T.J. Walker Jr. and Elaine B. Williams are vying to replace retiring Councilwoman Lois Watkins in the Ward 4 seat on the City Council.

Both candidates have local political heavyweights backing their candidacies. Williams is endorsed by state Rep. James Gailliard, D-Nash. She said she is Watkins’ protégé and is receiving Watkins’ full support.

Walker is the grandson of former Edgecombe County Commissioner and longtime local political activist the Rev. Thomas L. Walker, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church.

T.J. Walker, 27, has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from N.C. Central University and currently is working on a master’s of divinity degree at Shaw Divinity School. He is a community engagement coordinator and assistant pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church and youth development coordinator for WeFit Inc. He and his wife, Breona, have three children, Tyzion, Talib and Talia.

Williams, 57, is a senior tax advisor at H&R Block with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting from N.C. Wesleyan College. She and her husband, George, have a blended family of six daughters, five sons, 20 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Shortly after the candidate filing period ended, the Telegram emailed a questionnaire to all of the candidates for City Council. Here are the responses from Walker and Williams:

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

Walker: I am running for City Council in order to implement change that is conducive to the current times and generations to come. I hope to build bridges that connect generations, races, ethnic groups and religions in order to progress a city that is full of positive potential.

Williams: I am running for City Council to continue the growth we are currently experiencing. A great deal of development has taken place and new projects are in progress and on the drawing board. I will be a strong voice on the council and will speak up and ask the tough questions. I will work to bring some of this progress to Ward 4 and inclusively across the city.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

Walker: What sets me apart from other candidates is my age, ideas and passion to serve all people along with a desire for positive change throughout the city of Rocky Mount.

Williams: My experience sets me apart from the other candidate: 10 years on the Rocky Mount Planning Board, active in the Nash County Democratic Party as 2nd vice chair, nine years as a Nash County Board of Elections chief judge/judge, 18 years employed with a local tax company, my understanding of small business/entrepreneurs through network marketing and being a resident of Ward 4 for 35 years. I will continue the legacy of a capable and experienced African-American female on the council in the footprints of Ms. Helen Gay, Ms. Angela Bryant and Councilwoman Lois Watkins. Their footprints have paved the way and I am very thankful.

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

Walker: I believe the greatest challenge facing Rocky Mount is breaking down traditional barriers in order to have progressive unity. The greatest challenge for Ward 4 is creating and preparing opportunities for all. I propose to address these challenges with my platform of Y.E.P. — Youth Development, Economic Development and Partnering with Local Law Enforcement.

Williams: One of the many challenges is the lack of workforce readiness, which promotes crime and instability in our families and most economically deprived neighborhoods.

Two proposed fixes to the lack of workforce readiness are to maximize the impact of the partnerships between the City Council and the Carolinas Gateway Partnership, local colleges, Kingsboro Training Center, neighborhood and civic groups, faith-based and nonprofit partners to make sure that all residents are informed of the resources available to them.

Ward 4 has the unique advantage of five schools with various challenges. Two challenges are the lack of funding and at least one school needs to be renovated. The lack of funding prevents a good start in pre-K and kindergarten. I proposed that the City Council and Nash-Rocky Mount school system continue to collaborate and explore educational strategies that meet the students’ needs where they are. We need to ensure that funds are utilized to maximize the greatest service for our students and to renovate the schools in need of (it).

What do you enjoy most about your ward?

Walker: Ward 4 is a community filled with great potential. Seeing some revitalization of neighborhoods connects with my vision of fair and equitable opportunities for all. This is an example of what I enjoy most about Ward 4.

Williams: I like the redevelopment in our neighborhoods, improving the quality and affordable housing. I like the fact that my ward is a convenient location for many things I need in my life, even though we are continually challenged to keep amenities in our neighborhood: church, fire station, police department, schools, colleges, city hall, human service organizations, grocery store, senior center, family medical center — and I could go on and on but you get the picture.

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?

Walker: I believe Rocky Mount can improve the quality of life for its citizens, those who are moving here and those who are visiting by focusing on these three pillars: Y.E.P. 1). Youth development that is purposeful and authentic, and developing programs that will build youth for 21st century living. 2). Economic development will ensure that all residents have progressive opportunities. 3). Partnering with local law enforcement is imperative to the process. Communication and collaboration are critical tools for facilitating public safety. We are all responsible for ensuring our city is protected from violence and crime.

Williams: The City of Rocky Mount can improve the quality of life by improving and increasing communications that keep the residents informed of all the benefits the city has to offer, making it attractive for graduates to return home, residents to remain, and for visitors to make Rocky Mount their home by competitive wages, strong educational partnerships, increasing public safety, continuing to build life after five, sidewalks in our walkable neighborhoods, affordable and quality housing, and increasing the effective use of our parks and recreation activities.

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?

Walker: 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. In reference to the waste and water system, I will fight for progressively monitoring, repairing and/or replacing any components of our infrastructure that have the potential to cause harm to our citizens. This will require the city to collaborate with knowledgeable engineers and financial officers to leverage resources because replacing infrastructure is a major task. The safety and well-being of our citizens will always be a top priority.

Williams: I proposed that we review current data and information on the status of our drinking and waste water infrastructure, bring in experts to share with council and residents on the improvement needed and, based on findings, adopt a plan that could be implemented over time.

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

Walker: With the current accomplishments and future business opportunities, I envision Rocky Mount as a true city on the rise with a magnetic appeal for all age groups.

Williams: I envision a thriving Rocky Mount; with businesses/job development I believe we will see growth in the tax base, growth in homeownership and affordable housing, growth in stability in our communities, growth in equality and unity in Rocky Mount and a continued decrease in crime and violence.