Why are you running? What sets you apart from the other candidates in the primary?
I am running because I love Wake County and I want to make sure it remains the best place to live, work, play, and raise a family. Although a strong Democrat, I am not part of the established group of elected officials and community advocates who have controlled local politics for more than a decade. It is time we elevate the next generation of bold, progressive leaders to tackle our most pressing issues with the urgency and creativity required to keep our community diverse and inclusive. At age 39, I am ready to lead and would be honored to serve the people of Wake County.
What county or local issue keeps you up at night, and how would you address it?
Affordable housing is the most pressing need facing our county today. I will work to reevaluate the 20-year housing plan that was created in 2017 to account for the market pressure we are experiencing due to the pandemic and inflation. Based on those results, Wake County should propose an affordable housing bond and put it up for a public vote. While we recently met our 5-year target of 2500 affordable units in only 3 years, that was achieved using temporary, federal Covid funds. We must use a portion of our remaining Covid funding to bolster protections for homeowners who are vulnerable to huge increases in property taxes, as well. Affordable housing is not only about building more affordable units, but also preserving the ones we already have and keeping people in their homes when they are on the verge of losing them. We must use every tool available to address the housing crisis.
Can you share a personal experience that has shaped how you think today?
As a preface, my mother was a WCPSS teacher for more than 2 decades, and I love our teachers. They are the best in the entire nation, and I am grateful for their service. In high school, a teacher said to me,” I know what you are. You are a deviant. You are sick.” As a closeted gay teenager in the 90’s, that comment took the air out of my lungs. The worst part was not that it was said, but that I couldn’t share the confrontation with anyone because the comment referenced my sexual orientation, and I was years away from feeling safe enough to come out and live my life authentically. I can’t fully explain how this experience shaped my life in a brief paragraph, but it goes without saying that I am fiercely protective of my community and, particularly, LGBTQ+ youths. An estimated 25% of LGBTQ+ youths attempted suicide in 2021. We can do better. Lives depend on it.
Do you accept that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election?
LOL yes, and what a sad commentary on our society it is that this question even needs to be asked. I literally laughed out loud and clutched my imaginary pearls upon reading it.
What is one realistic policy that you believe you could enact with bipartisan support? What issues do you think you can work on with the other party?
I think we could achieve bipartisan support to expand investments in diversionary programs for juvenile offenders, to keep them out of a facility and in school. In high school, I volunteered with a program called Teen Court, and would love to see restorative justice programs like this expanded. Similarly, investing in community programs that disrupt gang recruitment, ease the burdens of poverty, and give all kids an equitable opportunity to enjoy the experience of growing up safely should be a bipartisan endeavor that we can achieve.
Should Wake County Commissioners run in separate districts representing different parts of the county or all run countywide? Should there be a mix of regional districts and at-large districts? Why?
As a strong Democrat, I am opposed to all forms of gerrymandering and electoral manipulation. This includes our current Wake County Commissioner maps that elect all 7 commissioners countywide, which has the effect of diluting the minority party’s voting power and limiting their influence. Our board would likely have 1 or 2 Republicans on it if we elected each commissioner by district alone, like we do with our school board members. If the roles were reversed, Democrats would be outraged that the Republicans held all 7 seats. Therefore, I support changing the way we elect our county commissioners to be fairer and more equitable. I would be open to having one or two seats stay countywide if the remainder of seats switch to district-only voting. I am also interested in adding more commissioners to the table. Our county is HUGE and adding 2 more commissioners makes sense as we continue to grow rapidly. The school board has 9 members, and we should have that many as well.
Do you believe Wake County needs more affordable housing? If so, what role should the county and local governments play, and what efforts would you support?
Housing affordability is the top issue facing Wake County. We absolutely need more affordable housing, as well as programs to keep residents on fixed incomes safe from huge swings in their property tax rates. Our county leaders have used an influx of Covid-related funding to reach their 5-year affordable housing target in only 3 years, but we must do exponentially more if we are going to fix this crisis before it becomes unmanageable. Truthfully, it may already be unmanageable, but we must still try our best to ensure that Wake County remains an economically diverse and inclusive community.
Doing our best will entail putting forward a serious affordable housing bond proposal for a public vote, in an amount that can truly impact our community. As part of this bond process, the county should reevaluate its 20-year housing plan, which was approved in 2017. Things have changed a great deal since this plan was created, and we must always remain flexible and amend our strategies when circumstances substantially change. The price increases and speculative investment driven by a global pandemic were unforeseen by our previous plan. We must account for these unexpected market forces and adapt accordingly.
How do you define “Smart Growth”?
Smart growth is a combination of creating dense, walkable neighborhoods, protecting and preserving open space, curbing suburban sprawl, creating a comprehensive public transportation system that conveniently services the entire community, and incorporating nature into our designs and development whenever possible. It is also considering whether development is environmentally sustainable. Does it harm our natural resources? Are we taking advantage of clean energy options? Is this the best use of land for our community needs? There are many factors that contribute to smart growth, and all of them are important.
What police policy changes, if any, should be made at the local level?
Wake County doesn’t have authority over local police policy and has limited oversight authority regarding the Sheriff’s office. Our current Sheriff’s office, however, has been steeped in controversy from day 1, due in part to the Sheriff’s decision to fire numerous deputies who had supported his political opponent. The Sheriff also promoted his friends and allies who had been demoted under the previous administration for, among other things, antigay rhetoric, while simultaneously firing the deputies who initially reported the bad behavior years earlier. This nepotism and petty management style has had a lasting affect on the office and on our community’s overall safety during a time when it is increasingly difficult to recruit and retain quality public servants. Additionally, Wake County’s CFO, as well as our county manager, were heavily critical of the Sheriff’s budgetary management skills as early as 2019, accusing the office of violating county norms and procedures. The most important change Wake County can make right now is to elect a new Sheriff. It is also worth noting that Wake County has the chance to elect a truly progressive District Attorney this year in Damon Chetson. Electing Damon Chetson as our next District Attorney would have a significant and tangible impact on our criminal justice system.
Describe broadly any tax increases, tax decreases, budget cuts and/or budget increases you would support.
Wake County currently ranks 70th out of 100 counties in terms of our property tax rate. It is a bargain to live in Wake County, though additional tax pressure is incurred by those who live in one of our municipalities, as well. I support intelligent, economically sound investment in our community. With our rapid growth, I am in favor of tax policy that protects our vulnerable residents while ensuring that the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share. The legalities of producing such an outcome at the county level are complex, but as a creative attorney, I look forward to the challenge of helping our community grown equitably and inclusively, and that includes with a progressive tax policy.
Do you believe Wake County needs more transit? If so, what does that look like? Would you like to see increased rail transit in the Triangle, more buses and routes, or a combination?
Wake County obviously needs significantly more public transportation options. I have lived in DC and in Los Angeles, and I understand the difference between a good and bad public transportation system. DC has a wonderful layout, an efficient Metro system, and a bus system that fills in the gaps. Their traffic, while not great, is primarily driven by suburban commuters entering the District for work, and leaving in the evenings. Within the District, traffic is manageable. Frankly, it is pretty good. On the other hand, Los Angeles has a garbage Metro system, a terrible bus system that is confusing and unreliable, and is heavily reliant on cars. It has some of the poorest air quality in the country, and it takes forever to get anywhere. Their property tax rates for vehicles are outrageous, and they snatch money from citizens at every opportunity to fund their ridiculously congested parking lots- I mean highways. If we fail to plan for our future now, we will look more like Los Angeles than DC. That would be catastrophic. The proper solution is a robust rail line system that services EVERY neighborhood, including the airport, and is walkable or has sufficient parking for commuters. It must be a better option than driving, and connect any gaps in its service with reliable, clean busses or shuttle services.
How would you ensure the state provides a “sound basic education” to all of North Carolina’s school-age children, given repeated court rulings that the state is not providing one?
It is not within the direct purview of the Wake County Board of Commissioners to determine what actions the state will or will not take. In 2018, however, I ran for school board. During the campaign, I proposed that the Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners form a legislative task force to lobby the state government, and that they include their colleagues from other counties and school districts in this effort. During a March 2022 joint meeting between the Board of Education and Board of Commissioners, one Commissioner suggested creating a legislative task force for just Wake County, and she received lavish praise from her colleagues for such a bright idea. I’ve always been a bit ahead of my time, but it is frustrating to watch 4 years pass before a good idea has its day. As your county commissioner, I will work hard to lobby the General Assembly and work with my colleagues statewide to plead our case.