District 3 candidates focus on walkability, pedestrian safety

Regardless of who wins the District 3 race, residents can be sure their representative will focus on improving sidewalks and pedestrian safety.

Both Uriah Ward and Will Bell are running for the seat being vacated by one-term Councilman McLean Godley. Godley announced in the spring he would be leaving the council to focus on graduate school and his career. Both Ward and Bell said they are focused on the walkability and safety of the district.

Ward, 26, was born in Greenville and grew up on Osceola drive. A lifetime Greenville resident and East Carolina University graduate, Ward said running for City Council fulfills his passion for politics, community and improving the city that offered him his opportunities.

“Growing in Greenville I became very proud of the community; there were really good people and good opportunities,” said Ward. “I grew up a Pirate, home was close enough to the stadium that we could hear the cannon blast, so when they had to blackout games, we could just listen and follow the game.”

Ward attended Eastern Elementary, E.B. Aycock Middle and graduated from J.H. Rose High School. He then attended ECU, where he graduated in 2012 with a degree in political science with a minor in business administration. After college, he briefly worked in marketing before deciding to follow a lifetime desire to become an educator. Currently, Ward teaches social studies at Chocowinity Middle School. He married in June in a ceremony at Greensprings Park.

Ward said he has been involved in politics all of his life, and always felt that it was the conscientious way to make a difference in the community. During high school, he quit the track team to work on President Obama’s campaign, managed Councilman At-Large Calvin Mercer’s 2011 and 2013 campaigns, and was active in political organizations during college, serving as the president of ECU College Democrats during his senior year. He also served on the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian commission during high school, and served as its chairman later on.

However, Ward said he cannot attribute all his political experience to his own concept of community — his parents started him off young.

“I like to say my parents raised me wrong,” said Ward jokingly. “They had me working the polls for candidates when I was 5 years old, because it’s hard to say no to a 5-year-old when he gives you a card. I’ve just always been around it, and I always thought that is the way to make a difference in your community.”

Now, Ward said he wants to use his political experience and drive to improve both District 3 and Greenville as a whole. Ward said his priorities for the district include improving walkability and safety throughout the area, and supporting small business growth.

In order to do so, Ward has already proposed the creation of a Small Business Commission, which would seek to improve relations between small businesses and the city.

“I want to make sure as we’re growing, it’s not just about big business but that we’re supporting small business as well,” said Ward. “When I’m going around to these business owners the thing I keep hearing is that they feel shut out, so I think we should be bringing them into City Hall and hearing what they have to say.”

In addition to bolstering business growth, Ward said he wants to continue focusing on public safety as well fostering the arts community throughout Greenville. He said experience in the Greenville comedy and improv scene will benefit such efforts, in addition to livening up council meetings, he joked.

Like Ward, Will Bell said he is committed to improving a community that has given him so much joy and opportunity. He said he plans to use his work ethic to improve the district.

Bell, 24, was born and raised in Wilmington. He graduated from New Hanover High School in 2011 before moving to Greenville to attend ECU. Originally a business major, Bell has since changed his major to political science.

Bell said he comes from a family of ECU Pirates and grew up in that culture. Both of his parents, his older brother and his older sister all attended ECU, and he said his younger brother is on the way to the university in the coming years.

During his time at ECU, Bell said that he lived in District 3 for almost the entirety of his time. He recently purchased a house off of Elm Street, which he is in the process of refurbishing himself.

He currently works full time at Southern Glazer Wine and Spirits and is taking the last six credit hours he needs to graduate from ECU this December. Finding the spare time to work on his house during demonstrates the work ethic that has gotten him where he is today, he said.

Bell said he is most proud of the fact that he worked 30 hours a week on top of his full-time schooling until the point last year when he accepted the job with Southern Glazer. He said that he has had a job since he was 15 and believes that working hard is the way to improve your own life and the community around you.

That is not to say that Bell has not run into some issues working on his new home. He said that during the process of renovating the house and clearing vegetation to improve aesthetics and discourage break-ins, something that he wants to the whole city to focus on, he has faced his obstacles.

“I’ve literally jumped with both feet into home ownership,” said Bell. “I have poison ivy on both of my feet.”

Overall he said he wants to continue some of the work Godley focused on as far as improving lighting and placing an emphasis on sidewalks. Bell said  the city needs to think about these issues now instead of waiting for something to happen.

“At night, I’m not saying people drink and drive regularly, but there are people that do it,” said Bell. “So, are we going to wait until the next big catastrophe to happen before we make that fix?”

Bell said that public safety is another concern, and said that two of his roommates in college were mugged. Additionally, he said that his new roommate told him that he had a gun pulled on him while he was in town for orientation. He said that he would like to look into the city budget and see if there is a way to increase police funding.

“The police department has done a great job improving that situation, and it’s become a lot less,” said Bell. “I remember in 2011, when I first got here, you’d get an ECU alert almost every weekend and now I haven’t gotten one all summer.”

Additionally, Bell said he would like to see more businesses in the district. He said that he has enjoyed seeing the success of businesses like Villa Verde and Christie’s, and wants to see more move into those areas. He said he believes that District 3 is unique for its variety of opportunities and personalities.

“You have the most diversity in this district than you do in the entire city in my opinion, so it’s awesome to see that,” said Bell. “So I would love to see a continuation of small business growth.”

An ECU student himself, Bell also said he wants to focus on retaining more talent from ECU and Pitt Community College. Overall though, Bell said he wants to spend the next months talking to people in the district and learning about the issues they face. He said if elected, he wants to hold open town hall sessions for his district to continue this idea.

Contact Seth Gulledge at [email protected] and 329-9579