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Activist-politician seeks second term

by Keith Barber

Activist-politician seeks second term

Molly Leight winces when people call her a politician. Leight, who represents Winston-Salem’s South Ward on the city council, prefers the title of “public servant and activist.” A longtime member of the Winston-Salem Neighborhood Alliance, Leight said she never aspired to run for elected office, but city leaders encouraged her to get more involved in politics four years ago. Leight defeated Republican Vernon Robinson by almost 750 votes in the general election in 2005, and during her time on the council, she’s remained a steadfast advocate for protecting the city’s environment. Leight said the tree ordinance passed by the city council two months ago doesn’t go far enough to address concerns about the city’s growing carbon footprint. “It’s a puny ordinance,” Leight said. The tree ordinance requires new development in the city to preserve either 10 percent or 12 percent of its total area for green space. A former member of Forsyth Initiative for Responsible Growth, Leight has been a leading advocate for protecting green space and reining in urban sprawl during her first term on city council. Investment in improved transportation infrastructure and downtown development projects like the baseball stadium are a key step toward centralizing the county’s growing population, Leight said. “To combat sprawl, we need to be more stringent about growth in the outer areas of the city,” she said. “It’s real important to protect tree canopy and farm land. We have to work toward trying to make development happen downtown, and discourage development in the outer parts of the city, so we will have green space, farmland, forests left in the county.” Leight pointed out that the biggest contributor to the city’s carbon footprint is generating the energy necessary to pump water to residents’ homes and she would like to see a tiered system for water and sewer rates to help address the issue. With regard to forced annexation, Leight said residents that live near the city and use the city’s services should pay their fair share for those services. “Living across an arbitrary line is not a fair way to look at it,” she said. Leight acknowledged that future annexations could require greater education efforts and voter referendum. With regard to economic development, Leight said she will continue to be an advocate for small businesses. “We need to encourage that and build our small business loan capacity as much as we can,” she said. “I truly believe those small businesses are the backbone of our economy.” With regard to public safety, Leight voted in favor of the use of Tasers by the Winston- Salem Police Department, and using a federal grant to put more police officers on the street. Leight supported the idea of building a baseball stadium downtown from the very beginning, she said, but understands the public’s frustration regarding the lack of transparency in negotiations between the city and ballpark developer Billy Prim. “For a year or so, we were having meetings after council meetings to get updates on where we stood,” Leight explained. “We couldn’t say anything about negotiations between the city, [Prim] and his [former] partner [Andrew “Flip” Flipowski]. People being blindsided is a function of what we couldn’t talk about.” Controversy aside, Leight’s vision of Winston-Salem’s future includes the stadium as an economic anchor in downtown that will spur investment in transportation infrastructure, and ultimately build a cleaner, greener Winston-Salem. “I would love to see us set the stage, with the ballpark in place, to set the stage for an [enhanced] public transportation system,” Leight said. “Trolley lines would energize the whole downtown.”

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