As the mayoral campaign heats up in its final weeks, with polls showing a close race, antagonisms between candidates are firing up as well. Mayor A C Wharton, who began using his whoopin' stick in earnest during the televised WMC-TV debate some weeks ago, had it out again on Thursday.
In a speech to members and guests of the Frayser Exchange Club at Cafe Reign, the Mayor had blunt things to say about one opponent in particular, Councilman Jim Strickland, who from the beginning of the race has figured as the most obvious threat to dethrone Wharton from his incumbency.
Wharton signaled the thesis of his remarks early on, when he posed the mayoralty as "not a testing ground" and characterized the race as an instance of “someone who’s managed thousands of employees against somebody who’s never managed anybody — maybe two or three people.”
In case anybody missed the point of his reference, the Mayor grew more specific: "“How in the world can you vote against redoing Raleigh Springs Mall and vote for Overton Square...and say that you’ve got the interests of this community at heart? That’s just the kind of thing that it boils down to. I said in one of the debates, they’re for 'all parts of the city,' but back before they started running, they were very selective about he parts of the city they were supporting….I’m supporting all parts of the city."
That seemed clearly to be a swipe at candidate Strickland, a major force on the Council to fund the redevelopment of Overton Square but a holdout on Wharton's full package of renovations for Raleigh Springs Mall.
And the Mayor became fully specific with his next barb. After bragging on Police Director Toney Armstrong and reminding his audience that he was "committed" to retaining the director if reelected, " Wharton said, “Director Armstrong tells me that Councilman Strickland told him he would never support him. Now is not the time for us to start changing when we have the leadership we want, when the crime numbers are heading in the right direction, when other cities have gone up in flames….."
Bearing down further on the issue during a week when he and Strickland had formally issued rival proposals for dealing with crime, Wharton continued, "Be very careful about people who come up with quick fixes. There is no quick fix to crime." That was followed up with another nod to "the sustained approach under the capable leadership of Director Armstrong" and then by what appeared to be a direct attack on the strict-enforcement aspect of Strickland's approach to controlling youth crime: "Your best investment is not seeing how many kids you can haul off to Juvenile court. Your best investment is getting to them early."
Informed of the Mayor's comments, Strickland responded with emailed rebuttals. He refuted the charge about Armstrong outright, calling it "100 percent completely untrue," and saying explicitly, "I have not talked to any director about whether I would or would not re-appoint them."
And, in response to Wharton's jibe about his allegedly selective attitude toward development projects, Strickland said, "Unlike the mayor, I have been upfront and honest about my positions on projects. The mayor told some people he was for Overton Square, but he lobbied Council members to vote against it. And the Overton Square detention facility and garage only cost $5 million CIP [capital improvement] money.
"On Raleigh, I voted for the $8 million for the new police station, but voted against the additional $23 million because it brought the mayor's yearly borrowing to $84 million, when our limit is $64 million."