Less than a month after he was reelected with no real opposition, Mayor Charles Meeker is giving Republicans an issue to run against him – and other Democrats – on in the next election.
Tomorrow, the City Council is going to vote on building a new Marriott Hotel downtown. Mayor Meeker wants to build that hotel. And he wants taxpayers to give the Marriott a $20 million subsidy to build it.
At the same meeting the Council is going to vote on a second hotel – a Westin Hotel businessmen want to build at Crabtree Valley. That hotel will not cost taxpayers a cent. Not one penny. There is no subsidy. In fact, that hotel will pay the City $1.5 million in taxes and create 150 new jobs. And, according to press, it has the support of neighborhood leaders.
Now, you might think given a choice between voting for a hotel that will cost taxpayers nothing versus a hotel that will cost them $20 million – the Mayor of Raleigh would support the one that’s free. You’d be wrong.
Mayor Meeker is all for the hotel that is going to cost $20 million – and dead-set against the hotel that will cost nothing.
There are two City Council Districts held by Republicans and three held by Democrats in Raleigh. The three also at-large seats, all held by Democrats. My guess is a majority of the voters in every one of these electorates oppose spending $20 million to subsidize a hotel – rather than spending it to build roads or schools. And my guess is that most voters also have no idea where their council members stand on this issue. Republicans’ responsibility – as the loyal opposition – is to have a debate and tell them.
I helped Tom Fetzer when he first ran for Mayor. Back then – just like today – most of the voters in Raleigh were Democrats. A lot of Democrats had to vote for Tom for him to win. They did because he opposed spending $90 million to build a new Convention Center. Not long ago, when Mayor Meeker and the Democrats on the City Council proposed spending $190 million to build a new Convention Center –Republicans, by and large, went along. They didn’t offer voters a choice.
Now the holes dug (according to the News and Observer 16,000 truckloads of dirt have already been hauled away) and construction has started and even though the costs of steel and concrete are already $4.5 million over budget there doesn’t seem to be much way to stop it.
That Marriott Hotel Mayor Meeker wants taxpayers to pay for downtown is going to use steel and concrete too and it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that means its costs are going up too. And it’s a good bet that higher costs mean sooner or later Mayor Meeker may be asking for a bigger subsidy. More than $20 million.
It’s time for Republicans on the City Council to draw the line and offer voters a choice. They should say Yes to the Westin and they should say to the Marriott Hotel folks – if you want to build a new hotel that’s fine – but taxpayers aren’t going to pay for it. No subsidy. Not one penny. If businessmen can build a Westin with no subsidy, you can build a Marriott with no subsidy too. Then the Republican members of the council should make a motion to spend that $20 million on roads, or schools or to hold down taxes and see if Mayor Meeker wants to vote against it.
That’s what the ‘loyal opposition’ is supposed to do. Not go along to get along – but speak out on issues. Republicans can create a real debate on City spending by saying to taxpayers here’s where we stand and here’s where Mayor Meeker stands and here’s what the difference means to you.
Let Mayor Meeker defend spending this $20 million on a hotel – instead of schools or roads – to voters. If he can win that debate, then more power to him. If Republicans win it they may stop that subsidy and save taxpayers $20 million.
Or if Mayor Meeker – and the Democrats – ignore public opinion and pass it anyway, then Republicans have given voters a good reason to vote for change for Mayor and on the City Council in the next election.