Hairston: It’s time for a change on city council

by Keith Barber

Harold Hairston doesn’t give up easily. The 65-year-old Hairston, who is running for the Democratic nomination to represent Winston-Salem’s East Ward, lost his first bid for elected office four years ago, but remains undeterred in achieving his goal of serving his community.

“The first time I ran, I was inexperienced,” Hairston said. “[Democratic incumbent Joycelyn] Johnson turned out 322 votes. I just ran on ideas.”

Still, Hairston managed to garner 169 votes in the 2005 Democratic primary. He attributed the strong showing to his understanding of the issues that affect voters in the East Ward. “I believe my ideas should’ve won last time but I made the fatal mistake — you have to get people who believe in you to the polls,” Hairston conceded.

This time around, Hairston said he has focused his canvassing efforts on reminding residents of the Sept. 15 primary. Economic development, public safety, and greater diversity on city-appointed boards and commissions are the major planks of Hairston’s 2009 campaign.

With regard to economic development, Hairston said the outlying communities in Forsyth County like Kernersville and Clemmons are flourishing economically, while the East Ward languishes. He hopes to change that reality by offering incentives to businesses large and small to set up shop east of US Highway 52. “Until you get economic development, you can’t build a tax base,” Hairston said. “You can’t get people to build businesses there and I don’t blame them. We’re sending our tax dollars to city hall but none of the tax dollars are coming back.” Hairston cited the success of the Peters Creek corridor, which includes a number of new restaurants and retail stores as a model for the East Ward to follow. If elected, Hairston said he would be a strong advocate to offer incentives to businesses that locate in economically depressed areas of the city. Hairston said he supports protecting parkland from development but concedes environmental issues are not at the top of his priority list. “If you don’t have a job, tree ordinances and green environment doesn’t work for you,” he said. “It works for people who are comfortable, so let’s get comfortable first.”

Hairston said he would like to improve public safety by focusing on com munity policing. He would also like to revamp the process for selecting citizens to serve on city boards and commissions. “Committees drive the city and committee appointments are made by the mayor, and you can’t get on one of those,” Hairston said.

As a solution, Hairston said he would support a rule that requires onecitizen from every ward to serve on all city-appointed boards andcommissions. Hairston cited the example of the council’sunanimous approval of the downtown ballpark as evidence that thecouncil should take greater steps to include input from boards andcommissions before making major decisions involving public money. “Wego out and build a ballpark that we can’t fill, because we couldn’tfill Ernie Shore Field,” Hairston said. “We spent all this publicfinancing for it, and we get nothing in return and we still want to putmoney in it. I believe when you’re digging a hole and find out you’regoing in the wrong direction, you quit digging.” Ultimately,Hairston believes his chances of victory on Sept. 15 will hinge onvoters’ desire for real change in the East Ward. “In times like these,when people are unemployed, when neighborhoods are going down and crimerates are coming up, you have to have a leader for the times,” he said.