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4 seek to replace Michael Barnes in District 4

Spending more on transportation and improving the quality of development are among the most-discussed topics of the four candidates in the Charlotte City Council’s District 4 Democratic primary.

The candidates – Levester Flowers, Greg Phipps, Leonard Richardson III and Wil Russell – are vying to replace Michael Barnes, who has represented the northeast Charlotte seat since 2005. Barnes is running for an at-large seat.

The primary is Tuesday.

As of now, no candidates from other parties are running, although activist Michael Zytkow said he is trying to get enough signatures to run as an independent candidate in the November general election.

District 4, which is focused around UNC Charlotte, encompasses one of the fastest-growing areas of Charlotte. It includes economically distressed areas along North Tryon Street as well as upper-middle class communities near Interstate 485, such as Highland Creek.

The candidates haven’t raised much money, according to early August campaign finance reports.

Greg Phipps

Phipps has raised the most money, with $3,962. Phipps, who is a retired bank examiner for the U.S. Treasury Department, held the seat briefly in 2005 to fill the remaining term of Malcolm Graham when he left for the state Senate. He also served on the Mecklenburg Planning Commission.

Phipps, who lives in University City, said he wants to ensure that the transportation plans for District 4 are executed as planned, especially because the Lynx Blue Line extension to UNC Charlotte is now under construction.

Another important issue, he said, is ensuring that remaining development is high-quality. “I want to make sure that development is done orderly and properly,” Phipps said.

He said he doesn’t want an “over-concentration” of affordable housing built in the area. “I want to see it spread throughout the city,” Phipps said.

Barnes has been outspoken in his desire to distribute subsidized housing to parts of the city where there is little.

When asked if he would have supported the $816 million capital improvement program, Phipps said he would have voted for a small version of the plan that would require a smaller tax increase. He said he doesn’t think the city needs all of the items in the CIP, such as a 35-mile cross-county bike and pedestrian trail.

Phipps said he only would have voted for the streetcar if its funding plan didn’t use property taxes. He said he “probably” would have voted for the city’s $87.5 million deal with the Panthers, though he said he was disappointed the state didn’t contribute to it.

Wil Russell

Russell is an assistant project manager with Rogers Construction. A resident of the Davis Ridge area, he’s making his first run for public office.

He said the city needs to make sure it fully integrates the light-rail extension with transportation options. “We need to look at car-sharing, pedestrian corridors and bike lanes,” Russell said. “We need to get people from where they live to where they work.”

He said “neighborhood quality” is an important issue for District 4.

“We have seen a lot of growth in the last 15 or 20 years,” Russell said. “Unfortunately, it hasn’t always been consistent with the character of the area. We have seen an explosion of multifamily housing. You see impacts with older neighborhoods – it’s impacting their quality of life.”

Russell said he would have voted for the CIP and the streetcar. But he would have voted against the Panthers’ subsidy.

“I’m the biggest football fan in the world, but I feel like there are other priorities that need to be addressed,” Russell said.

Campaign finance reports on the county Board of Elections website show no money raised by Russell.

Levester Flowers

Flowers is retired from Bank of America, where he modified loans. He lives in the Maplewood subdivision off Mallard Creek Church Road.

The biggest issue for District 4 is jobs, he said. “I’m running on a platform of job creation,” Flowers said. “We have pockets of citizens in our district that aren’t employed. This includes professional people, blue-collar people.”

He praised Barnes for helping to bring companies like Electrolux to Charlotte, but said he wants to partner with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Central Piedmont Community College to start grants for people to be retrained with new skills.

Flowers said he wants to “save the neighborhoods” by building more police substations. He said he is a fiscal conservative.

Flowers said he would have voted for the CIP and the streetcar. He also said he would have voted for the Panthers incentives, though he criticized the City Council’s decision to hold many meetings in closed session.

“There should have been more transparency,” Flowers said.

Flowers has raised $658.

Leonard Richardson III

Richardson is a teacher at Nations Ford Elementary. He ran unsuccessfully for county commissioner last year and lives in Highland Creek.

Much of his campaign focuses on his own biography. He said he was a foster child and grew up in poverty.

“I’m running for the same reasons I am a teacher,” Richardson said. “I want to find something where I can make some kind of positive impact on the people around me. (My experience) motivates me to do my part in a similar situation.”

He said the biggest issue for District 4 is “creating a more comprehensive transportation system.”

“We have light rail and I-485 coming through,” he said. “There isn’t a good road system in place. Some people who are riding buses have to go in two hours before they start their shift because the bus system isn’t efficient.”

Richardson said he wants to work to change what he calls a “NIMBY (not in my backyard)” response to affordable housing in District 4.

“People have the wrong impression,” he said. “People think there will be an influx of crime. They just need to educated.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Mecklenburg Board of Elections website had no campaign finance reports posted for Richardson’s City Council campaign.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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