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Challengers in Greenville mayoral race seek inclusion, unity

Renee Boston-Hill
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Renee Boston-Hill


Ginger Livingston

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The chants from President Trump’s July 17 campaign rally are echoing through Greenville’s mayoral contest with the two challengers saying they want everyone living here to feel they are part of the city and will benefit from future growth.

Renee Boston-Hill and Demetrius Hicks filed as first-time candidates on the last day of filing, two days after audience members at the president’s “Keep America Great” rally chanted “send them back” in response to criticism the president lobbed at Somali-born Rep. Ilhan Omar and three congresswomen of color who are highly critical of him and his administration.

“I want to make sure everybody feels comfortable here. Living here, being here, we all want to feel safe. Some people don’t feel safe right now,” said Boston-Hill, who moved to Greenville 12 years ago.

“The climate that was introduced to our city a week ago … to be one community, one city, we have to make sure the sentiment here is that we all belong here and no one needs to go anywhere,” she said. “There is no place to go back to. We need to be inclusive and we need to be united.”

Greenville’s tagline, “Find Yourself In Good Company,” was “disgraced” by the chants at the rally, said Hicks, an operations manager for Gotcha, a micromobility company that replaced Lime in Greenville.

“We must be a city that upholds the values of our tagline,” Hicks said in a written statement. “My priority is to remedy such discord and to bring focus to justice, jobs and environmental protection.”

Connelly, who as mayor greeted the president at Pitt-Greenville Airport, also attended the rally. When coverage of the chanting created a national backlash against the city, he released a statement that said he was “extremely disappointed and disheartened” by the chant. Connelly said it did not reflect the city and that “hate will never have a place in our community” and everyone is welcomed.

When Connelly filed for re-election on July 5, he touted a record number of road and stormwater system improvements as well as bicycle lane and sidewalk additions during his two-year tenure. The city also saw a 22 percent drop in crime.

Connelly said he wants the city to continue to focus on economic development and the public-private development partnership made up of Greenville, the Committee of 100, Greenville Utilities Commission, other local municipalities and local business and industry.

“We want to make sure Greenville is an exciting place to be so we want to make sure we have a lot of venues to keep the young professionals, the young adults, people of all different ages staying in our community,” Connelly said in a July 5 interview.

Hicks released a statement last week with 14 objectives for the next two years. He said his plans for accomplishing those goals will be posted on a campaign website that soon will go online.

Hicks said a $15 minimum wage should be established for businesses with more than 20 employees by 2025. The city should work with small businesses to help with the transition.

“No one deserves $7.25 an hour, and no one deserves to be hurt for having the courage to start their own business,” he said.

Hicks wants the city to work with “public and private partners” to attract industries connected to the green economy, such as solar panel and wind turbine manufacturers and electric automakers. He also wants all city-owned facilities updated to produce zero emissions by 2026. The work would give individuals an opportunity to learn new job skills, he said. He also wants the city to work with Greenville Utilities Commission to build solar farms where customers can buy-in for a “Community Share” solar program.

Hicks also wants to expand the greenway system and bike lanes and revamp the GREAT bus system to increase route coverage, build new bus shelters and provide free usage to Pitt County and Pitt Community College students who present their student identification.

He also wants to establish a “Ban the Box” initiative so ex-offenders do not have to indicate if they have a criminal record when applying for certain jobs. He also wants to work with the district attorney to expunge the records of people jailed for marijuana-related crime.

“I’ve adopted the campaign slogan ‘Greenville Works,’” Hicks said. “Providing jobs to enable our residents to afford food, child and health care, to mitigate our impact on climate change and to provide assurances to our young people that their voices are important to us; therefore, we will do whatever is necessary to keep you here.”

Boston-Hill’s campaign slogan is “One City ... One Community. Believe In Greenville ... Believe In Us.”

“We have great neighborhoods, we have a great quality of life and we want to have a great sense of security being here; that we are one community, one city and we believe that Greenville is a place for all,” she said.

Boston-Hill said ensuring people have a decent wage to support their families is a priority but stopped short of saying the City Council should be involved in promoting a $15 minimum wage for Greenville businesses or industries.

“I think at this point in time I am still exploring different options. We have good companies here that are solid and I’m sure are making money,” she said. She wants to talk to those business owners to learn how they ensure their employees are making a livable wage.

Another way of creating livable wages for Greenville’ residents is to recruit businesses and industries that pay those wages “so people can take care of their families.”

Prior to her retirement and her move to Greenville, Boston-Hill worked more than 40 years in finance and health administration, primarily serving as a comptroller.

Boston-Hill and her husband were looking for better weather. When asked, “Why Greenville?” Boston-Hill responded, “Why not Greenville?”

“We came here blindly, purchased a home, and we just felt a drive here,” Boston-Hill said. She has volunteered and held several leadership positions with local community groups including the Pitt County Democratic Party and the African American Caucus of Pitt County.

“It was instilled in me at a very young age that it is very important to give your time to help others. As the mayor of this great city, I will remain committed to this principle because it is that spirit that makes this community so special,” she said in a social media posting about her candidacy.

Municipal elections for Greenville and Pitt County’s nine other municipalities is Nov. 5.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.