Northside Neighborhood Initiative Celebrates One Year of Accomplishments

Gospel singers, town and county officials and community members gathered Thursday for the Northside Neighborhood Initiative Celebration. There was singing, laughing and some offered memories of what Northside used to be, and what they hope it will be in the future.

Longtime resident Matthew Farrington said his house used to belong to his uncle before he passed away.

“He had told me awhile back, he said ‘Whatever you do, don’t ever get rid of my house,'” Farrington said. “And thank the Lord, I still have it after 20 years.”

Creating a permanent home for residents like Farrington is the purpose of the initiative. UNC granted The Northside Neighborhood Initiative (NNI) $3 million in March 2015. The University, with the help of the town and Self Help Credit Union, aims to help long-time residents continue living in their homes, and attract new neighbors who would like to do the same.

Habitat for Humanity joined the celebration Thursday to raise a wall for a new home for these new neighbors.

“These three homes here are single family homes and they will be homes to three single moms,” said Jennifer Player, Director of Development and Administration for the Orange County branch of Habitat for Humanity. “In total there will be seven children who will be living in these three homes ranging from ages 2 to 19.”

Player said, the new residents for Northside aren’t necessarily new.

“All three of the women who are going to be living here have a connection to this neighborhood,” she said.

Each new resident went to school at Northside, had family who lived or live in Northside or used to live there themselves.

State Senator Valerie Foushee grew up in Northside, and also spoke at the celebration. She said she’s excited to see more permanent homes start to take over the neighborhood.

“Today we’ll have a chance to see the result of a transformative process,” she said. “A transformation from dreams to hope, from hope to promise, and from promise to reality for innumerable families.”

Farrington said, he wants his home to stay in his family. So that the house, then the neighborhood, will feel like home.

“We’re really trying to pass that on to our neighbors and families,” he said. “We want to keep our homes in the neighborhoods if we can… make our neighborhood a neighborhood again.”

In the first year of the initiative, other accomplishments have included acquiring 15 properties, constructing 12 affordable housing units and reduction of noise complaints by 60 percent. This is the first time in 30 years that the African American population in the area has risen.

Recognizing Heroes, Past And Present

TRIANGLE – You can vote online for your local favorites as the Greater Raleigh Sports Council has announced the nominees for their annual awards, to be presented in February at an “Evening of Champions” ceremony.

UNC soccer star Crystal Dunn is nominated alongside Chapel Hill High School soccer star Ben Fisher for the Amateur Athletics Award, presented to the Triangle’s top amateur athlete. Longtime East Chapel Hill tennis coach Lindsey Linker is nominated for the Community Spirit Award, honoring a career of community service.

And two Tar Heels are nominated for the Council’s inaugural Kay Yow Champion Award, honoring community leaders who have made impacts on the lives of others. UNC women’s basketball head coach Sylvia Hatchell is up for that honor, as well as former Tar Heel baseball player Chase Jones, who founded the Vs. Cancer Foundation and started the “BaseBald” tradition of baseball players shaving their heads to raise money for cancer research.

You can vote online for your favorites up to once a day at


The Carrboro branch of the Orange County Public Library is presenting a new photography exhibit featuring the work of Sophie Steiner, a teen photographer who lost her battle with cancer last year at the age of 14.

The exhibit is called “Life is a Beautiful Thing.” It features Steiner’s pictures and writings, along with other photos and reflections submitted by her peers.

The exhibit runs through March 31. A reception will be held at the library (inside McDougle Middle School) on Sunday, January 26 from 2:00-4:30.


Orange County’s Human Relations Commission is marking the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act with an event at the Carrboro Century Center on Sunday, January 26.

It’s entitled “Equal Justice Under the Law: Are We There Yet?” It will feature a discussion moderated by UNC professor Gene Nichol, the director of UNC’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. Panelists include State Senator Valerie Foushee, civil rights attorney Al McSurely, and John “Blackfeather” Jeffries, a veteran of the lunch counter sit-ins of the 1960s.

The event will begin at 2:30 p.m. and run until 5:00. Everyone is welcome.


Do you know a senior citizen who deserves recognition for their volunteer work? Home Instead Senior Care is seeking nominations from now through March 1 for their “Salute to Senior Service” program, recognizing seniors 65 and older who volunteer at least 15 hours a month of their time.

To nominate someone, visit


As part of a national rural economic development program, the city of Mebane has received $1.2 million from the Piedmont Electric Membership Corporation to purchase two fire trucks and help build its new fire station.

The money is actually a zero-interest loan—part of the USDA’s Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program, which provides funds to local cooperatives like Piedmont Electric, who pass those funds to local organizations to help create jobs in rural areas. Mebane’s fire station project is slated to create 12 new jobs while reducing response times during emergency calls.

Once the funds are repaid, they’ll be loaned out again to support other projects in the area.

My Call 2012

Stepping out of news-director mode for a moment. Who wants prognostications? Here are five predictions for this year’s election. (Not necessarily reflective of how I want it to go.)


1.      It’s going to be 2004 all over again, in reverse. History tends to repeat itself—and for a while there in 2009 and 2010, I was convinced the 2012 election would be a rerun of 1984, except this time with the Democrat rolling to victory. All the pieces were falling into place. The economy was in the tank, but recessions don’t last forever; I figured by 2012 things would be improving—just in time for Obama to pull out the same “Morning In America” message Ronald Reagan used when his economy was recovering from ’82. Meanwhile, the other side would find itself so devoid of qualified candidates that it would have to fall back on the last-ditch option: the losing VP candidate from the previous election. In 1984, it was Walter Mondale; in 2012, it would have been…well, you know.

So I figured, hey, easy Obama landslide. But no. Sure, the economy’s in recovery, but not in a “morning in America” way—more of a “gosh, I think Duke might actually have a decent football team this year” way. And She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named flamed out before she even had a chance to be a last-ditch nominee, so the Republicans went and found someone else—not a great candidate either, but so much for my Mondale parallel.
So 1984’s out, then. But what’s happening instead seems to be a rerun of 2004: a fairly close election, won narrowly by an incumbent who’s just popular enough to squeak by a weak opponent. That opponent, incidentally, is Mitt Romney, a man who violates the single most important, A-number-one, John Kerry rule of presidential politics: Don’t nominate the awkward white guy from Massachusetts.
(Seriously, you’d think after seeing Michael Dukakis riding in a tank, the party bosses wouldn’t keep doing this to themselves.)
Romney’s really not a bad candidate; he probably wouldn’t be a terrible president—but politically he’s weak in all the same ways Kerry and Dukakis were weak: he’s a flip-flopper to the point of absurdity, he comes off as so privileged he’s lost all sense of perspective, and frankly his base doesn’t like him very much. Conventional wisdom says if you’re going to win a presidential election you have to nominate someone who appeals to the center—but there’s scholarly research showing that Karl Rove actually had it right: you can’t win unless you appeal to the base. Nominating the “electable” candidate is a dead end. It’s counterintuitive, but the GOP might have given themselves a better shot if they’d gone with Rick Santorum. (Try getting that image out of your dreams tonight.)
Which isn’t to say that Romney can’t win. Obama is beatable, after all, just as George W. Bush was beatable in ’04. But the polls are suggesting another narrow win for the incumbent, by about the same margin as eight years ago—and if Obama does win, it will have been a missed opportunity for the GOP, just as it was for the Dems in ’04.
(Incidentally, the Kerry Rule only applies to awkward white guys from Massachusetts; the JFK Corollary proves that attractive white guys from Massachusetts can still win. The right shoulda gone with Scott Brown.)
2.      Mitt Romney will win North Carolina. Forget the polls, just look at the early-voting numbers. Sure, they look great for Obama—until you compare them with the early-voting numbers from 2008, which looked a heck of a lot better for Obama, and then reflect on the fact that Obama won here in ’08 by about eight votes. Any shift to the right is going to result in a Romney victory, and the early-voting totals are indicating a pretty clear shift to the right. Evidence: more people voted early in NC this year, but fewer people voted early in Orange County; the percentage of early voters who were Democrats was down slightly this year versus four years ago, both here in Orange and across the state; and the average age of early voters was up by a couple years. (Seniors? Not Obama fans. Let’s not speculate why.)
Result: Romney to win NC by 2-3 points. But hey, maybe the Obama camp knows something I don’t: a couple weeks ago they started pulling their people out of NC, but suddenly in the few days before the election, they sent Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton our way. (And we didn’t call Joe Biden to set up an interview—his people called us.) Obviously they think they can win here—or else they’re so sure they’ve got the election locked up everywhere else that they’re just trying to make it more of an ’08-style landslide. I doubt it, but we’ll see.
3.      Somewhere, voters are going to legalize gay marriage by ballot referendum for the first time, and we’ll have North Carolina to thank. Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington are all voting on the same-sex marriage issue this week. Minnesotans are voting on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man/one woman, same as we did here in May—so even if they vote it down, the state still won’t recognize same-sex marriages. But the stakes are even higher in the other three states, where a vote in favor of same-sex marriage is actually a vote in favor of same-sex marriage: if voters in Maine or Maryland or Washington give the go-ahead, that state will begin (or continue) recognizing same-sex marriages (with all the rights and privileges befalling thereunto).
Any of those four votes could be historic. The thing about ballot referendums is that they’re not particularly kind to minority groups—statistically, voters at the polls are more likely to vote against minority rights and interests than legislators in the state house. (Which is what happens when you put minority rights up to a majority vote. The Progressive movement clearly didn’t read their Federalist Papers.) And so it has gone with the LGBT community: thirty states have put same-sex marriage before the voters, and voters in all thirty states have said no. (In Arizona it took two tries. That’s as good as it’s gotten so far.)
But this time, this year, it’s going to be different. In all four states, according to polls, the pro-gay marriage side is winning. In all four states! It may not work out that way—Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling warns that undecided voters historically break against same-sex marriage in the end—but it’s almost a sure thing that at least one state, and probably more, will vote in favor.
If that happens—when that happens—we’ll be able to look back on the Amendment 1 vote back in May as a turning point. (One of many, of course.) 2012 is the year when the same-sex marriage debate turned the corner—when the pros became the majority and the antis were the ones on the defensive; when it became more controversial to say “I’m against” than it was to say “I’m in favor” (hence Chick-Fil-A); when the President actually had the guts to come out and say what we all knew he was thinking anyway. And that had a lot to do with the fight in North Carolina this spring—where a vote on gay marriage actually came down to the wire (sort of), in the middle of the Bible Belt of all places. Obama came out as a supporter the very next day—and here we are. For same-sex marriage supporters, the Amendment 1 vote was a defeat—but it was a defeat that showed the weakness of the other side, a defeat that signaled a shifting of the winds. When the history of the same-sex marriage debate is written, 2012 will be the most important year—and the Amendment 1 fight in North Carolina may loom as large in that history as the Proposition 8 debate in California.
So, hey. Next time you see Mark Kleinschmidt, shake his hand.
4.      Democrats will probably maintain their local monopoly, but expect at least one close vote. The GOP presence in Orange County is growing stronger, but it’s always going to be a minority voice: there’s a reason Jesse Helms said all those nasty things about Chapel Hill, after all. The Republicans have a relatively strong slate of candidates in the local races this year, but for the most part they’re running against opponents who are simply too well-known and too well-liked to lose. It’s possible to overcome a big name-recognition gap, but only if you’re running alongside a rolling tide of anti-incumbent dissatisfaction, and that’s not really the case in Orange County this year. (If the May primary’s any indication, there’s some dissatisfaction with the Board of County Commissioners—but it’s coming from the left more than the right, so not as much help for Mary Carter.)
But it’s not impossible for Republicans to win here—all it’ll take is the right set of circumstances. Take a tide of dissatisfaction, maybe an economic downturn, and add a strong, socially liberal GOP candidate with crossover appeal (smart, youthful, pro-gay, pro-environment, pro-social justice, pro-business, anti-tax) running against a weaker or lesser-known Democrat. Dave Carter will put up numbers that’ll surprise some people this year; I don’t imagine he’ll beat Ellie Kinnaird, but against a different opponent—maybe. (And he’ll keep it closer than usual: 54 percent of early voters in NC Senate District 23 were Democrats; compare to 59-60 percent in 2008 and 2010.)
But Dave Carter isn’t my dark horse. Watch the race in NC House 50—which comprises all of Orange County’s rural, more conservative precincts and leaves out most of the more progressive urban center. That makes things more interesting—Bill Faison faced a semi-close race in 2010, and Valerie Foushee doesn’t have the incumbency advantage on her side. Foushee still has the edge over Republican pastor Rod Chaney, but only a slight edge: dollars to donuts this ends up being the closest local race, and if any Republican has a chance to win in Orange County this year, it’s Chaney. Here’s the number worth noting: only 52 percent of early voters in NC House 50 were Democrats. To put that into perspective, Democrats made up 58 percent of early voters in the district in 2010, and Faison ended up winning 56 percent of the total vote. So watch that one closely.
5.      The transit tax? Who knows. This debate feels an awful lot like the debate on the quarter-cent sales tax back in 2010, when it narrowly failed. But then again—voters in Durham County voted for the half-cent transit tax and the quarter-cent economic development/education tax simultaneously last year, and they actually supported the transit proposal by a wider margin. If Orange voters are the same way—more comfortable with a half-cent for transit than a quarter-cent for development—then the transit tax should pass, at least by a little bit. (Opponents of the tax in Orange County point out that Durham gets more of the proposed light-rail line than Orange would—so presumably Durham voters would have been keener on it—but still, that light-rail line wouldn’t run anywhere near northern or eastern/southeastern Durham, and voters there approved it anyway.) Regardless, though, this and NC House 50 will be the two closest local votes.
So there you have it. Polls close at 7:30 tonight, and if I’m wrong—well, then I’ll just be in the same company as every other pundit in America.

Local Economic Health Equals Authentic Local Business Support

It’s no surprise that these challenging times for funding local government have caused many progressive leaders to change their mind about the type of economic development that we want in Orange County.

Over the last decade, federal and state funding has been gradually pulled back from municipal governments for many of the programs that have benefited us locally. The ever-growing military adventurism, the corporate socialism represented by the “too big to fail” bank bailouts, and the success of the tiny minority of the fabulously wealthy at off-shoring their capital and buying legislators who reduced their tax rates has meant that our tax money is coming back to us in smaller amounts.

There has yet to be any kind of pushback from local governments about this. Their response is akin to sufferers of spousal or child abuse. They profess support for the abuser while accepting personal responsibility for dealing with the effects of the fiscal manipulations. At some point there will be a breaking point, but for now we have to deal with the reality of the consensus to accept whatever financial constraints are put upon us.

So we see recognized progressive leaders like Valerie Foushee and Bernadette Pelissier vote to over-ride legitimate community concerns in an economic development district vaguely defined about fifteen years ago in order to eventually provide more tax revenue. Guided by the man behind the curtain, County Manager Frank Clifton, there is a new “take-no-prisoners” approach to economic development. The County will designate your neighborhood out of existence if it’s in an Economic Development District designed in the mid-90’s.

This new approach is to align the county with the Chamber of Commerce model that does not differentiate between local businesses and multi-national corporations. From their perspective, buying some cucumbers at Wal-Mart that yields a few cents in sales tax is better than buying from a local farmer in Alamance County that will spend his/her income all around the region. Never mind that the Wal-Mart purchase ensures that the money gets siphoned away to Bentonville, Arkansas while the local transaction keeps money in the local community for a few more cycles.  

So what is the best use of your consumer dollars? Buy from a corporate big box in Orange County and send a few sales tax pennies to the county coffers? Or support your local businesses that will circulate around the community and build local economic strength?

BOCC Imposes New Zoning Over Community Opposition

In the biggest reflection of how business will be done in this new era of dedication to economic development as the County’s number one priority, the Count Commissioners voted 5-2 to rezone the Eno Economic Development District (EDD) for commercial use. This EDD was created about twenty years ago and has existed only in the deep layers of some nebulous future plan since then.

The many residents of this community have been coming to grips with the realization that their neighborhoods will be radically altered because of the surfacing of this once-vague concept. Commissioner Barry Jacobs summed up the historic nature of the vote when he reminded the five relatively new members of the Board that it is rare for them to “ram something through” over clear opposition from the citizens most affected. Alice Gordon joined him in opposing the rezoning.

I was on the County Planning Board for its deliberations on this issue and I found several facets of the rezoning to be sensible and practical. However I could not support the overall rezoning package primarily because it was being railroaded through without sufficient community understanding and support.

Valerie Foushee issued a chilling rebuttal to Jacobs’ and Gordon’s assertion that the decision was hurried when she offered the time-honored excuse of many who have decided not to do the hard work of engaging with the affected community to forge a plan that achieved the County’s goals while also respecting the community. She said that the BOCC has to think of the entire County and not just one area at a time. Ironically, she has been the latest standard-bearer for the neglected Rogers Road community.

We will see how the Eno area evolves. The water lines will be installed and businesses will begin to appear. If all goes well from the standpoint of traditional economic development, more tax revenue and some jobs will likely result.

If we accept that this kind of return cannot be achieved without sacrificing the quality of life in a community, then we are shaping Orange County’s future in a way that may add some money to the coffers but leave us feeling no more satisfied with our progress.