Eight candidates are running for three open seats on the Wilmington City Council.
The slate of candidates includes a range of incumbent and former council members as well as political newcomers.
The three spots were left open as the terms of council members Kevin O’Grady, Clifford Barnett Sr. and Charlie Rivenbark expire.
Voters in New Hanover County have three options to cast a vote in this year’s municipal election. Residents can vote before Election Day by mailing in an absentee vote or casting their vote during the One-Stop or Early Voting period, which begins Oct. 14 and ends Oct. 30.
Voters can also cast their ballots on Election Day, which is Nov. 2.
Clifford D. Barnett Sr.
- Age: 67
- Address: 4949 Wythe Place, Wilmington
- Occupation: Minister
- Family: Married 31 1/2 years to Waltrina White Barnett, three children Clifford Jr., Walter, Helen “Granddog, Andy
- Political affiliation: Democrat
- Education: Bachelor of Science Degree in Physical Education from Livingstone College, Master of Divinity Degree from Hood Theological Seminary, Doctorate of Ministry Degree from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary
- Age: 37
- Address: 4629 McClelland Drive, Wilmington
- Occupation: Marine veteran
- Family: Did not answer
- Political Affiliation: Republican
- Education: Bachelor’s degree in business management at Anthem College
- Age: 65
- Address: Box 1169, Wilmington
- Occupation: Retired
- Family: Married
- Political affiliation: Democrat
- Education: Bachelor of Arts in Accounting from North Carolina State University
- Age: 73
- Address: 4924 Pine St., Wilmington
- Occupation: Real estate broker
- Family: Two sons, Chad and Travis and two grandchildren, Greyson and Molly
- Political affiliation: Republican
- Education: Educated in New Hanover County Public Schools, graduate of New Hanover High School, attended University of North Carolina Wilmington and Cape Fear Community College
- Age: 36
- Address: 3821 Habberline St., Wilmington
- Occupation: Private contractor and front house at the United House of Prayer
- Family: Did not answer
- Political affiliation: Democrat
- Education: Did not answer
- Age: 47
- Address: 5425 Whaler Way, Wilmington
- Occupation: Multiple small business owner
- Family: I am a husband and father to three kids
- Political affiliation: Republican
- Education: Grew up in Venezuela completing high school
- Age: 33
- Address: 1809 Chestnut St., Wilmington
- Occupation: Chief Executive Officer of Cadence Realty Corporation
- Family: Wife, Amanda Waddell, and Golden Retriever, Moultrie
- Political affiliation: Republican
- Education: Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from The Citadel
- Age: 39
- Address: P.O. Box 593, Wilmington
- Occupation: Business analyst and sales manager
- Family: Girlfriend, Cramer Vaughan and dogs Hendrix, Freya and Tabi
- Political affiliation: Democrat
- Education: Whiteville High School, currently attending college as a non-traditional student
What are the biggest challenges facing Wilmington and how do you plan to tackle them?
Barnett: Our city’s incredible growth presents challenges. I will work to ensure that we continue to grow and thrive while meeting our community’s needs.
Brookins: One of the biggest problems that we face would be community cohesiveness. As a great city with a multitude of opportunity, our citizens need a supportive council that serves them equally and effectively. Bringing our community together could be a major tool in also correcting our continuous violence. In order to do this, I am willing to find what can be done to make our city one and not just a hodgepodge of areas.
Lawler: Wilmington is at a crossroads. On some days it seems as if the whole nation is moving here. The question is this: Will we use this growth to make Wilmington even better or will the area end up as another anywhere crowded city? I want us to remain special. We should take steps to emphasize and retain the quality of life that makes this place special. Part of the answer is to work on our jobs and opportunity strategies to assure better economic opportunity for all of our residents. We can do this by emphasizing the creation of new businesses. Businesses created here have an interest in making Wilmington even better. And we want the development to be attractive and work for us. The new Land Development Code should help here. It is intended to have a more attractive built environment. We need council to support that new standard.
Rivenbark: Reducing violent crime, handling a thriving region, creating a pedestrian and bike friendly city and affordable housing. Incidents involving a firearm decreased 13% in the first half of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. That’s still too many incidents. We need to do whatever is necessary to end gun violence and ensure our schools and neighborhoods are safe. It’s time to support our law enforcement and give them tools and training to protect us all. The challenges of success can be difficult. It’s apparent many are moving to our area. Except for 2016, Wilmington’s growth was less than 2% while neighboring communities are bursting. Wilmington struggles with this influx and needs to look towards the future. Infrastructure must be improved to address our growth and quality of life. I support the installation of sidewalks and multi-use paths in all improvement projects. I support enhancements to the Gary Shell Cross City Trail and pedestrian lanes, especially near schools.
Ulmer: A lot of challenges and solutions come from the Cape Fear River and its banks. The contaminants in the Cape Fear River have made Wilmington’s water undrinkable. I would support policy that gives direct protections to the Cape Fear and its banks. We can do something about this now.
Uzcategui: Infrastructure and growth, crime, and affordable housing. Each challenge needs to be carefully evaluated using a sensible approach and personable responsibility.
Waddell: Crime, taxes and growth
White: The biggest issues facing Wilmington are development, addiction and an inequity in access to community resources. When it comes to addiction in our area, we must take a serious and honest look at the treatment options available here. As a person who has been in recovery myself, I tried for years to find the help that I so desperately needed here in Wilmington. I can personally attest to the lack of available options in treatment modalities. I had to leave the area to find the help that saved my life. This ties into my third point, not only in addiction treatments, but why are there significantly more covered bus stops in neighborhoods where no one rides the bus than in neighborhoods where a large percentage of the residents depend on public transit to provide for their families? This is unacceptable. This is the inequity in access to resources I am speaking of.
What steps would you take to make affordable housing more accessible to Wilmington residents?
Barnett: We must enhance our housing programs that are working, partner with others, continue to update the land development codes and offer incentives.
Brookins: Affordable housing should not be an issue, yet here we still are. As we have seen, new developments are started and completed, yet rent goes up. The people of Wilmington deserve better. This also shows the employment issues here. We should make it affordable for those that have been here and working hard here rather than just attracting snowbirds that make it less affordable for our citizens.
Lawler: Affordable housing cuts across all race, sex and neighborhood lines in Wilmington. Almost 11,000 affordable units are needed to meet the current demand in New Hanover. That number will only increase. At its heart, affordable housing is about an individual’s income. The long-term key to truly solving the problem is better job opportunities. The city of Wilmington, nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity, Cape Fear Collective Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry Inc., and others have initiatives to help now. The missing piece is engaging the people who can afford to buy a home but need to be encouraged to consider it and shown how to make home ownership possible. We need a grassroots campaign to encourage these potential home buyers to consider home ownership. Solving the affordable housing puzzle requires bringing all the pieces together.
Rivenbark: One of our biggest challenges is affordable and workforce housing. The city of Wilmington recently completed a re-write of the Land Development Code, the ordinance that all development must adhere to. I supported the inclusion that will allow for greater density in return for creating a percentage of units at or below the prevailing market rate for a specified time frame. In the past two years, the budget that I supported included over $5 million in housing expenditures, including homeless sheltering, multi-family, the Housing Opportunity Program, and rehab programs for low-to-moderate income homeowners.
Ulmer: Exclusionary family housing zoning should be scrutinized. If this type of zoning limits the options for affordable housing our citizens need, then it might be time to exclude this exclusionary zoning from being an option. After all, we are in a housing crisis.
Uzcategui: We need to look into programs like Eden Village, Vigilant Hope and First Fruit Ministries that are doing a great job already in our communities and help them grow.
Waddell: We have to promote adaptive re-use and infill developments where appropriate. Wilmington needs additional housing. Housing affordability in Wilmington is, at its core, a supply and demand issue. City officials should be standing up as leaders in our community and working together with the private sector rather than being a continual stumbling block by causing massive increases in building and development costs with regulation, red tape and bureaucracy.
White: We must look at every available option in order to make affordable housing more accessible to our residents. A single approach will never yield the sort of results that we need. Only by looking into every available option and practicing multiple solutions simultaneously, will we be able to see the sort of substantial results that we must have.
What approach do you think Wilmington should take when evaluating new development and zoning changes?
Barnett: We must consider the feasibility and the impact, as well as whether the changes meet the needs and goals of the community.
Brookins: In terms of zoning and development, our citizens deserve to know of these plans before the first tree is removed. The zoning changes seem to only have attraction to some areas and not others. This goes back to the issue of housing. Why not fix what we have and develop from within?
Lawler: Wilmington needs to promote walkability, connectivity, trees, our quality of life and our area’s general appeal. Walkability is important as people appreciate the neighborliness that sidewalks promote and the ability to get around in other ways than by car. Connectivity is important so that we are not dependent on one street or one route but can move around on multiple routes. Trees bring their shade, beauty and general appeal. City planning is refocusing on streetscapes so the combination of developments will lead to attractive streets. We need to keep Wilmington special.
Rivenbark: I am very pleased with the staff the city manager has employed, especially in our community development personnel. We can be assured that our planners along with advice from our city attorney provide the City Council with their expert opinions and closely follow the Future Land Use Plan, various neighborhood plans and our new Land Development Code — all of which included much input from the public. A resurgence in mixed-use projects provide many benefits to our residents. Found in Wilmington years ago, it was common for mom-and-pop shops to be located within neighborhoods. With the current desire for sustainability and walkability, these projects create cohesive and diverse neighborhoods, reduce transportation costs and help to reduce traffic on our already busy roads.
Ulmer: Incentives for new development in under-invested parts of Wilmington are a must. New development should be focused in these areas to bring up the neighborhoods. Bigger projects need proper oversight in regards to environmental impact. We have to do better at zoning for possible flooding.
Uzcategui: We have to consider both the city and the community. New development and zoning changes must be approached in a sensible manner and benefit not only the builders but also our communities.
Waddell: Being the leaders our city needs rather than just reacting. We live in a beautiful place. We can grow and remain beautiful. The key to Wilmington’s success will be responsible and sustainable growth.
White: We must take a multitude of factors into consideration when looking at new development and zoning requests. Possible effect on the surrounding area and environment, application and fit within the Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code. If we are speaking about housing, then what benefit does it actually bring to the neighborhood and to the city as a whole? Are we destroying the fabric of a neighborhood? These are a few of the many things that we must look at when discussing development and zoning requests.
How would you work with elected officials who have a different vision for Wilmington’s future than you?
Barnett: I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, I look for common ground, and I seek to both understand and to be understood.
Brookins: I am more than welcome to listen to the views of other officials because that’s been a problem with politicians. A lot of arguing and no action or even worse, arguing behind closed doors and presenting to the public while leaving parts out. Compromises must be made at times in order to serve the citizens of Wilmington, not political parties, greed, or meandering until citizens forget an issue.
Lawler: The nature of city council work is that there are many issues and while members and community members may disagree on one issue, they will often agree on another. The key is to keep the conversation on the issue at hand, carefully lay out my reasoning and listen carefully to the other party’s perspective. If you stay on the issue and try to understand various views it may be possible to find points of agreement.
Rivenbark: I have made it my goal to work across party lines and to get things done whether it’s with fellow elected leaders, our congressional delegation in Raleigh or Washington, the county commissioners or the many advocacy groups that exist. My goal has always been to build relationships based on respect, professionalism and integrity. Everyone brings their own life experiences to the table, and together our differences create an environment that affords all residents the ability to achieve their greatest potential.
Ulmer: Respectfully. I understand that my peers would be doing what they think is right. I would work to find common ground. I would listen and unify the city council in order to do what’s best for the citizens of Wilmington.
Uzcategui: We should always have an open dialogue and understand that we are working towards the best interest of our community.
Waddell: Anyone who thinks they have nothing to learn from someone else has already lost. I learn things every day both from people I agree with and disagree with. Civility, especially in leadership roles, is paramount to achieving long-term success for our community. I look forward to working with each and every member of the Wilmington City Council to create what we all want to achieve — a better Wilmington.
White: Just like in both my professional and personal life, there are going to be instances where you must work with people who have different thoughts than I do. I do not understand why politics seems to be the only acceptable situation where differing opinions means that you do not have to work together. Being an elected official isn’t about my ego or any other elected official’s ego. It is about serving the residents of Wilmington, so simply put, you find a way to work together. It shouldn’t be about us as politicians. It is supposed to be about the people.
What makes you the best candidate to serve on the Wilmington City Council?
Barnett: I seek to understand the needs of our community, ask the tough questions, and work together to build a strong city for all Wilmingtonians.
Brookins: My love for Wilmington is why I am the best candidate. I am a citizen, not a politician. We are all Wilmingtonians that need each other. I want to take on the task of serving how ever I can to make this the magnificent beacon for what other places should emulate for years to come.
Lawler: I believe Wilmington is a special place and that we need to maintain the attributes that make it special. We have history, arts, festivals, film, a growing food scene, theater, an ocean, a river, music, sports and so much more. I believe we can better emphasize these to make Wilmington even better and provide more opportunities for our residents. I have been serving on the WAVE Transit board advocating for a more useful transit system, on the N.C. Works Commission identifying new job training programs, on the Alliance for Cape Fear Trees and as a member of Rotary. Each of these activities provides more and more insight to our opportunities to make Wilmington even better. Each shows that I am open to new ideas.
Rivenbark: Being a Wilmington native, I have seen our great city go through many changes and much growth. I possess the history of our region. I know neighborhoods when they were just farmland. I know many families and the struggles and successes they have experienced. My experience as a small business owner provides me with the insight that many of our local business owners face. Knowing community members as well as I do gives me the ability to connect people to help support nonprofits and various causes. My volunteering has taught me that every one of us can help our neighbors if we just get involved. I believe that my experience, desire to serve and my deep love for the city of Wilmington, my hometown, puts me in a position to continue the success of our city.
Ulmer: My authenticity for wanting to serve the community. I have done a good amount of service and volunteer work around the city. This position is another way to contribute to the bigger picture. I wish to be a representative and echo the voices of the marginalized.
Uzcategui: I am an American citizen by choice, Venezuelan by birth. A small business owner, I have lived in the city for over 20 years and have seen how it has grown exponentially. I am very involved with my community and want to give back to the city that has given me so much prosperity. When I am elected, I will be donating my salary to nonprofit organizations in the city of Wilmington.
Waddell: Wilmington is in a season of change. We have a new police chief, our longtime fire chief has recently announced his retirement, and with the retirement of a city manager and the installation of a new one, now is the perfect time for new elected leadership to work in tandem with these changes. We have some good people working for our city and I thank them for their work, but they need fresh leadership that will support and direct a new vision. I’m not a politician — I am an entrepreneur and small business owner that can offer that fresh vision. As a small business owner, I work every day to ensure my company is sustainable and profitable, my clients are secure, our processes are streamlined and that our teams have the tools to craft solutions resulting in long-term success. This is exactly what I can offer to our city council.
White: I am the best candidate for the Wilmington City Council because of my ability to listen, empathize and understand. I personally know what it is like to be dependent on public transit to provide for my family. I understand what it is like to struggle to put food on the table. I also understand how to work with entrepreneurs to build and grow their business, as well as our economy. I have struggled in my life, I have made mistakes, and I haven’t forgotten what it is like to be in that position. I spend every day trying to be a little bit better than I was yesterday. Never better than anyone else, just better than I was. This is something most politicians simply cannot say. It allows me to be able to speak with our residents and to understand their frustrations and fears, and then to find solutions in a way that I do not believe any other candidate can.
Reporter Emma Dill can be reached at 910-343-2096 or [email protected].