Log in Newsletter

Election 2022: City Council District 1

Incumbent champions growth; challenger says better planning is vital

Rodriguez says new housing taxes public services; Jensen touts greater opportunity


Kathy Keefe Jensen says rapid growth is bringing opportunity to Fayetteville. Alex Rodriguez says the fast pace of development, particularly of large residential projects, is taxing public services.

Jensen, who has served four terms on the Fayetteville City Council and is mayor pro tem, is running for reelection to represent District 1.

“We are in the middle of tremendous growth and opportunity, but we must have steady leadership to achieve the right results for our city,” says Jensen, 57. “My goal is that everyone has the opportunity for success while raising their families here so that our children want to stay in their hometown.”

Rodriguez, a political newcomer, said he decided to run for office because he thinks Fayetteville is headed in the wrong direction on crime, pollution and economic development.

“I felt that nothing was going to change being an armchair critic, so I made my announcement to run in December 2020,” says Rodriguez, 48. “I feel that more conservative voices need to be brought to the City Council to produce more effective and productive policies as well as forcing more compromise within the council.”

Rodriguez is challenging Jensen in the District 1 election on July 26. Early voting is underway at the Cumberland County Board of Elections Office.

Election Q&A: Candidates in District 1 respond to questions from CityView TODAY.

District 1, which includes neighborhoods such as College Lakes, King’s Grant, Fairfield Farms and Kinwood, has experienced major growth over the past decade with the extension of Interstate 295 and more shops, restaurants and other businesses lining Ramsey Street.

Born and raised in Fayetteville, Jensen and her husband of 29 years, Jerry, raised their four children. A graduate of Pine Forest High School, East Carolina University and Methodist University, Jensen says she has worked in her family’s business, Keefe Enterprises, since she was 6 years old.

After traveling the world during her husband’s military career, the Jensens settled in Fayetteville in 1997. Their children went to the same public schools that she did growing up. She opened An Affair to Remember, a small business that sells prom, pageant and formal wear, in 2005.

Jensen serves on numerous boards and is a liaison between the City Council and Cumberland County. She is active in Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, Women’s Giving Circle, the Daughters of Penelope and the Fayetteville-Cumberland Youth Council.

Rodriguez, a retired Army officer and former police officer, is now a Department of the Army security officer. He and his wife, Leslie, have been married 26 years. They have two children and two grandchildren who all live in Fayetteville. He retired here in 2012 after living here off and on during his military career since 1994.

The Rodriguezes run Freedom Farms, a veteran-operated stable offering horse boarding, trail rides and riding lessons. He is on the board of One Fayetteville, a nonprofit organization that works with the homeless and other service projects. He is a former member of the Fayetteville-Cumberland Human Relations Commission and attends the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. 

Rodriguez, who has spent the past few months knocking on doors to meet residents of District 1, says Fayetteville has issues similar to those in larger cities like Seattle and Baltimore and that there needs to be more diversity on the City Council.

CityView TODAY asked Jensen and Rodriguez about a number of issues facing the city, including economic development, crime and government transparency.

Growth and economic development

Growth is a top issue for residents of District 1 according to both candidates. But their perspectives on the topic are very different.

“We are the first exit off of I-295 to get to downtown, which makes our corridor very important,” Jensen says. “We have become a desirable area to live in the city, and with the new annexation up 401 North and the plans for the light rail to Raleigh, we are rapidly becoming even more desirable.”

Jensen says she does not see an end to growth. With the 2040 land-use plan for North Fayetteville, she sees District 1 thriving and becoming an even better place to raise a family and enjoy recreational amenities. She says public safety and suitable city services are important to take care of residents. 

Rodriguez agrees that the district is growing rapidly but says that the increase in residential development has had a negative effect on school capacity, traffic and pollution.

“This is also having a negative effect on home values as the overdevelopment of affordable housing is negatively impacting the value of older, more developed homes throughout the district,” says Rodriguez.

Rodriguez cited a housing development that encompasses 800 acres as a project that was not well-planned as far as its effect on schools and traffic.

“We are developing too fast and building too many homes,” says Rodriguez.

Jensen says the city recently has seen historic growth and investment, including more than $600 million in construction projects, parks and recreation facilities, and airport upgrades.

Crime and public safety

Both candidates put public safety and crime at the top of their list of priorities for District 1 and the city as a whole.

Rodriguez says reducing crime is essential for businesses that want to invest in the city.

“Security is essential for the community to grow. We need to target crime including gun and drug violence,” says Rodriguez. “We’ve had critical, higher-than-average personnel shortages, and officers are overworked.”

He believes the leadership of the Police Department, including Chief Gina Hawkins, is at the root of problems with recruitment and retention of officers.

“We need to reform the Police Department at the leadership levels,” Rodriguez says. “Chief Hawkins’ focus on diversifying the Police Department has led to an increase in resignations, early retirements and local qualified candidates being overlooked in the hiring process. Confidence in her leadership, especially during the May 2020 riots, have shaken the confidence and trust that the citizens have in her ability to keep the community safe.”

Jensen said the city is actively addressing recruitment and retention within the Police Department.

“We have raised salaries for police officers and offered incentives. It’s a nationwide problem, but we are trying, and to only be 8% down in staffing is remarkable compared to other cities,” says Jensen, “The city of Fayetteville spends half of its budget on public safety, and public safety, economic development and quality of life go hand-in-hand.”

She said the Police Department is not only making strides in retaining officers, but the City Council has added more funding to help keep the city safe.

“I believe there is always room for improvement, which is why when other cities were defunding the police, we raised the budget in our Police Department. We want to make sure that our Police Department has all of the tools to keep our city safe,” Jensen says. “New technology including cameras and license plate readers are helping officers do their jobs better.”

Government transparency

Both candidates say Fayetteville leaders need to be transparent about meetings and the like.

“We need to improve transparency and accountability at City Hall so that the public can review and stay informed of the actions of their public servants,” says Rodriguez.

He says all council meetings should be televised, including some that might still be behind closed doors. He also says the public affairs office should expand its internet and social-media presence and the city’s website should be more user-friendly.

Jensen says she thinks the city does a great job putting information out to the public and making it easily accessible.

"All of our council meetings and work sessions are televised and uploaded to YouTube (and other digital outlets) for the public to see, and everything is on the website,” says Jensen, who noted that the website has won awards.

Fayetteville, elections, District 1, City Council, Kathy Keefe Jensen, Alex Rodriguez