Thursday, April 26, 2007

Seven tips for a winning political campaign in Chapel Hill/Orange County

Ruby Sinreich over at Orange Politics blogs about a workshop we are participating in this weekend for potential candidates in local elections. Sponsored by the Community Action Network, it's worth coming out for on Saturday from 10-Noon at Chapel Hill Town Hall.

In advance of the event I put together a list of seven tips for winning a local election:

-Be organized. Have specific people overseeing specific parts of your campaign, and know well in advance what you're going to do and when you're going to do it. Planning ahead will help keep everyone's sanity intact and ensure that you don't make any critical mistakes, especially by forgetting to do something until after it's too late.

-Get a good group of volunteers and show your appreciation for them. There's no way to run a campaign by yourself. You need folks to put up signs, work at the polls, write letters to the editor, and do lots of other stuff. These people could be spending time with their families, going to the movies, or doing about a million other things but they're taking time out because they care about you and what your election would do for the community. Make sure to let them know how much you appreciate it as often as you can. It will make for a happier and more productive campaign team.

-Utilize your friends. Before you pay a graphic designer to make your brochure or give someone a bunch of money to do your website, think about who you know that might be able to do it well for free. Odds are they'll be more attentive to you than someone who's more worried about getting a pay check anyway.

-Get your fundraising done early. The last two months before the election you will have so many forums to go to and questionnaires to fill out that time will be precious. Getting your money taken care of before the stretch run is a big help.

-Maintain your perspective. If someone writes something unpleasant about you on a blog or you don't get an endorsement you had hoped to receive, don't let it get you away from your campaign plan. One thing itself will almost never break a campaign, but letting it distract you from everything else you need to be doing could.

-Make sure your campaign is focused on the right audience(s). If you're running for Town Council, going to University Mall and handing out flyers to folks who may not even live in town is not a good use of time. Getting a list of people in your neighborhood who regularly vote in municipal elections and going door to door to their houses is.

-Utilize all the communications outlets you have available to you. Think the newspaper oversimplified your ideas about something? Expand your thoughts on a blog. Think there's a neighborhood your message isn't getting across in? Send them a targeted mailing. Want to get students involved? Go to them where they are. Every individual voter uses a different process and body of information to decide who to support in an election. You should do your best to get your message across through a variety of mediums so that you can reach as many people as possible.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

H77, North Carolina Renewable Energy Bill, would do a lot of good

As printed in the Chapel Hill Herald on Saturday, April 21st:

I was pretty cranky earlier this week. My power went out at 10 a.m. on Monday. I had to go to Greensboro for a business meeting in the late afternoon, and when I got back around 9:30 p.m. I found that my apartment complex was still pitch black.

There has been a rash of crime in my neighborhood recently -- in at least one instance violent. So I moved with trepidation toward my door since I couldn't see anything and then spent several minutes nervously trying to find the lock and the correct key.

I finally got inside safely and went straight to bed. When I got up at 6:15 the next morning I found that there was no hot water in the house. It probably wouldn't have mattered anyway though because there are no windows in my bathroom, making it the darkest place in the apartment. So I went to work unshowered, feeling pretty disgusting.

The thing I found most paradoxical about the entire episode was that our power was knocked out on a beautiful, sunny day!

One person who was not at all cranky about his power situation is environmental leader and Greenbridge developer Tim Toben. His farm in western Orange County, which runs largely on renewable energy sources, was generating "excess power." He relates that "you couldn't see the blades of the wind turbine, because they were moving so fast."

Folks who get a good deal of their energy from solar power were probably laughing at all of us without it the early part of this week, too.

Renewable energy is the way to go in North Carolina, and the good news is that if a bill introduced in the state House this session passes you won't have to install a wind turbine or a solar roof on your house to benefit from it.

House Bill 77 is a bipartisan proposal that would require 20 percent of the power provided by our utilities to come either from renewable sources or energy efficiency by the year 2021.

Recently, Duke Energy proposed building two new coal-fired power plants in Cleveland County, near the South Carolina border. These have been described by some environmental activists as "global warming machines."

Toben says that "wind turbines on the coast and in the mountains, sited safely away from bird migration routes, would produce 1,200 megawatts of power." This would produce roughly the same amount of power as the one coal-fired plant that the North Carolina Utilities Commission has approved at Cliffside, and as Toben points out would do the trick while producing no carbon, no nitrogen dioxide, no sulfur dioxide, no particulates and no mercury.

It's just common sense that if we can produce our energy in a more sustainable way while significantly reducing pollution, we should do it.

Where do our local officials stand? Rep. Verla Insko is one of the bill's 56 co-sponsors. The Chapel Hill Town Council, at the behest of Councilman Ed Harrison, unanimously passed a resolution in support of it at a February meeting. They should be commended for their leadership.

Speaker Joe Hackney is not a co-sponsor of the bill, but in his new position he doesn't really sponsor anything. Considering his long record of environmental leadership he will surely do what he can to be supportive.

Rep. Bill Faison also is not a co-sponsor, even though most of his colleagues on the Democratic side of the aisle have already shown their support through that outlet. It surely would not hurt for him to hear from his constituents in northern Orange County about how important it is for him to take leadership on this issue.

Also disappointing is that our major utility companies, Duke and Progress Energy, have not come out to show their support. Duke, in particular, under the leadership of chairman Jim Rogers, has made a lot of noise about moving toward cleaner energy sources. Given this, one might think they should work to see this bill passed. If you are a stockholder at either of these companies, drop them a line and let them know what you think.

Obviously this week's power outages were a minor nuisance, especially in the context of other events occurring both nationally and internationally. Nonetheless, it should help put the spotlight on the emergence of renewable energy sources as valid providers of power.

North Carolina's elected leaders have a great opportunity to show strong leadership on this issue. It's up to them to take the ball and run with it in the coming months, and it's also up to normal citizens to put the pressure on them to make it a priority.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Chapel Hill/Carrboro NAACP showing the right vision

As printed in the Chapel Hill Herald on Saturday, April 14th:

My very first column last spring dealt with my concern about the lack of young black leadership in our community.

I’m still concerned but the good news is that help is on the way. Local NAACP leader Jesse Gibson has brought forward a great plan for a Youth Council that will help to engage teenagers of all races in serving their community. He and the rest of the organization’s leadership have successfully seen the creation of such an organization through Chapel Hill’s lengthy approval process, and it’s now official.

Chapel Hill/Carrboro NAACP President Fred Battle, who has been a fierce advocate for young people as a long time activist and former school board member, says that frequently the reason they are reluctant to get involved in the community is that they don’t feel adequate to the task. He sees a primary function of the Youth Council as helping these folks to build leadership and become confident in their abilities to help guide the community.

While the Chapel Hill Youth Council is in the planning stages, there are good models of functional ones across the state in communities like Durham, Greensboro, and Goldsboro. Battle envisions members of the council becoming intimate with all aspects of town governance.

This would include things like getting to know members of the Town Council well and understanding the way that operates, as well as seeing how the town’s many advisory boards work. Battle thinks that if the students involved in the program are exposed to a broad array of things involved in the running of the town like greenways, parks and recreation, or planning they will become interested in at least one thing and be motivated to become more engaged in it.

That kind of experience working with individual town departments could also help to inspire folks to enter public service on the staff side, leading them to seek the training and expertise necessary to make a career working in local government.

He also hopes to see the Youth Council have a considerable community service component to it. The steering committee the Town Council has created to oversee the program will help to set the specifics for this but I have an initial suggestion. It would be wonderful if they could work to ensure that everyone in their high schools who will be 18 by this fall’s elections register and vote for their local officials. One of the best ways to engage the members of the Youth Council in the community right away could be to have them take the lead in getting the rest of their peers involved.

Students spend plenty of time in the classroom learning about government from lectures and textbooks. Certainly that’s important, but getting the sort of real world experience the Youth Council hopes to provide should go a longer way in getting people excited about serving the community.

It will take a while to measure the long term success that this program has, but Battle’s hope is that five, 10 years down the line when a call goes out for people to serve on a committee or even to run for office, the young people who have been involved will be eager to raise their hands up to serve.

I don’t know whether or not the Youth Council will have a major effect on the number of younger people engaged in the community, but I do know that the problem is indisputable. Young people vote in paltry numbers; Democracy North Carolina released a report just last week showing that more folks 18 to 25 are binge drinkers than voters. The issue of young black people involved in the community is even more acute, with the number of African-Americans voting in the 2005 Town Council election dropping below 300 in Chapel Hill.

The Youth Council proposal the NAACP has brought forward will work to keep and engage Chapel Hill natives in town and serve as a great partner to the internship program Councilman Bill Thorpe has helped bring to fruition over the last year that hopefully will have the same effect of keeping UNC students around and contributing to the community.

Every new initiative designed to get young people more involved in Chapel Hill is a step in the right direction. The leadership of the NAACP should be commended for its vision and commitment in bringing the Youth Council proposal to the table, and I hope community leaders will do their part to make this new entity a great success. These sorts of programs are what we need to ensure that a new generation of leadership is fostered.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

An alternative to Apple Chill?

As printed in the Chapel Hill Herald on Saturday, April 7th:

We're coming up on the first anniversary of last year's Apple Chill debacle and rightful cancellation, and it seems to be on people's minds. Last week the Town Council approved a plan for a new summer concert series and craft festival conceived at least in part to substitute for the absence of the old event. I think the plans they passed sound nice and will be good for the community. But I still think the lack of a townwide celebration in the spring that brings folks in from around the region before the students go home will leave a void.

I believe there's a solution to that problem, though -- a solution that would bring people together, be unlikely to create the sort of crime problems associated with Apple Chill, and provide a wonderful model of town/gown relations.

Nothing brings the disparate elements of the Chapel Hill community together more than UNC basketball.

Likewise, nothing brings more folks from around the state into our community and spending money than UNC basketball.

It may be too late for this year, but I think we should start a new tradition the third or fourth weekend of every April with a parade down Franklin Street to honor the UNC basketball teams, both men and women.

It would give fans, locally and beyond, one last chance to express their appreciation to the Tar Heels before the beginning of the summer.

When the men won the national championship in 2005, there was a lovely event honoring them in the Dean Dome at 4 p.m. the next afternoon, a Tuesday. That was fine for me as a student living on campus. But it likely didn't do much for the working folks in Charlotte and certainly not much for fans in Atlanta or the D.C. area.

We schedule our lives around the games for five months, pour our heart and soul into them.

But when the season ends, win or lose, it's an abrupt ending. There's not much in the way of closure.

Sure the conclusion of the women's season was disappointing but a Final Four season is still something to celebrate. Yet when they came back from Cleveland, there was little in the way of something to show our appreciation with. The men beat Duke twice, won the ACC tournament for the first time in nine years. Getting back from the Elite Eight at nearly midnight though, they didn't have a ton of fans there to greet them.

The good folks at the Visitors Bureau are always looking for opportunities to bring more folks into town, staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants, frequenting our shops.

Using the parade as a center piece, it could be the impetus for folks to come spend an entire weekend in Chapel Hill. Show off Memorial Auditorium with a free concert. Do something nice on McCorkle Place. Tie it in with UNC baseball games or the spring football game. Figure out creative ways to showcase Franklin Street.

It would provide the perfect opportunity to create a premier spring event to bring people into Chapel Hill and celebrate the collaboration of our town and university.

So I'd like to see Town Manager Roger Stancil, Athletic Director Dick Baddour, Chamber of Commerce head Aaron Nelson, Downtown Partnership leader Liz Parham, Visitors Bureau chief Laurie Paolicelli and other interested community leaders sit down together sometime in the next few weeks and think about giving it a shot for 2008.

It would be great to get students involved, too. The UNC student government, under the strong leadership of Chapel Hill native and just-departed Student Body President James Allred, this year reinvigorated "Spring Fest" as an opportunity for music and fun at the end of the school year. Incorporating the event into a broader spring celebration between UNC and Chapel Hill could be a good project for new president Eve Carson.

There is no doubt that Apple Chill outlived its usefulness in our community.

But instead of looking at it as a loss, we should seize it as an opportunity. Designing a large-scale event from scratch will allow us to learn from some of the pitfalls of the past, while coming up with ways to accentuate what is good about our community.

We can design a series of events that appeal to a wide array of people, creating an atmosphere of unity while also helping to stimulate economic activity in the area. There's certainly nothing to lose by discussing it, so let's get that talk going.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

2007 UNC Baseball team is dominating

As printed in the Chapel Hill Herald on Saturday, March 31st:

It breaks our hearts that when we turn the television on CBS tonight Roy Williams won’t be there.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean Tar Heel fans won’t get a chance to see our beloved coach today.

There isn’t enough space in this column for me to enumerate all the reasons I love Roy Williams, but one of them is how supportive he is of the UNC baseball team. Lots of folks probably saw him on ESPN in Omaha during the College World Series last year. Fewer folks know that when UNC went to play a road series at Duke last April, Roy was picnicking with his wife on the first base line in Durham.

Far from a bandwagon fan, he’s been to at least four games so far this season, including Wednesday night’s 28-3 thumping of Davidson.

When he heads out to Boshamer Stadium, he sees quite a show. As vaunted as last year’s national runner up was, this year’s team is actually off to an even better start.

Folks thought we would have trouble recovering from the loss of star pitchers Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard to the pros, but so far we haven’t skipped a beat. Robert Woodard was the most consistent if least hyped pitcher of last year’s starting trio and moves further up the list for various UNC pitching records every time he takes the hill. Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 47th round last summer, he should move a lot further up in the draft order this time around.

The rotation is rounded out by freshman Alex White and last year’s midweek starter Luke Putkonen. White has pitched better than I ever remember Bard or Miller pitching as a freshman. He is already a star, and it’s hard to comprehend how good he’ll be pitching for the Tar Heels in two years (in baseball, once you go to college you have to stay three years before going to the pros.) Putkonen has adjusted well to the tougher hitters he faces in the weekend games, with an undefeated record so far on the season.

The real excitement this team is providing though is with their bats. Freshman Dustin Ackley immediately became my favorite player on the team in the second game of the season when he blooped a hit to short left center field and ran it out into a double. I liked his hustle then, now I like even more that he is batting an amazing near 500.

Maybe the best example to show how much punch this team has is that catcher Benji Johnson, a Chatham County native, hit two home runs on Wednesday night- off the bench!

Left fielder Reid Fronk always seems to find a way to get on base. In an exciting late February game against nationally ranked Coastal Carolina, he got hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in extra innings to win it. Second baseman Garrett Gore is in the lineup for his stellar defense, but he is markedly improved with the bat and hit his first career home run earlier this week. Third baseman Chad Flack is struggling but will doubtless soon get back to the star form that launched UNC into the College World Series with a dramatic home run against Alabama last spring.

The outfield positions are an embarrassment of riches with a menu of choices including freshmen Drew Poulk and Tim Fedroff, who have each already shown an ability to hit for power, the speedy Mike Cavasinni who started in center field during most of last year’s championship run, and Seth Williams who provides both solid defense and a steady bat.

Orange County’s own Josh Horton is likely to be a first round draft pick this spring and continues to provide a hot bat at the shortstop position. After spending the summer with Team USA, catcher Tim Federowicz is now doing double duty as a strong relief pitcher while continuing to hit well and play solid defense.

Bottom line, this team is loaded, fun to watch, and primed to take care of last season’s unfinished business.

I can’t promise ‘ol Roy will be there this afternoon, but the Tar Heels are at home each of the next two days against in conference rival Wake Forest. Personally I think there’s no better spring experience in Chapel Hill than enjoying a game at the Bosh on a warm spring night, and the opportunity to do that presents itself each of the next four Tuesday nights at 6 PM.

It was a disappointing end to the basketball season but between the women’s basketball team’s trip to the final four in Cleveland this weekend and this outstanding baseball team there’s plenty of sun on the horizon for Tar Heel fans.

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