmington councilman from 2015 to 2019, is seeking a second term on his old seat.

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.

Lawler’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

Paul Lawler — Democrat

  • Education: NCSU, BA, Accounting
  • Job title: Retired
  • Experience:
    • One term city council, 2015 to 2019
    • WAVE Transit Board
    • Alliance for Cape Fear Trees Board
    • Rail Trail Steering Committee
    • Wilmington Rotary Board
  • Family: Married

Port City Daily (PCD): What is your top priority, if elected a seat on council? How will you address it?
Paul Lawler (PL): My top priorities are to create more job opportunities for Wilmingtonians and make the growth work for us. Too many of our residents have poor economic opportunities which leads to a host of social problems. Council can have an impact here (see 8 below.) On some days it seems the entire east coast is moving to the Wilmington area. We need to be sure that Wilmington retains what makes it special through all the growth (see 6 & 7 below.)

PCD: What do you believe is the solution to the affordable housing crisis? Are you supportive of a housing bond? Why or why not?
PL: There are several issues here and, as your question suggests, we need solutions not placebos. The issue includes renters that can’t afford their rent, sellers that don’t sell well, gentrification reflecting demand from more affluent buyers and idle heir properties. A real plan will address each. Many renters are finding their rent skyrocketing. We need to engage those people to see if they can afford to buy a house and encourage them to do so. There are regular anecdotal stories of people selling homes they own for, likely, less than the maximum. They don’t appreciate how much their home is worth. As part of helping people understand how to buy a home we can help others understand how to sell well. About 1,200 properties countywide are ‘heir’ properties. Many of these homes that sit empty deteriorating and hurting the neighborhood. We need owners to either sell those houses or rent them so they are in use. A “grassroots buy a house campaign” could reach these people and show them how to buy, sell or use their house. These actions would affect more houses than any program being considered. Local government and others have useful programs but those are just a fraction of the houses needed to meet the 11,000 home need. The solution is to engage the people.

PCD: What about other infrastructure in our city: What needs the most attention in your opinion and how would you address it?
PL: Transportation and storm water. The city adopted a program to repave city streets and has ongoing efforts to improve the handling of stormwater. These are good programs but implementation moves too slowly. There are a host of street improvements approved, funded and waiting. For example, Pine Grove Road is due for five intersection improvements that have been pending for years. The same is true with stormwater. The city has to find a way to get these and other projects done. The same is true with stormwater. Transportation can’t be all about streets. WAVE needs to be the service it should be so that some pressure can be taken off the streets and we all have additional transportation options.

PCD: What kind of environmental protections would you like to see the city focus on and how?
PL: I have a strong history here. During my prior term council unanimously adopted my resolution calling on Chemours to clean up their mess and to explain their actions to our residents. We’re still waiting. Council also approved my resolution opposing reducing the Cape Fear River to “swamp status.” Wilmington was the only local government opposing this downgrade of our river. We can do more to better handle our solid waste and to reduce the trash on the side of the road.

PCD: Do you think enough is being done to confront gang violence? What else should be done?
PL: Wilmington, like many communities, has seen a huge increase in murders. These are a danger for the entire city. Solving this problem will take a series of coordinated actions. First, we need to be sure that the various mental, addiction and social services available work with law enforcement. Those agencies need to be willing to take the people needing those services. Second, we need to be sure people who might get involved with gangs understand that they have better options. That’s why I place such an emphasis on our job creation strategies. People need hope and need to see that they have a future.

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?
PL: The new land development code calls for a host of changes that should make the development work for us. More trees, better ‘streetscaping’ and more thoughtful density will help. Trees make for a more livable community by shading our streets and sidewalks, help clean the air and add beauty to our city. Streetscape rules are there to make the street look better just as landscaping makes your yard more attractive. Thoughtful density approaches as identified in the comprehensive plan focuses the density on areas that can handle it. Council needs to back up the new standards.

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?
PL: The biggest growth challenge for the city is the growth in surrounding areas. The exploding population in Brunswick, the development of the Hampstead bypass and growth in the county outside the city will lead to more traffic coming into town, traffic that is hard to convert to alternate modes of transportation. That is the challenge we must face up to.

PCD: How would you rate Wilmington’s job market? What can the city do to create more sustainable jobs?
PL: Jobs are key. Our job market is bedeviled by a large modest paying service sector and a large seasonal economy. We can improve that. We need our tourism economy to switch to one that is not so seasonal and that can pay those workers better. We also need to recognize our great economic success lately. It’s people here starting businesses here. Whether a giant like Live Oak Bank or a one person shop like the woman who makes and markets her own spices, we have all sorts of Wilmingtonians creating businesses and jobs. Those businesses tend to create jobs for many skill levels and they tend to invest in their home community. We need to encourage that.

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?
PL: It was only a few years ago that downtown Wilmington had a huge nightlife problem. It was so bad that WPD had to use tear gas to break up revelers and the city created a special police task force to assure public safety. Many of downtown’s storefronts were bars. Now we have a host of fine restaurants such as Caprice, Floriana, Seabird, Manna, Pinpoint and many more. It is a very different downtown. I would need to be assured that those restaurants and this new stronger economy would not be harmed.

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?
PL: The money needs to be used for investments that will pay off for years to come. It shouldn’t be spent on items that can’t sustain once the largesse is spent.

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