District D challenger Ted Van Dyk, running as “A Positive Voice for Raleigh,” went the negative route again over the weekend with an attack postcard aimed at, of all things, incumbent Councilor Thomas Crowder’s good work with neighborhood leaders on the comprehensive plan.
Think of it as a kind of minor-league Swift Boating, where you try to undermine your opponent’s strength (John Kerry’s Vietnam service) by hinting darkly that if we only knew more about it, it woudn’t be a strength.
So Crowder meets once a month with neighborhood folks, mostly (but not exclusively) neighborhood association and CAC leaders? This is a good, small-d democracy thing that Crowder, a few years ago, dubbed the District D Neighborhood Alliance (DDNA). But in Van Dyk’s telling, DDNA meetings are “invite-only” (untrue; everyone is invited), with the false implication — via pictures of a guy with his finger to his lips and another of a blurry “meeting” obviously intended to look like it was taken with a hidden camera — that they are somehow a big secret.
A secret? Crowder’s fellow council member Russ Stephenson burst out laughing when he heard that one. Because as Stephenson says, Crowder offers glowing accounts of the DDNA’s activities from dawn to dusk and at every opportunity from a (televised) council session to a chance conversation on a street corner. No audience too big or small, in other words.
It’s to the point, Stephenson joked, that he’s a little tired of hearing about the vaunted DDNA.
Then there’s the caption on the blurry-meeting photo: “Last-Minute Changes.” Crowder, the postcard insinuates, “brought forward over 50 changes to the [comprehensive] plan, at the last minute, and after the public comment period was closed. Do you know what they are?”
Oooh, scary. Unless you understand that the public comment period closed in January, before the official public hearing in March that began the review process, which was wrapped up earlier this month. Last-minute changes? Well, there were a few, as there always are in these sorts of highly technical and detailed (380 pages worth) plans. But Crowder and the DDNA started work on the comp plan in January, held their own public forum in city council chambers in February — big secret? — and made a slew of recommendations that strengthened the plan in myriad ways.
What’s the evidence of that statement? As Stephenson pointed out at a candidates debate last night, almost all of the DDNA’s recommendations were incorporated into the plan, either by the planning department itself (which produced the initial draft unveiled in December), by the planning commission during its meetings in the spring and summer, or by the full Council when it reviewed a final draft in August and September.
Van Dyk got an earful from DDNA regulars at the debate, incidentally. Mary Belle Pate, the longtime chair of the Southwest CAC, was among them. She said the tradition of District D councilors meeting regularly with neighborhood leaders goes back to the ’70s and the late (and highly esteemed) Councilor Miriam Block. “This is not some secret group,” she told Van Dyk. “This is citizens.”
To which Pate added a word of friendly advice: “A lot more people may understand what’s going on than you realize, Ted.”
The DDNA meets, fyi, on the third Saturday of every month at 8 am, usually in the community meeting room at the Whole Foods store on Wade Avenue. I’m not much for 8 am meetings, especially on Saturday, but I’ve been a few, and everyone is welcome. There’s usually a speaker (the city manager, for example), and discussion of neighborhood concerns. Attendance varies from a dozen to 75, depending on the season and whether any issue is hot. There’s also a DDNA listserv that anyone can join (link to it here) to get updates and meeting info, including minutes of past meetings.