Durham County Commissioners hopeful Doug Wright filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy last July, due to expenses from an extended child custody battle, the candidate said this week.

According to federal bankruptcy records, Wright and his wife amassed $193,232 in debt, including nine credit cards, two mortgages, medical bills and personal and car loans. The Wrights listed the value of their assets at $202,052.

“We were kept in a courtroom for three years,” Wright said, adding they eventually were granted joint custody of his wife’s children from a previous marriage. “It ended up costing a whole lot of money.”

The Indy conducts public records background checks on candidates running for election.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy releases qualified debtors from liability for some of their debts. Unlike Chapter 13, it doesn’t require the debtor to file a repayment plan. The court sells some assets and uses the proceeds to pay creditors.

On his candidate résumé, Wright lists his occupation as a manager of a Durham ABC store; he is also the chairman of the board of the Durham Center, which serves people with mental illness, developmental disabilities and substance abuse issues. Although he had past problems with alcohol, Wright says he hasn’t had a drink in 15 years. Asked if working at a liquor store poses a conflict for him, he replied, “Actually, it’s a very good place for someone like me. It keeps very front and center what alcohol can do to people.”

Matter, meet anti-matter

NASA climate change scientist Jim Hansen and Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers have agreed to meet to discuss the role of coal in global warming. A date has not been set.

Hansen has called for a federal moratorium on coal-fired power plants, including Duke’s $2 billion, 800-megawatt Cliffside project, under way near Charlotte, until clean technologies can be fully developed and implemented. These would include capturing and storing carbon dioxide underground.

In a March 25 letter, Hansen asked to meet with Rogers, while admonishing him for Duke’s expansion of its coal-fired power plants: “Mr. Rogers, as a leader in the electric power industry, your decisions will affect not only energy bills faced by your rate-payers, but the future planet your children and grandchildren will inherit. If you insist that new coal plants are essential for near-term power needs, you may submit your customers and company to grave financial and leave a legacy that you will regret.”

In an April 2 response, Rogers agreed to the tête-à-tête, adding, “I was concerned that you apparently continue to be against our Cliffside project.” Rogers stated the new unit “will be among the most efficient in the nation.”

Cliffside opponents, such as the N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, have countered that the new unit will emit 6 million tons of uncontrolled carbon dioxide each year.

Duke has stated it will retire older Cliffside units and possibly build a nuclear power plant to curb overall carbon emissions. During a media conference call earlier this year, Ellen Ruff, president of Duke Energy Carolinas, hedged on a timetable, stating only Cliffside would be “carbon neutral” by 2018. “It is absolutely our intention to retire units,” she said. “But we also have to take into account reliability.”

The real spin

The “spinning plate” commercial, a TV ad airing in several North Carolina markets including the Triangle, shows a man attempting to balance several dizzy platters on thin sticks. The message: The Food and Drug Administration has no business regulating tobacco. Who paid for it? Reynolds American, parent company of R.J. Reynolds. It has set up a Web site, FDAconcerns.org to warn consumers of the perils of government regulation of tobacco.

The tobacco industry has successfully thwarted most attempts to regulate it. In 2000, the tobacco companies won a Supreme Court case, which ruled Congress has not granted the FDA jurisdiction over the regulation of tobacco products. Although bills were introduced last year to endow the FDA with that authority, they have yet to pass.

“The FDA’s failings put American lives at risk,” the Web site states. However, it fails to remind viewers that 400,000 Americans die from cigarette smoking each year.