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Election 2022: City Council District 3

Candidates rank crime top issue, call for providing opportunity for all

Benavente says poverty leads to more crime; Jones wants to provide better job prospects


Public safety is the top concern for the candidates who hope to represent District 3 on the Fayetteville City Council.

And they agree that expanding economic opportunity is an important strategy to reduce crime.

Mario “Mario Be” Benavente is challenging incumbent Antonio Jones for the District 3 seat Jones has held since December. The City Council appointed Jones to the seat after two-term Councilwoman Tisha Waddell resigned. Jones and Benavente were finalists for the appointment, and Jones won a second-round vote 6-3.

“Crime is rooted in poverty, and city leaders are overly focused on trying to arrest as many poor people as possible,” says Benavente, 32. “We need to recruit and retain better teachers who will improve outcomes for our children and begin to break this cycle.”

Jones, 48, says the Police Department should continue to recruit and retain well-trained officers and maintain a commitment to community policing and community partnerships.

“Since crime relates to the economy, we also should focus on increasing employment opportunities and training and work with the judicial system to ensure repeat offenders are not released as quickly as they are,” says Jones.

Election Q&A: Candidates for District 3 respond to questions from CityView TODAY.

Benavente lists his occupation as a community organizer and legal professional. He recently earned his law degree from N.C. Central University and has lived in Fayetteville for 31 years.

He is a former chairman of the Fayetteville Millennial Advisory Commission. He was vice chairman of the E.E. Smith Alumni Association and Latinos United for Progress and was on the board of the N.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Jones is a real-estate broker and military relocation agent with the family-owned Jones Realty. He also is a pastor at Temple of Faith Church.

His civic affiliations include the Cumberland County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council; N.C. Diversity Committee; Habitat for Humanity; Fayetteville Stormwater Committee and Corridor Revitalization Committee; Mothers With Children Behind Bars; and Justice and Mercy International.

City voters will go to the polls on July 26 to choose a mayor and City Council members. Early voting is underway at the Cumberland County Board of Elections Office.

District 3 includes parts of Fort Bragg and the neighborhoods of Cottonade, Country Club North, Hillendale, Hillendale West, Kornbow, North Hills, Tiffany Pines, University Estates, University Hills, and parts of Ponderosa.

CityView TODAY asked Benavente and Jones about a number of issues facing the city. They were also asked what issues they think are most important. These are their answers.

Why are you running for a seat on the Fayetteville City Council?

Benavente: “Growing up in a military family, I was raised with a strong sense of duty to my hometown. Living in District 3 for the past 25 years, I understand the unique needs of my community and how we can take our hometown to the next level.”

Benavente said the city must be safe and innovative to achieve his goals.

Jones: “First, to restore hope and trust in our residents that they have a professional, efficient and cooperative council that will work together for all of Fayetteville. And that the council works responsibly and transparently. Secondly, to ensure Fayetteville continues to develop and grow sustainably, and that the entire city receives the attention, resources and support needed to ensure strategic-plan goals are followed.

“I believe my presence on council will assist in the aforementioned and provide a calm, competent voice of reasoning that will positively impact council interactions, relationships and the ability to work together as one collective body with one voice,” says Jones.

What are your recommendations for fixing Fayetteville’s reputation regarding its crime rate?

Benavente: “Address the long-standing issues of poverty. The poverty rate in Fayetteville is nearly 20%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. We have to address the fact that Fayetteville ranks last out of the country's 100 largest economic centers in earnings potential for children growing up in poverty, according to Harvard University researchers.”

Jones: “Reduce gun violence by creating viable partnerships with nonprofits and other organizations already working with youth to curb youth delinquency. This includes increasing restorative justice practices to help decrease recidivism. Also, increase collaborative partnerships with other agencies such as the (federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and State Bureau of Investigation) to address gun and other violent crimes.

“Create and maintain a healthy (Fayetteville Police Department) work environment, focusing on clear and direct communication from the top down. Continue to recruit and retain tenured officers who are experienced and know their areas and can assist in consistent enforcement and assist with increasing our community policing initiatives.”

Jones says the Police Department should continue to increase community engagement with law enforcement through Community Watch and other programs.

“The city must continue to increase its public acknowledgment of the positive things occurring throughout the city via social media and when showcasing the city for any reason,” Jones says.

What are your recommendations for ensuring government transparency? Do you think the Fayetteville City Council adheres to your standard of transparency?

Benavente: “There is a stark difference between transparency and apparency. Transparency is what current city leadership believes is sufficient, where everyday citizens are expected to watch three-hour City Council meetings to understand what is happening in our city. Most folks in Fayetteville do not know in what district they live or who their municipal government representative is. I don’t put the blame entirely on the people of Fayetteville for this because most of us are fighting to get by and don’t have additional time to spend engaging with city government.

“Therefore, we have to meet people more than halfway by making sure we are not operating under the radar. We have to make it apparent to our communities exactly what decisions are being made about the city's future so that they can know who is fighting for them and who is just taking up space on the council.”

Jones: “Inform the public as soon as possible and per applicable policies of events and potential actions.  Ensure (council) discussions, open meetings, and actions are performed per policy and statutory requirements to maintain trust with residents. As of my appointment, it is a personal point of mine to ensure we all adhere to such.”

What are your recommendations for enhancing Fayetteville's economic development or growth?

Benavente: “Focus on recruiting and retaining next-generation talent. We have brilliant students graduating from Fayetteville State University, Methodist University, and Fayetteville Technical Community College who ought to become the problem-solvers for issues facing Fayetteville. Getting them to stick around and root here depends on giving them opportunities they cannot find anywhere else. Unprecedented support is the only way we can compete with the Triangle and beyond for our best and brightest.”

Jones: “Expand workforce development and training opportunities through partnerships with Fort Bragg, universities, colleges, and businesses to increase our talent pools, which will aid in attracting new, higher-paying businesses to the city. Improve our transit system to serve more areas where needed to support working residents who depend on public transportation, including increasing bus-stop benches and shelters.

“Among my goals is to assist our city-owned airport to increase embarkments and make it a logistics hub. With our proximity to Interstate 95 and the presence of Amazon, FedEx, UPS and Fort Bragg, we can take advantage of a need in the airline and logistics arena to provide support to the aforementioned businesses who would use our now regional airport to establish terminals and invest directly into our community. Our location also makes it possible to draw developers that invest in affordable housing and increased housing to help with housing needs for Fort Bragg as well.

“Increase efforts via our Fayetteville-Cumberland Economic Development Commission to attract businesses offering higher-paying jobs by incentivizing these efforts and holding them accountable to agreed-upon terms.”

What are your top three issues of concern?

Benavente: Improving public safety; recruiting and retaining next-generation talent; addressing social and economic inequality

Jones: Public safety; affordable and workforce housing; infrastructure and business and neighborhood revitalization

How do you address those issues of concern?

Benavente: Prioritize community healing, restorative justice practices, and independent police oversight. Focus on economic engagement and support for our university graduates and entrepreneurs. Champion Fayetteville as the place where innovative talent and industry leaders take root and thrive. Eliminate food deserts, put a stop to gentrification, and ensure the availability of affordable housing. Oversee responsible development of the Murchison Road corridor and improve economic mobility for everyone in Fayetteville.

Jones: On public safety: Increase patrolling of higher-risk areas. Create a “co-responder” pilot program with mental health professionals to assist with calls where individuals have a mental crisis. Review Police Department policies to ensure proactive approaches are being applied consistently. Increase the use of initiatives to increase community participation and engagement such as programs focusing on removing illegal guns in the city. Expand our PROOVE program that serves to educate, reduce violent crime recidivism, and connect with the public. Expand the use of micro-grants to increase community engagement and participation in crime-reduction efforts. Partner more with law enforcement agencies and community organizations already working with our youths.

Due to the increased use of electric vehicles and charging stations, provide more extensive EV training for our Fire Department to improve safety when responding to those fires that are a growing concern worldwide.

Recruit and partner with organizations and developers that will assist in increasing affordable and workforce housing throughout the city by offering low-interest loans and incentives to rehabilitate “demolishable” homes into affordable rentals, and reduce permitting and other construction delays.

“I prefer ‘middle housing’ rather than ‘tiny houses’ due to infrastructure requirements and concerns, maximizing land value and use, and increased opportunity to obtain (federal) funding for this type of housing as opposed to tiny houses,” Jones says. “Middle housing increases the capacity to serve more residents while effectively addressing walkability and cycling capacity. Middle housing would also help address a deficiency in affordable rental units.”

Continue with watershed studies to identify the best options for flood mitigation and direct where efforts should be targeted. Focus on providing resources to develop underserved areas of Fayetteville; increasing support of local businesses through our numerous grant/loan/technical assistance programs to help them grow and retain employees; increase partnerships with local colleges and universities; increasing neighborhood pride programs and resources for housing rehab; recreational options; ensuring infrastructure projects get completed; increasing road repair and street sealing projects; and continuing sidewalk construction throughout the city.

What, if anything, is the current council doing well?

Benavente: “The homeless day center is a positive step toward providing those experiencing homelessness with an opportunity to receive the resources they need.”

Jones: More has been done on dealing with homelessness than in the past; increasing recreation opportunities; recruiting businesses that create jobs, which in turn creates more money being spent in the city.

What, if anything, is the current council not doing well?

Benavente: “They are failing to hold the Fayetteville Police Department accountable for issues of misconduct, and their refusal to institute a civilian review board to address the disparate rates of Black drivers being targeted since 2012 is inexcusable.”

Jones: “As of my appointment, we should continue to increase respectful interactions, adhere to standards of professionalism, and continue to work together regardless of any differences, whether perceived or actual, for the sake of the overall city.”

Fayetteville, City Council, elections, District 3, Antonio Jones, Mario Benavente