James Preston West
District C incumbent
Address: 2401 Sanderford Road
Hometown: Harrells, NC, in the lower part of Sampson Co.
How long Have you lived in Raleigh?
What brought you to Raleigh?
A job. I was with the Cooperative Extension Service; I was a horticultural agent in Wake County.
In two to three sentences, please share something that you believe the City of Raleigh does well.
I feel that the City of Raleigh does a very good job with providing basic services, like police safety, fire services, water, sewer, utilities. You know, that’s really what a city’s purpose is.
In two to three sentences, please share one thing that you believe the City of Raleigh could improve upon or change.
There’s considerable poverty in the city; probably about 40,000 people at or below the poverty level. In those communities, there are a lot of challenges in terms of families and youth at risk, job needs and public safety, so I think those are things that we should continue to improve and work on.
In two to three sentences, please share your position regarding public transit in the City of Raleigh.
Public transit needs to be improved, There are many people that are transit dependent and they have obstacles to really accessing the system and getting to and from to jobs and things of that sort. Also, just the growth in the area reinforces the need for better public transit.
In two to three sentences, please share your position regarding growth management in the City of Raleigh.
We have a lot of sprawl and traffic and congestion with this being a destination. It’s really going to be a tremendous challenge. Growth has some positives and also has some negatives so I think we’re going to have to look at balanced growth – the issues of water, conservation, other natural resources that we have. There is always that possibility that a city can get too large, too quick without the proper management. I kind of believe that we need to take a strong look at making sure that we play it smart and manage growth.
In two to three sentences, please share your position regarding crime control in the City of Raleigh.
My district in 2008 experienced a peak in crime; a lot of homicides and things of this sort. I think it’s attributed to economic downturn, tremendous changes in the diversity of the city, gangs and drugs and etcetera. Areas where people are poor – and they don’t have a lot of capacity – if they are concentrated, you are going to find more crime. We’ve got to have a tale of two cities – some sections of the city are prosperous and others are not. And until we really address the issue of crime and some of the systemic factors related to crime – such as the lack of jobs, families that are struggling, fragile communities – and that takes a whole lot of effort to target those communities and those youth that really have a serious problem of dropping out of school. So we do have a potential that crime could become a serious problem. But, I will say that I’ve worked with Chief Dolan toward more community policing and community-oriented government, that we’re heading in the right direction. But as we grow, the more poor people with economic problems, crime is going to be an issue.
Now, we would like to hear your position on two issues that were not previously mentioned, but that you think are important to the voters in the City of Raleigh. You tell us the issue and then give us two to three sentences about your position on the issue.
The issue that I see, from my perspective, really relates to employment, job opportunities, creating small businesses, job centers, entrepreneurship and I’ve worked very hard at that with establishing The Southeast Raleigh Assembly. We established a virtual incubator with the Raleigh Business and Technology Center. We’ve graduated over a hundred small business people, established a Raleigh area development authority out of the Southeast Raleigh Assembly, we’re basically bringing capital in for those that don’t have access to start new business opportunities to address issues of housing and things of this sort. I guess the other piece, from the perspective of my district in particular, is in bringing in more commerce, more goods and services, because most people in my district, they have to travel to other areas, and those also would bring jobs. With the economic downturn, we had a couple of projects that were looking very positive, such as the Old Town mixed use development on Rock Quarry and New Hope, that’s 600 acres, the first time ever, but it’s kind of on hold now. And a Wal-Mart project that they decided not to continue with, because of the economy, Wal-Mart did. When you look at the amenities that come with that, they are very important to a community. I guess the other piece would be basically, from my perspective, personal, economic and community empowerment. Really building capacity and stabilizing communities where the people that live in the community will provide the leadership to take control of their own destiny as opposed to waiting for others to come in and fix things for them.
The other issue would be youth. I’ve been working recently on a youth initiative; we’ve been meeting with some folks from the county and some others. But in particular to target fragile and threatened communities and families – those that most people tend not to address because it is very, very hard work – but until we address those particular issues we’re going to have serious problems with our young people getting into gangs, dropping out schools and all these youth homicides. It’s something that I don’t think a lot of people want to admit, but it is a serious problem in certain sections of the city.
What would you say is your guilty pleasure?
Maybe I’m guilty because I focus so much time on understanding my purpose. I’m driven to understand my eternal purpose in life, which is very, very challenging. That’s about as close as I can get.