Small-town mayor to U.S. senator is a challenging political jump, but Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey says his work turning around a scandal-ridden Fayetteville suburb is solid experience for Congress.
“Our location gives me a unique perspective in what’s happening in the world,” Rey said. “You’ve got the immigration issues; you’ve got the military issues.”
Rey is the youngest of four candidates for the Democratic nomination for Senate from North Carolina, but he brings a diverse resume to the race: He runs a nonprofit that helps people access health care. He has a law degree. He earned a Bronze Star serving in the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he continues to serve in the National Guard.
His supporters, he said, “see me being able to tap into a different generation of folks.”
Rey’s campaign is largely focused on poverty issues: access to jobs, health care, education and higher wages.
“It’s just that the opportunities aren’t there,” he said. “I believe that if you’re able to pull a man or a woman out of poverty, you’re able to pull their family out of poverty within the next one to two generations.”
Rey wants to raise the federal minimum wage to “at least” $15 an hour. He says large corporations are taking advantage of public infrastructure and are raking in huge profits while employing fewer people than ever.
It’s a message that mirrors the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont. And while Rey said he’d back proposals floated by each of the two main Democratic presidential candidates, he praises Sanders for “putting his big ideas out there.” Rey has even used the slogan #FeelTheReyBern on Twitter.
Rey says the Affordable Care Act needs to be revised through “incremental steps” and access to health care should be expanded. “I would like to move to a point where we have health care for every single person in America,” he said.
Rey’s campaign offers fewer specific proposals than some of his opponents, and he says he’s trying to avoid making promises that could prove difficult to deliver in a fractured Senate.
“A lot of folks get out there and make a lot of these grand ideas,” he said. “I recognize that all this stuff has to be paid for. I can’t say at this very moment what I’m going to cut and not cut.”
As he travels the state, Rey talks about his accomplishments as mayor of Spring Lake, where he defeated a 30-year incumbent in 2011 in the wake of a police scandal. The town’s police department had been taken over by the county sheriff after two sergeants were charged with fabricating reports and other crimes.
“Our infrastructure was crumbling, and there wasn’t a lot of energy or excitement in our community,” Rey said.
Since he took office, Rey says, the police department is now “one of the best in the state,” the town has put $10 million into infrastructure projects, and 100 new businesses have opened. “There’s just a different energy in our community now,” he added.
He is the more prominent of two African-American candidates in the race, and some have suggested Rey could bring diversity to the statewide Democratic ticket this fall – and drive turnout among black voters. But he hasn’t received much support from the Democratic Party establishment, and a recent Indy Week article suggested his race might be a factor. No black candidates have won top-tier statewide races in North Carolina.
“The Democratic Party has to do a better job of putting in the pipeline more African-Americans for leadership,” Rey said, though he stresses that he doesn’t “want to always be labeled the black candidate” and aims to represent everyone.
“At some point, we have to send an everyday guy to represent everyday people.”
Education: Law degree, College of William & Mary; bachelor’s in business administration, Walden University
Professional experience: Executive director of the nonprofit Cumberland HealthNET; adjunct professor, University of Mount Olive; major in the N.C. National Guard; former Army officer with service in Iraq and Afghanistan
Political/civic resume: Mayor of Spring Lake, a town of 13,000 people near Fayetteville, since 2011
Family: Married to Adwoa Rey with three children