Four candidates are in the final stages of their race to be the next mayor of Rocky Mount.
Robert Alston, Kevin Jones, Sandy Roberson and Bronson Williams are seeking to replace Mayor David Combs, who chose not to seek re-election after serving three terms.
Alston, 52, has been barbering off and on for about 25 years. He also was in the U.S. Navy from 1985-89, having served on the USS La Moure County, where he worked as a disbursement clerk in accounting.
Jones, 31, is founder and president of the BAC Scholarship Fund, an educational nonprofit group in Rocky Mount. He also is a policy analyst for the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Roberson, 52, is managing partner of HealthView Capital Partners, an investment group engaging in the acquisition of companies.
Williams, 33, who ran for mayor in 2015, owns television station WNCR and a local child care center.
The Telegram emailed a questionnaire to the four candidates. Alston declined to respond. Here are the responses from the other three:
Why are you running for mayor?
Jones: To make a difference from the inside. Our city is more divided than ever. Crime in this city makes many residents prisoners inside their own home. Our schools don’t reflect the promise of our children. I believe that we can go further together. As someone who grew up in South Rocky Mount, I know the effects of crime — and many causes of it. Not only as a product of our public schools — but now, as a parent of a child in our public schools — I have skin in the game. At the end of the day, I want the Rocky Mount that my girls grow up in to be a few steps above the Rocky Mount of today.
Roberson: Rocky Mount’s future stands on our ability to work together to build solutions for progress and proactively address the challenges of public safety, job creation, quality education and affordable housing. I’m running for mayor because I believe our best is yet to come. I see Rocky Mount as a city with a bright future, full of hope and promise. I grew up here. Rocky Mount is my home. After college, I came back to Rocky Mount to build a business and support my family. I’m running for mayor because we need strong leadership to bring people together — focused on improving our daily lives, protecting our families and enhancing our quality of life. My focus will be all about job creation, improving our schools, investing in our neighborhoods and protecting our families.
Williams: I am running for mayor of Rocky Mount because for too long, the office has been missing an effective communicator and ambassador who serves all residents. I bring a strong understanding of issues, strategic plans and vision for our city. These things would not have been possible without my history of engagement, advocacy and unwavering commitment to the study of governmental affairs.
What do you hope to accomplish?
Jones: I want to change the way people from outside of Rocky Mount’s borders view us but more importantly, I want to change the way we see ourselves. I don’t want our next generation of children to measure their success like many in my generation did — solely on how fast they can leave Rocky Mount and how long they can stay away. I also want to change the public’s level of expectation from our elected leaders by being a mayor who is not just visible but personally connected to people of all backgrounds, religions, races and wards of our city.
Roberson: We need new leadership at City Hall who will work to unify our city. We need a mayor who will reach across racial, partisan and county lines to bring our city together — to point us in a positive direction. Here are my priorities if I am elected our next mayor: Fighting crime, protecting our neighborhoods and public safety; new jobs, economic growth and development; investing in our public schools; and expanding our Parks & Recreation programs. While I will work to put more police officers on patrol, the real way to tackle crime in our city is to help create new high-paying jobs, expand our economic base and work to reduce poverty. That’s going to be my top priority. If you believe Rocky Mount needs new leadership and a new direction at City Hall, I ask you to join me.
Williams: Once elected, I hope to change the negative narrative that drives division in our city. Televised meetings are paramount to changing that narrative. I will also move to showcase the results of a focused plan that is meaningful to families at all levels. But to do any of this, there must be constant engagement with residents.
What sets you apart from the other candidates?
Jones: Action. Too often when running for office, candidates only offer up “what they are going to do” or “what will be important” to them once elected. In this race, the biggest indication of who any candidate is going to be should be evidenced by who we’ve been. Anything we have the passion or capacity to do as a candidate, we should have been doing as a citizen if it truly meant that much — and there should be “receipts” of the work we are publicly touting. The position of mayor is one rooted in government and service to the people in this city. I have the most experience working in government — federal, state and local — and my record of service to our city is one that is more extensive — and verifiable — than any other candidate.
Roberson: My education, my experience in business, my vision for the city sets me apart from the other candidates. I will be a full-time mayor who works to unify our city, to bring people together to get things done. I will work across party lines, racial lines, county lines, any line you can think of to get Rocky Mount back on the right track with an eye on accountable, responsible, transparent government at City Hall.
Williams: I am a professionally trained communicator. Communication is essential to the mayor’s office. The reality is there is no other candidate for mayor in this election who has a clear understanding of the office’s function and role. Additionally, my commitment to the city runs deeper than attending city meetings of all types. That commitment has resulted in city, county and school system changes.
What is the greatest challenge facing Rocky Mount?
Jones: Some say crime, some say jobs and both are huge challenges in our city, but having to pick just one, I’ll say unity. We are deeply divided by what county we live in, what gang we are a part of, and yes, even the color of our skin. We need a leader who can help bridge those gaps and get us to a point where we reach across all dividing lines and learn more about the stories that connect us. Once that happens, we’ll be less likely to see things as Nash vs. Edgecombe, Blood vs. Crip and black vs. white.
Roberson: As a voter, you have the choice of voting for more of the same or voting for new leadership. Let me be frank, Rocky Mount is headed down the wrong path. Just look at the facts: According to the 2018 state Department of Public Instruction data, 11 schools in our system are failing and 41 percent of our schools have a ‘D’ grade; in student performance, Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools ranked 109 out of 115 public school systems; Rocky Mount median income is $38,972 while across the state it is $50,584; Rocky Mount’s average unemployment is 6.1 percent while the statewide rate is 3.7 percent; Rocky Mount’s average home value is $85,700 compared to Wilson, which is $137,800. I believe we can and must do better. I will be a mayor who works to unify our city and won’t be afraid to tackle the tough issues head-on.
Williams: Our greatest challenge is our unwillingness to have a genuine and healthy discussion about race and culture. When we have that real conversation and lay it all on the table, I believe it will cease to be a significant part of our discussion. A real conversation will help to create an actual plan to deal with the crime in our community, economic opportunities, fair and equitable housing and access.
How do you think the city of Rocky Mount can improve the quality of life for its citizens?
Jones: By having all our elected leaders establish personal connections with our entire city is how we improve the quality of life for the people of Rocky Mount. The decisions made at City Hall have real consequences for people who call Rocky Mount home. If all decision-makers personally know the people they are affecting and have been informed of their perspectives, the choices made will add to the quality of life for all.
Roberson: The biggest way to improve the quality of life for our citizens is by improving our local economy. I will use my experience in business to lead a concerted effort to recruit new jobs, industry and commerce into our city. If we want to tackle the persistent problem with crime, we must bring new jobs and economic opportunities to Rocky Mount. We must invest in our public schools — we have a crisis in our public schools and it’s a community issue, meaning we must have engagement from our City Council and county commissioners. Finally, I believe we must expand our successful Parks & Recreation program with special attention for our after-school programs and adult-senior events.
Williams: The city is working daily to improve the quality of life for its residents. By ensuring we meet our infrastructure needs, recreational programming and investing in a secure and vibrant downtown, anything is possible for our citizens. We can improve on it further by developing plans for neighborhood beautician and taking targeted approaches to see tangible impacts on our city.
How do you envision the future of Rocky Mount over the next few years?
Jones: We have thousands of amazing people from Rocky Mount who have gone off to make the world better in every industry and line of work imaginable. Talent is our biggest export and some of the best things about Rocky Mount get shared with the world first. This may sound a bit selfish, but I envision a Rocky Mount where over the next few years, we begin sharing more of our best with ourselves — right here in this city.
Roberson: Rocky Mount is at a major crossroads. We need new leadership at City Hall to point us in a new direction — one that provides results and less rhetoric. We need a mayor who will work to unify our city. We need a mayor who will focus on the real issues such as violent crime, new job creation and investing in our public schools. That’s the leadership I will bring to the mayor’s office. I will be open, accessible, accountable, responsive and transparent.
Williams: Rocky Mount is on the brink of a great future for the coming generations. I see a city with a vibrant downtown area that is inclusive of everyone. I see more housing developments for every income level throughout the different communities of our city. I believe we will have a profitable hotel in downtown Rocky Mount while maintaining growth with our current hotel district. I believe the median annual income will grow, and citizens will have more money in their pockets. Lastly, I envision a safer community with fewer violent crimes.