Candidates for Cary’s District C council race disagree on growth, transit

aspecht@newsobserver.comSeptember 20, 2013 

  • Meet the District C candidates

    Deborah Pugh

    Age: 78

    Occupation: Retired educator

    Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Wayne State University in Detroit

    Family: Widow, has three children


    Jack Smith

    Age: 66

    Occupation: Owner of Organizational Capability Services

    Education: Degrees in psychology and sociology from the University of Oklahoma

    Family: Wife, Bridget, and two children


— The race for the District C seat on the Cary Town Council is shaping up as a referendum on the town’s moral and aesthetic character.

During a forum for local candidates on Sept. 18, Deborah Pugh suggested that incumbent councilman Jack Smith is part of a council that’s influenced by developers and is endangering Cary’s quality of life by consenting to plans for urbanization.

Unlike District A challenger Karl Thor, who criticized incumbent councilwoman Jennifer Robinson, Pugh didn’t target Smith directly with her complaints. Instead, she highlighted her concerns about Cary Town Council “subsidizing” a hotel project and encouraging high-rise apartments and light rail transit.

Cary recently moved to apply for a $1.4 million federal loan on behalf of developers who hope to build a hotel in downtown Cary.

“I am concerned that there is a perception that developers have influence over the council,” Pugh said. “I think we can enhance the quality of life without replacing the tranquil neighborhoods (and) without urbanization.”

Smith, who has served 24 years on the council, said he didn’t know where some of Pugh’s concerns were coming from.

“There aren’t plans for neo-urbanism,” Smith said.

In general, he said, allowing high-rise buildings near residential neighborhoods is an “abomination.”

Three Town Council seats are up for grabs in the Oct. 8 election. Along with Smith, fellow incumbent Robinson is trying to keep her seat and faces a challenge from Thor. Ed Yerha is running an uncontested race for his at-large seat.

Pugh, like Smith, describes herself as a fiscal conservative. But Smith pointed to his approach of championing fiscal discipline, smart growth, commitment to environmental protection and innovative public-private partnerships as “time-tested and proven.”

Speaking to voters in his closing remarks, Smith said: “You’ve re-elected me five times telling me it’s because I remain true to my word.”

Smith and Pugh were also divided on the town’s westward growth and extending operational hours of C-Tran, Cary’s public bus system.

Pugh said she was concerned about rapid growth and extending town services into Chatham County.

“I’m not necessarily against that growth, but I want to see plans for how you support that growth,” she said.

Smith said Cary is growing in “an orderly, thoughtful way.”

He also rejected a notion posed during the forum that Cary should extend C-Tran hours from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. – the No. 1 request of C-Tran riders polled in a 2012 survey.

“We are a suburban community, and mass transit is overwhelmingly expensive,” Smith said. He added that Cary would likely partner with neighboring municipalities when it comes to public transportation.

Pugh said she favors expanding C-Tran hours and, if elected, would seek to increase its funding.

“I would also extend it in such a way so that it makes a connection with communities close to us and adds to the expectation of Cary citizens (so that they can) enjoy the nightlife, whether it’s here in Cary, downtown Raleigh or other places.”

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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