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Two vie for Ward 1 council seat

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From Staff Reports

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Downtown business owner Tarrick Pittman is challenging four-term Councilman Andre Knight for the Ward 1 seat on the City Council.

Knight, 50, is a business owner who earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from N.C. Central University and a graduate certificate in gerontology from East Carolina University. He has one son.

Pittman, 45, owner of the downtown Cool Geeks computer repair shop, is president of the Downtown Merchants Association and also serves on the city’s Central City Revitalization Panel. He graduated from Rocky Mount High School and attended Louisburg College. He has a son and a daughter.

Shortly after the candidate filing period ended, the Telegram emailed a questionnaire to all of the candidates for City Council. Here are the responses that Knight provided to the Telegram and Pittman posted on his Facebook page:

Why are you running for City Council? What do you hope to accomplish?

Knight: I desire to continue the progress that has been made in strengthening the neighborhoods and communities in Rocky Mount that have been intentionally left without significant public investment and improvement for more than 60 years. Since I have been on City Council, I have led and been a part of the elected team that has prioritized affordable workforce housing, safe and improving neighborhoods, downtown revitalization, new business start-ups and existing business growth in east and inner city Rocky Mount, equitable and fair hiring and management policies for city employees, investing in state-of-the-art recreation infrastructure and programming throughout our city, job development and growth for all sectors in Rocky Mount and strong schools throughout our entire city.

If re-elected, I commit to continuing my advocacy for all these initiatives. I believe that we have turned Rocky Mount around from a low-performing city to an exciting city of diversity, promise and opportunity for shared prosperity for everyone.

Pittman: I’m a dad, a local business owner, a mentor, a volunteer and proud Rocky Mount citizen. Most importantly, I am a neighbor seeking the opportunity to serve the Ward 1 community by being their next representative on City Council.

After more than 25 years in the corporate world, I made the decision to work for myself, to be more present with my child’s upbringing and to be a part of the local business community. I believe I can help bring about positive change in the city where I was born, have lived for most of my life and proudly call home. Like many of our citizens, I want to see our city continue to grow and prosper.

For those reasons, getting involved in politics at the local level is about my desire to improve things like our economic vitality, community identity(ies) and effective management of our available resources. As an entrepreneur and parent, not a politician, I will bring a fresh, positive and creative mindset to the council, and through my efforts, collaborating with all members of council, will help our great city move forward in a positive manner. I will work toward policies that allow for rational and responsible development but also retain what makes our city special. Any of my friends will tell you, my passion is bringing people together, working toward a common purpose and doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

Knight: I have an actual track record of speaking truth to power and advocating for those whose voices and lives have not been valued in board rooms and legislative chambers. I have led efforts to revitalize our inner-city communities as well as incent(ivize) investment in the downtown core and corridors of commerce in Ward 1 and throughout inner-city Rocky Mount. I led the aggressive stance against Duke Power and relief from the almost $500 million debt that entrapped our city residents. I have stood for equity and diversity in every conversation in which I’ve been a part and can show the results of my advocacy in improving the quality of life for everyone in Rocky Mount.

Pittman: Determination ... My background, work and life experiences uniquely qualify me to serve Ward 1 and our city. I am committed to doing everything that I can to give back to our city to making sure its current residents — and just as important, those who come after — have the same opportunities I have been given. Rocky Mount is a wonderful place to call home.

Together we can ensure it continues to be a great place for current and future residents and businesses alike to grow and thrive. First, it is time for us to move past the tactics of fear and intimidation that have been used in our community for the past 16 years while vibrant growth has passed Ward 1 by and creative solutions to known problems remain null and void.

What is the greatest challenge facing a) Rocky Mount and b) your ward and how do you propose to fix it?

Knight: Rocky Mount’s greatest challenge is our perception of what is possible in our city and having the confidence in ourselves to address all of our challenges and resolve them. Ward 1’s greatest challenge is to create opportunities for existing residents to take advantage of the growth that is occurring in east Rocky Mount while welcoming new investors into our neighborhoods. I will address those challenges by continuing to advocate for equitable and fair housing, business development, recreation and public safety policies and funding.

Pittman: I believe public safety is an issue that is impacting the city and Ward 1 as a whole. First, I believe it is important we work hand-in-hand with law enforcement to address crime, including the incorrect perception of crime in Rocky Mount. We need to work with local law enforcement, supporting them through resources they may need for hiring more staff, offering enhanced training and supporting innovative initiatives and solutions. It is important we continue to make strides to improve police and community relations through meaningful initiatives as this can enhance public safety.

In addition, it is important to build a sense of community among the various ward residents through the respective neighborhood associations and perhaps have communitywide events creating a stronger community fabric, knitting us together, which will help us work toward addressing our problems as a whole.

Lastly, it is important as a city we proactively address and provide attainable solutions to the underlying root causes which are fueling crime such as poverty and unemployment. To address unemployment, we need to better prepare our youth for the technology jobs of the future. By investing in our youth, we are laying the groundwork for the future to attract high-paying, technology-based companies to our area, creating a workforce who will be ready for the challenge. To do this we need to address the barriers of broadband throughout Ward 1 and some of our other communities where the unemployment rate remains high. This will give better access to the internet to those who are seeking jobs or to the single parent who can’t afford child care and has to work from home. It will also help our youth complete homework assignments with the laptops most schools are issuing.

What do you enjoy most about your ward?

Knight: The rich history that many of our residents have lived and the heritage of creativity, strong work ethic and relentless courage has provided a sound base of support that has brought great transformation to our neighborhoods already. We still have much work to do, even though we’ve come a long way. The future is bright for our ward and I desire to continue bringing all my resources and networks to assist in making Ward 1 successful in every way.

Pittman: There are so many things to love about Ward 1. First our ward is quite unique in that it is almost entirely residential. We have several well-established neighborhoods with active associations. These neighborhoods are amazing with lots of mature trees and varying architectural home designs.

However, what I love most about our ward is the resiliency of the people given the lack of resources and access currently available to us and the community events hosted by the various neighborhood associations in an effort to build community and foster “fellowship” among residents.

How do you think the city of Rocky Mount can improve the quality of life for its current citizens, those who are moving here and those who visit?

Knight: We can start by celebrating everything great that we have accomplished together. Our crime rate is low even though certain elements in and outside our city perpetuate the myth that living in Rocky Mount is dangerous. We can continue the excellent training that RMPD has begun and embrace a culture of community policing and mutual accountability. Our entrepreneurial base is very strong throughout Rocky Mount. We can strengthen that by creating programs in City Hall that help local and minority- and women-owned businesses get started, grow and prosper as well as helping them understand how to do business with the city. We can continue building our downtown core by ensuring that we are intentional about creating opportunities for entrepreneurs and established businesses to invest and prosper as friendly neighbors.

City-led programs that provide incentives and clear and reasonable pathways to restoring historic buildings will create a buzz that will generate great interest in our city for years to come. And we must ensure that affordable workforce housing is available to everyone in every sector of our city. We are a beautiful and diverse city and we encourage everyone to join us in our growth and prosperity.

Pittman: If the city’s goal is to attract businesses and entrepreneurs to the Rocky Mount area, there must also be a focus on providing an exceptional quality of life for current and future residents alike. I applaud and support the efforts to increase awareness of arts and science, the building of the Rocky Mount Event Center (and) the development of a dynamic historic downtown shopping district.

However, we must not forget improving our neighborhoods and our aging infrastructure for future growth and ensuring quality public safety and education programs. If we focus on these key elements, we will achieve our goal to encourage business investments, retain residents and most importantly improve the quality of life of our current residents.

In addition, investment in outdoor recreation, parks and trails is so incredibly important in attracting and supporting tourism.

Former longtime department head Rich Worsinger told the council if they didn’t fix the city’s water and waste system infrastructure that Rocky Mount would be the next Flint, Mich. How will you handle this possible problem?

Knight: First of all, I think it’s suspect that a longtime department head would leave a job in Rocky Mount to go to a sister city and then come back within weeks of his new job to criticize the very leadership that supported his own growth and development. I am not concerned with his perspective or chidings. His analogy of Flint, Mich., to Rocky Mount is factually flawed, racially exploitative and smacks of sour grapes. According to the investigative review conducted by the Nexsen Pruitt law firm, he is also one of several employees that perpetuated the baseless claim that there was a hit-list generated to target white employees. That allegation was proven absolutely false and created unnecessary alarm among our city’s workforce and population. His new allegation of lead-contaminated water in Rocky Mount is just as inflammatory and intentional on feeding an environment of distrust in our city’s leadership.

Our water infrastructure is no worse than any other city in our state. In fact, Rocky Mount has been recognized over several years for having great-tasting and high-quality water. The City Council has approved every single request for infrastructure improvement in our Water Resources Department that has come to us in the past and there is no reason to assume that we would change direction now. I value the health and lives of our city and residents. We have spent tens of millions of dollars since I’ve been on City Council on our water infrastructure in Rocky Mount. Worsinger knows that. Our 2019-20 budget we just approved allocated $2 million for sewer infrastructure improvements. We have also just funded more than $700,000 for a high-duty pump for the Sunset Avenue water plant.

Pittman did not provide a response to this question.

How do you envision the future of Rocky Mount over the next few years?

Knight: We should lead the state in public/private partnership innovation, inclusive and cutting-edge downtown revitalization, diverse and broad arts, athletics and recreation programming and beautiful affordable workforce housing for all income levels. If we hold true to the template of community-led revitalization efforts, Rocky Mount will boom with growth that doesn’t push people out but makes space for everyone already here while welcoming others who want to be here.

Pittman: Positive change for any city or town over just a few years is hard to measure; that said, I would like to see Rocky Mount be welcoming to new businesses of all types. Economics is a science, a balancing act with laws, the same as any science. As in nature, a lack of biodiversity can decimate an ecosystem, and the same can be said for a lack of diversity in business. I want to see Rocky Mount grow, bringing in new voices with new ideas, in an effort to maintain a sustainable economy and potentially regain our place as the economic hub of eastern North Carolina. After all, Rocky Mount was founded by entrepreneurs, creators and innovators. That being said, at the same time I wouldn’t like to see us lose the essence of what makes Rocky Mount a great place to live, play and grow a business.

I believe in Rocky Mount; let’s grow together.

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