Burke’’s campaign focuses on citizen empowerment

by Keith Barber

Burke’s campaign focuses on citizen empowerment

Winston-Salem Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke’s political philosophy could best be described as a fusion of the philosophies of Ralph Waldo Emerson and John F. Kennedy. “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius,” Emerson wrote. In his famous inaugural address, Kennedy uttered the famous statement, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

During her run for a record-setting ninth term on city council, Burke has espoused the virtues of self-reliance, encouraging her constituents in the Northeast Ward to not wait for the government to improve their lives but to vigorously participate in the political process.

“We need more voices of people sitting here to come down to City Hall to help us to speak about what’s wrong in city government, and which direction we ought to be moving in city government,” Burke said during an Aug. 18 candidate forum.

She shared her vision of the direction she’d like to see the city move in, saying the responsibility for improving education, public safety and economic development in the Northeast Ward falls squarely on the shoulders of its residents.

Harold Hairston, a city council candidate from the East Ward, questioned Burke about wielding her power and influence as the longest-serving member of the city council to help improve the lives of her constituents. Burke said despite her lengthy tenure, she represents only one vote on the council.

“What you have to keep in mind is there are eight of us,” Burke said. “It takes five votes for everything to happen. I’m not a miracle worker. There’s no way in the world I can control nine votes.”

Elected to city council in 1977, Burke said her greatest strength is the knowledge she’s gained while serving more than three decades on the council.

“Experience and wisdom are very important when you’re looking at a city’s short-range and long-range plans,” Burke said. “A good steward with experience can help avoid mistakes when you’re sitting in a position.”

Burke said she’s learned to be a liaison between her constituents and city department heads to create a positive flow of communication. The planks of Burke’s 2009 platform include improved public safety, creating economic opportunities for the residents of the Northeast Ward, and continuing to provide affordable housing for Winston-Salem’s citizens.

Burke said she would also continue to support the efforts of the Winston-Salem Youth Task Force.

“We will continue to put emphasis with our youth task force,” Burke said. “We will bring in churches and neighborhood groups and utilize parks and recreation.”

Burke said her efforts to revitalize the Liberty Street corridor have served as the cornerstone of her economic development initiatives, but small business owners are still struggling.

“The city needs to find some kind of way to supplement small businesses,” she said.

Before the city council agreed to invest an additional $15.7 million in a new downtown ballpark, Burke expressed reservations about the city supporting a big business while doing little for small businesses.

“It’s rather difficult for citizens to understand a project that invests more of their tax dollars,” she said.

However, on June 15, Burke voted in favor of the city council’s resolution to extend additional financing to Winston- Salem Dash owner Billy Prim.

Burke said she remains a grassroots candidate at heart, and hopes to keep serving the citizens of the Northeast Ward.

“When President Obama campaigned on change — that was my theme in 1977,” she said.