Often I’m asked, “After you’re done protesting stuff, what does a progressive guy like you do for fun?” The answer, of course, is go to a candidates’ forum in Raleigh or Cary.

Yes, I’m angry about the ditch the country’s in and the people who put us in it. On the other hand, I like it around here (usually), and I like most of the people I meet in local politics, even when we don’t agree. And when somebody like Tom McCuiston, whose campaign for Cary Town Council is otherwise too conservative for my taste, says that being elected “would be the greatest honor of my life”–well, I am a sentimentalist. Anyway, there are elections coming up, and it’s probably worth mentioning that the ones in Raleigh and Cary (and for Wake school board in four of the seven districts) are on Oct. 11, not in November. (Why is that? I assume it’s to keep the turnout down so people “in the know”–the ones whose chamber dues are current–can keep deciding things. In these “nonpartisan” elections, even the candidates’ party affiliations are left off the ballot, which is weird since almost all of them are active in one party or the other.)

Turns out, and notwithstanding the paucity of coverage in our daily media, there are actual issues in both Raleigh and Cary and an interesting cast of characters running. Next week’s Independent, our endorsements issue, will go into them in detail. For now, a light once-over:

Train to Nowhere?
Stopping the TTA commuter train is the main idea behind Republican Joe Ross’s quixotic campaign for Raleigh mayor. (That and bringing back the old auxiliary police force–what?) Joe’s a genial guy, keeps running for things, won’t win once again. Mayor Charles Meeker, a Democrat, is pro-transit, as are most of the serious candidates in both Raleigh and Cary.

Chance of a Lifetime:
Preserving the 310-acre Dorothea Dix property in Raleigh as parkland “is probably the chance of a lifetime,” at-large council candidate Russ Stephenson, a Democrat, told the Sierra Club. (Soon after, the club endorsed “Russ for Raleigh” and Councilor Joyce Kekas, also a Democrat, for the two at-large seats.) But there’s a second “chance of a lifetime” out in North Raleigh, according to club member Medhat Mohamed, and it’s the newly acquired, 146-acre Horseshoe Farm Park, which lies along a bend in the Neuse River. True. It could be a nature park, or it could be ball fields and a recreation center. But the two don’t really mix–and why would you put kids’ soccer parks on a river? Still, that’s the way Republican Councilor Tommy Craven, running in District A (North Raleigh) against Democrat Paul Anderson, was leaning.

Impact on Neighborhoods:
Raleigh’s low, low impact fees (or development fees, as Meeker calls them) constitute a subsidy for sprawl that existing neighborhoods shouldn’t have to pay. That’s the centerpiece of Stephenson’s campaign–that if development was paying its own way, or at least more of it, Raleigh wouldn’t have to scrimp on improvements to older neighborhoods. (Joe Ross, btw, told the Raleigh professional women’s group, “I like sprawl.”) Cary’s impact fees are about four times higher than Raleigh’s, which as far as Republicans there are concerned is only fair because, as Councilor Jack Smith puts it, Cary’s “the premium place (developers) want to build and invest” in Wake County.” Not Raleigh?

Bonded and Shackled?
Goodness, to hear McCuiston, John Harvilla and Mike Curran, Republican challengers all, talk about Cary’s bonded indebtedness, you’d think somebody held up the citizens and forced them to build all those lovely roads and leafy parks the bonds paid for. Actually, Cary citizens voted to build them–and borrow for them–in pursuit of local goals one, two and three, which are 1) quality 2) of 3) life. Incumbent Republicans Jennifer Robinson (challenged by McCuiston and independent Ed Yerha) and Smith (challenged by Harvilla) think the money was well-spent. And Democrat incumbent Julie Robeson (challenged by Curran), points out that the debt is just 1.6 percent of Cary’s assessed value–low, relatively low. (Yes, there is one Democrat running in Cary.) Drowning in Debt? Curran, an ex-swim coach turned financial guru turned rich retiree at 48 (he sold his business) thinks it’s shocking how much Cary owes–$143 million! He was asked–by me–which bonds he wouldn’t have spent and for what? He replied that–wait, I can’t report it any better than “Brent” did on carypolitics.org: “Curran, asked what debt should not have been spent, answered ‘Aquatic Center.’ I’m beginning to think that if you ask him what time it is, he’ll say ‘Aquatic Center,’ and if prompted for something more, he’ll probably say, ‘I can give you fantastic quality of life with zero taxes. All bad things are Julie’s fault’ …” (I love carypolitics.org, incidentally. It’s pointed but nice, under the guidance of hard-working moderator Don Hyatt.) Long story short, Curran heads something called the Triangle Aquatic Center, a nonprofit with a mission of building swimming pools. He’s against the town building the Aquatic Center, therefore, which others in Cary imagine as a combination local facility (maybe with a skating rink, too?) and a regional training center. There was $5 million earmarked for it in the ’03 parks bond, but it hasn’t been built yet, so it’s not why Cary owes money.

Pictures, or 1,000 Words?
Town of Cary TV put the League of Women Voters in charge of televised debates, which lasted 75 minutes each last Wednesday, and is replaying each of them frequently on cable public-access through the election. Raleigh should definitely do this, too. Believe me, there’s no substitute for seeing the candidates yourself–as when Ed Carson, candidate for Raleigh Council at-large, mentions twice in one forum that he has no arrest record. I could explain it. But not quickly.