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Elect ’09: Newcomers challenge incumbents in Kannapolis election

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
KANNAPOLIS ó With the city at a crossroads, four incumbents running for city office say Kannapolis needs an experienced, steady hand.
But two challengers say the city’s leadership has lost touch with the citizens, and the people of Kannapolis no longer have a voice in their own government.
Michael Mishkin, running for City Council, and Bill Georgiou, a candidate for mayor, are not campaigning together.
But their message is similar.
“It’s not about power, it’s about empowering the citizens,” Georgiou said.
The current leadership takes advantage of the citizens rather than including them in the process, said Georgiou, who runs his family’s business, McCabes Steakhouse.
“They pass whatever they want to help economic developers,” he said. “I know I will ruffle a lot of feathers, but I have the passion and will to find the answers.”
Mishkin said the city’s current leadership has “a secret agenda or flat-out corruption, or plain old incompetence.”
“I’m running as a citizen, not as a politician,” he said. “As my fellow citizens, I’m getting fed up with all the things being imposed upon us by the local government and not giving us fair representation.”
The challengers and incumbents have one thing in common, however. They all, to a degree, support the N.C. Research Campus, the $1.5 billion life sciences complex that Dole Food Co. owner David Murdock built on the ruins of the old textile mill that provided industry for Kannapolis for 100 years.
Although development at the campus has slowed during the recession, city leaders believe it will become the economic engine that Kannapolis has lacked since the mill closed in 2004.
The biotech hub under development by Murdock’s Castle & Cooke firm will generate restaurants, retail and most importantly, jobs, they said.
“I will work with Castle & Cooke to see that their project is completed,” Mayor Pro Tem Randy Cauthen said.
Incumbent Councilman Gene McCombs also dedicated himself to the campus.
“I will make every effort to see that our city progresses from a textile environment to the new possibilities that come with biotech,” he said.
The city must fund infrastructure improvements around the campus in a way that does not burden taxpayers, McCombs said.
Incumbents said they will work to bring additional jobs to town as well.
Councilman Darrell Hinnant said jobs are his top priority, and he points to the city’s recent courtship of Rug and Home to show that current leaders can land new employers in a tough economy.
Lured by a $9,300 tax break over three years, Rug and Home recently bought the old Target in Cloverleaf Plaza and promises 40 to 75 new jobs.
“I want to get as many jobs as possible,” Hinnant said. “I don’t care if it’s 20 or 200.”
Mayor Bob Misenheimer said about 58 percent of the city’s workforce leaves Kannapolis to go to a job out of town.
But with the development of the Research Campus and the new branch of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College under construction, Misenheimer said he believes everyone who wants to work eventually will find a job in the city.
“No longer will our young people have to leave to get a job,” he said. “The resources are going to be here.”
Water appeared on the priority list for several incumbents.
Hinnant and Cauthen said Kannapolis must defend the Concord-Kannapolis interbasin transfer, a 2007 agreement which allows Kannapolis and Concord to divert 10 million gallons of water each day from the Catawba River, water that flows into South Carolina.
The agreement is in limbo. South Carolina has sued North Carolina over the transfer, and the case is before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The long-term future of Kannapolis and Concord will depend on whether we have enough water for growth,” Hinnant said.
In good times, people forget how much Kannapolis needs an additional water supply, Cauthen said.
“When we’re not in a drought condition, water is not on the forefront of people’s minds,” he said. “But we need water. We need the IBT or some other means of providing it.”
All incumbents want to maintain the city’s relatively low tax rate of 49 cents, which has dropped a few times in the past 10 years, and said they worked well together.
The current council gave “one of the best performances that I have observed,” said McCombs, who has served as city manager in three communities, including Kannapolis from 1985 to 1997.
“The council was cohesive, and while we did not agree all the time, there was no grudge-holding,” he said. “The council is professional, engaging in the business at hand. There are no private agendas and things that haunt many other boards.”
Georgiou disagreed and said the council should distance itself from Murdock.
The upcoming city retreat should not be held at Murdock’s private home, Georgiou said.
While Misenheimer speaks with pride about a federal award Kannapolis received for economic diversification, Georgiou said the city shouldn’t be rewarded because a “billionaire comes into your town and sets up shop.”
Mishkin also criticized the city’s relationship with Murdock and said it’s similar to Concord’s relationship with Bruton Smith, who owns Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
The citizens of Kannapolis and Concord “are unfairly footing the bill” for the cities’ difficulties with the billionaires, he said.
Rather than taking a stand on issues, Mishkin said he is campaigning on his character and intentions.
“My intent is to take the burden off the people,” he said. “I’m just like you. I want to get a good, functioning city, bring in jobs and business, but you’ve got to do it in a way benefitting the people.”
Born and raised in New York, Mishkin lived in Israel with his family for four years before moving to Kannapolis. If elected, he would not push a personal agenda, Mishkin said.
“It matters little what I think,” he said. “On any issue, I would ask the people what they think.”
Georgiou said he would like to improve the quality of life in Kannapolis so single people stay.
“The biggest export in Kannapolis used to be textiles,” he said. “Now it’s our greatest and brightest minds.”

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