I’m working with two ideas today about Raleigh. One is taken from Mayor Charles Meeker’s valedictory letter in the local daily on Tuesday. It’s “a new era,” Meeker wrote. Raleigh is “young at heart and full of creativity.” The other is Christina Stableford’s comment Saturday at the antiwar event in Moore Square. “Raleigh,” she said, “is dead from the neck up.”

Young at heart. Dead up top.

I think that covers it.

Meeker’s had a tough couple of weeks, first with the Plensa fiasco, then the revelation that our garbage collections are run like an antebellum plantation. Not even halfway through his third term, Meeker’s ready to hang it up, and if you doubt that, all you had to do was listen to him on the subject of the “North Hills East” rezoning at last week’s City Council meeting. Sure, he said, the buildings could be 365 feet high–that’s what developer John Kane got approved, and what Meeker voted for–but let’s just trust that Kane won’t do anything like that.

So much for good planning. Or any planning.

Am I being “hypercritical”? According to the mayor, Raleigh and Wake County are the bee’s knees in just about every category anybody outside of here cares about. But locally, “we can be hypercritical of ourselves, often in a subjective manner,” Meeker complained. “Civility can fall by the wayside.”

Well, I like Charles–I do, really–but give me a break. What we have around here is too much civility, not too little. We’re so busy being uncritical of the people in charge, we’re letting some of them get away with–

With murder. That’s right. I’m so used to being in Raleigh now that I want to pull that punch … use some other word … but what other word is there for it when the “World Tavern Poker” tournament Saturday in City Market outdraws the antiwar rally next door by at least 2-to-1?

Nothing against poker, but we’ve got a pair of U.S. senators who are backing the Bush war machine to the hilt, and a governor who could care less, and not a single public official stopped by Saturday to show support for the war’s opponents, who numbered–when I was there–fewer than 100. And on top of that, the daily newspaper’s columnist Dennis Rogers says that OK (and this is what passes for criticism in Raleigh), maybe Bush was lying through his teeth before he invaded Iraq, and maybe tens of thousands of people are dead because of it, but by god, it’s those Code Pink women with their antiwar demos who really deserve his calumny. He supports the veterans.

What a friggin’ crock.

Which is pretty much what Stableford, a Code Pink member, said as we talked in Moore Square about Raleigh on the war, Raleigh on garbage, Raleigh on energy policy (“Sprawl? What sprawl?”), and Raleigh on other “creative” topics not related to Meeker’s subject, which is that we’re now the home of a big bank headquarters (RBC Centura).

Meeker’s right, we are young at heart, with 37,000 college and graduate students in Raleigh. He and I both heard Ping Fu, the Spark Con keynote speaker, say that the reason she chose the Triangle as the place to start Geomagic–instead of in Chicago, where she’d been working, or any of the other tech-type places she could’ve gone–is that our graduate students told her they liked it here and would stay if they could.

That’s our upside.

It’s a great place to live–to work, anyway–if you have a Ph.D. Or if you’re a developer. Or you’re well-heeled some other way, because we don’t tax folks with money around here, we tax the poor.

But it’s a bad place to live if you’d like to talk about energy conservation and alternative sources instead of just more nuclear reactors at Shearon Harris. It’s a bad place to live if you’d like some transportation alternatives instead of just more roads–and toll roads at that. It’s a bad place to live if you think developers should help pay for new schools with impact fees instead of being subsidized by the rest of us.

In short, it’s a bad place to live if you’re young, not rich, and would like to be involved in civic affairs in any way because your City Council and your county commissioners and all their planning boards and advisory committees meet during the day–and you probably work during the day.

Which is no coincidence, actually.

And it’s an especially bad place to be if you collect garbage for a living and you work for a city that insists you work overtime but doesn’t pay overtime–and doesn’t see why it should.

I called Meeker’s letter a valedictory because unless he changes his mind, his third two-year term will be his last. A new mayor is needed, but what’s really needed is a new system of government in Raleigh, one that invites the young, the creative and the working class to be heard on important civic issues alongside the old and the old at heart.

One that invites debate, that is, on how to make a city great–and fair. Civil debate, of course.

By the way, being mayor is just about a full-time job, and it pays $15,000 a year. You get a secretary, but no staff. A parking place, but no car. City Council members get $10,000 a year.

Think any young people will run?

Sure. If they work for the developers, the banks, or Progress Energy.

Citizen will be on hiatus for a month. Back in time for the elections–don’t forget to register: deadline is Oct. 13.