Ward says he'll listen, advocate for district's needs
By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Uriah Ward’s lifetime dedication to Greenville, local politics and District 3 make him the best choice to represent the district on City Council, Ward said during an endorsement interview with The Daily Reflector.
”I’ve always seen politics and policy as the way to make a positive impact on your community,” said Ward during an interview on Oct. 5. “I want to try to be a responsive voice for the people inside District 3. I want to be the person that people in District 3 can come to whenever they need help with something.”
A lifelong political activist, Ward, 27, is currently a social studies teacher at Chocowinity Middle School. He previously ran for North Carolina House District 9 in 2013, while he was school at East Carolina University.
Ward said he has been involved in politics his entire life. He said growing up on Osceola Drive, his parents were politically active. He said he was working polls and handing out pamphlets even as a small child. While he was a student at J.H. Rose High School, Ward said he organized a forum for political candidates so he and other students could ask them about student issues. He said following that experience he found out the City had a new Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission, and contacted council members and received an appointment in 2010.
Ward also said he dropped off the track team in high school to be a part of the Obama campaign. Last year, he started the progressive political group New Greenville.
Ward’s nature of getting a head start on his political activities carried over to his campaign for council, he said. He became the first candidate to announce his campaign in April. One of the reasons he started so early was to accomplish a unique goal, knocking on the door of every likely voter, roughly 1,200, in the district, he said. He has done so twice.
“I don’t think you can do a good job if you just show up to council meetings and vote and then go home,” he said. “I think you have to try to establish relationships in as many places as you can to make sure you are advocating for the needs of the district.”
Ward said that he crafted his campaign priorities based on feedback he heard from voters. He said the majority of people in District 3 were concerned about having a good quality of life, and a safe, walkable, bikeable community.
“I’m just trying to be the person that can go into City Hall and advocate for the issues that the people in my district care about,” he said. “They wanted to see complete streets, road repair, traffic, greenways. Since that’s what they were saying, I made that my top campaign issues.”
He also said that speaking to the owners of businesses in town, he heard that many of them felt left out. He said one business owner gave him the idea of creating a small business commision, something he has since added to his campaign platform.
Ward said fixing traffic and walkability in District 3 and Greenville at large are perfectly related issues.
“Whenever you make the city walkable and bikeable, not everyone has to get around in a vehicle,” he said. “If I could get around to more places that were closer to me I would drive less — I think that’s true for a number of people. So if you can do that, you made the roads safer for the people walking, biking and driving.”
He said signage and education will help. Ward said he conducted an experiment last summer at the pedestrian crossing on Fifth Street; only 11 percent of cars stopped for him to cross.
He also said that designing streets to promote walkability and bikeability is a long term goal.
“We have to make sure that year after year, budget after budget we’re willing to commit resources to it,” he said. “It seems like the political will is not always there to have funds for greenways or sidewalks. Though this year, it seems like all the candidates are in the most part agreement, that’s pretty exciting.”
Ward said in addition to funding road projects, the council needs to find ways to allocate more funding the the Greenville Police Department so it can expand its traffic division.
”There seems to be this impression that if you break the law speeding or doing something wrong traffic wise in Greenville then you’re not going to get caught,” he said. “That probably adds to our problem.”
Ward said he supports the recent installation of red light cameras by the police and public work departments. He said that he hopes they will have a significant effect on the traffic situation but said more will need to be done.
“I like that the collected fines are in part going to be contributed to the school system, I think that is a great way to do it. From what I’ve read the red light cameras overall do improve safety, and reduce crashes,” he said. “But I’ve also read we might see a slight uptake in cars getting hit from behind while they break very quickly for the red light. Overall I think it’s a good thing, but it’s not as simple as it’s going to be a perfect solution.”
Ward said he believes additional funding needs to be allocated toward upgrading stormwater drainage. He would like to see greater use of permeable concretes, which were used around the downtown parking deck and are planeed for the Town Creek Culvert project. He said encouraging the technique could reduce flash flooding, increase drainage and put fewer toxins into the river.
Ward said as Greenville continues to develop, it needs to move away from the large four-bedroom, four-bath student housing complexes because they are difficult to transition into conventional housing. Building more affordable and young professional housing would encourage greater student retention and reduce saturation of the student housing market, he said.
As the city continues to follow the Town Common Master Plan, Ward said decisions about a living shoreline, a new amphitheater, a pedestrian bridge and other plan elements will come down to funding opportunities.
“A lot of that is going to come to priorities, how much we can allocate to any given thing. There is only so much money we have; we have to figure out what people care about the most and what they really want,” he said.
Overall, Ward said he cannot anticipate all the upcoming issues the city will face. He said he will continue to reach out to constituents and learn as much as he can.
“Coming into this race I recognize that I don’t know everything, there’s no way I can,” he said.“I have my ideas, and I’m going to be sure that I listen to my district, but I want to make sure that our budget reflects the values and priorities of the people of Greenville.”
“It will be a lot more listening than talking; I’m going to speak up for my district whenever I think it’s appropriate, but obviously any person who is serving on the council for the first time is going to have at least a little bit of a learning curve. I want to try gather as much information as I can before I get on a soapbox.”
Contact Seth Gulledge at firstname.lastname@example.org and 329-9579
Early voting in Pitt County municipal races, including contests for the Greenville City Council and mayor, begins on Thursday. The Daily Reflector this week is reporting on interviews held with Greenville candidates as part of its endorsement process. Today’s report focuses on District 3; Wednesday’s will focus on candidates running in District 4. Visit these stories on reflector.com for links to earlier reports.