Clinton Mayor Lew Starling will see his seventh term expire this year and, expressing his desire to see Sampson’s seat continue to grow and improve, is seeking his eighth.
Elected in 2001, Starling has seen a great deal of progress in Clinton, including a downtown that has flourished on the strength of several revitalization projects and numerous new businesses. Still, there is more to do, the mayor imparted after signing the dotted line to seek re-election to a post he has held for nearly 14 years.
“We have a lot more to be done in the city,” Starling stated Monday. “I think we have made good progress in cleaning up the town and trying to rehabilitate the downtown. We still have some more work to do and we have a lot of work to do now that the Great Recession is over in trying to rehabilitate some of the neighborhoods as well, and we will be working on that.”
The focus will remain on attracting jobs and businesses to Clinton, he said.
“With the economy the way it’s been, it’s been difficult to do things. We’re having more interest now than we’ve had but there’s just a lot of work left to be done,” Starling attested. “I love Clinton and I want to make it a better place to live. I just see more things that need to be done that I would like to work with the Council to get accomplished.”
That Council includes members Steve Stefanovich, Maxine Harris, Marcus Becton, Jean Turlington and Neal Strickland, all of whom have held their respective positions for more than a decade. Along with the mayoral post, the Council seats occupied by Strickland (District 2) and Turlington (District 4) are expiring. The mayor is elected every two years in Clinton, Council members every four.
Strickland and Turlington filed for re-election within moments of each other last Monday, the first day of the 10-day filing period. Both said they were excited about the prospect of returning to the board, commenting on the synergy of the elected group.
“The Council works very well together,” Starling stated. “While we may debate an issue or agree to disagree, the Council works very well together and everybody has the same interest in mind, and that is bettering the town. We rarely have a split vote, we rarely have a dissenting vote because we debate everything and City Council is just not going to do or approve anything that is not in the best interest of the city, period.
“We’re excited about trying to grow and continue to improve the city,” he said.
Just last week, Starling was with Gov. Pat McCrory, who talked about the importance of the state’s cities. The governor said when representatives of a business or industry make a trip to the state to possibly set down roots, those industry leaders often request to go to that particular county’s seat “because that is the hub,” the mayor said.
“That is sort of a reflection on how the county is doing. Are we letting our downtown die or are we keeping it up?” Starling noted. “He was saying that even when somebody doesn’t live inside the city, they come there to transact business and it needs to be a shining star.”
Clinton shines, Starling said, but it is the constant goal to make that gleam brighter.
“We’re so excited about the rebirth that we have,” the mayor said, “and the Council is just biting at the bit to continue to try to implement these programs. We have a lot of things we want to do, but truthfully, growth and budget have been a constraint. We’re hoping that with the new N.C. 24 and some other things we see on the horizon we can implement a lot of these things that will help the citizens.”
A push toward multi-use development in the downtown, notably the inclusion of second-story residential units in downtown Clinton, is one of Starling’s main goals.
“I’d like to see people living downtown, I’d like to see upstairs condos,” the mayor asserted, saying that currently city officials are conducting research and providing necessary support to property owners to bring that to fruition. “We’re encouraged by people who want that. I think that would really change the dynamics of downtown to have people living down there. Just about every building downtown has a huge upstairs and I think to make some of these buildings residences as well — like you see in Raleigh and other towns — would add something to our downtown.”
Reach staff writer Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.