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Election 2022: Fayetteville mayor

Two-term Mayor Mitch Colvin facing newcomer Freddie de la Cruz in city mayoral race

Public safety, quality of life are key issues for 2 Fayetteville natives


Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin says improving public safety is a key part of providing economic opportunity for everyone, which he believes is the city’s most pressing need.

His challenger in the July 26 city election, businessman Freddie de la Cruz, agrees that public safety is important and says that with his 28 years of experience as a military police officer, “I am all about security.”

Both candidates are Fayetteville natives.

Colvin served on the City Council for two terms, including a stint as mayor pro tem, before being elected mayor in 2017. De la Cruz is a political newcomer who served a total of 32 years in the Army.

De la Cruz says he thinks voters are eager to make their voices heard.

“I put money on this,” says de la Cruz. “It’s going to be the highest turnout of voters in the history of Fayetteville even for an off-cycle election. Between me, Mitch and the City Council, it’s going to be the highest turnout of voters.”

Traditionally, voter turnout in off-year elections is about 10% in Fayetteville and Cumberland County.

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 through Saturday.

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

De la Cruz, who owns Venus Vogue Weddings and Formals, the Venue at Venus Vogue and Fayetteville Limousine Service, says safety is the city’s most pressing need.

“You can’t have nothing without safety and security,” he says. “I worked on national security issues. I am all about security. That’s what I’ve been doing for 28 years. I know how to mitigate threats.”

De la Cruz is critical of Police Chief Gina Hawkins’ job performance. Hawkins said on Friday that she plans to retire effective in January.

“Fayetteville has crime problems because of lack of leadership, low morale and lack of patrols in the city,” de la Cruz says. “Police patrols are really important. That’s one of the things Fayetteville lacks.''

He cites Hawkins’ handling of the protests and looting downtown and in other areas of the city that were spurred by the death of George Floyd while in custody of Minneapolis police officers in May 2020. Hawkins faced criticism, including some from within the Police Department, after she ordered police officers to stand down when protests turned violent.

She came under fire earlier this year when officers filed 13 complaints against her with the city’s Ethics Commission. The commission, which agreed to hear eight of them, dismissed those complaints.

“The allegations that were made and the perception — it’s not a good perception,” de la Cruz says. “A thorough investigation was not done. The allegations were made, and the proper investigative authorities were not leveraged to determine if they were founded or unfounded.”

The Police Department needs help, he says.

“That’s one of the main reasons I’m running,” de la Cruz says. “I have the experience. I’m a police instructor. I’m there to help. I want to help the Police Department and help with the leadership. They need to be held accountable after taking the oath.''

Colvin, too, says he sees room for improvement in the Police Department.

“I do support our Police Department. I think we have incredible men and women who work there,” he says. “I’m not overly impressed with the results we’re seeing in the community from the public safety side. I think there needs to be more effort and attention put in certain places.”

Colvin, who runs Colvin Funeral Homes and Cremation, says City Manager Doug Hewett is accountable to the City Council on such issues.

“If the consensus is that things are not going in the right direction there, council has the ability to change that. We’re trying everything possible — every tool in the toolbox. It all comes down to good police work. It will still come down to enforcing the law by those who choose not to abide by it,” Colvin says. “I know we have too many weapons on the street. We need some help from our judicial partners – the district attorney, our judges, probation, parole, magistrates for sure. We need folks to come to the table. Everybody plays a role.”

Colvin says quality-of-life issues are important to city residents. He would like to see more entertainment options for families and says it was “a big letdown” when the entertainment and restaurant business Dave & Buster’s opted not to open a Fayetteville location.

“We need to invest more in family-based amenities, things that the family can enjoy together,” Colvin says. “This is quality of life. Good health care and education, too — that’s a key to a community’s quality of life. I think that has to be mentioned.

“On the health care side, certainly you can’t drive a mile without seeing someone with a mental health problem. Mental health service gets to that ultimate quality of life.”

De la Cruz says public services and affordable housing are keys to quality of life.

He wants to make city buses more accessible.

“It takes two and three hours for (bus riders) to get to and from their house for work. It’s a journey for them,” he says. “Those are the people who are trying to reach the next level in life — trying to make it in life.”

He says he has a plan for affordable housing centered on a proposed $60 million bond issue. The City Council has scheduled a public hearing on Aug. 3 on three separate bond packages that total $97 million.

“I’m going to try to use that bond on low-interest homes as people go and get in them,” de la Cruz says. “You get 3% from the homes. You get more taxes from the taxed property. You drive through Fayetteville, and you see vacant houses all over the place.”

The candidates were asked about other key issues for the city. Here are their responses.

The Vote Yes Fayetteville plan would restructure City Council elections to change the nine single-member districts to five single-member districts and four at-large districts. Voters would help choose a district member, the four at-large members and the mayor. Do you support the change? 

De la Cruz: “I’m for that. It’s a no-brainer. It’s six vs. two. Do you want six people representing you on council, or do you want two?”

Colvin: “I don’t believe the Vote Yes structure of change is what we need as a community. I’m not really supportive of it. I think it dilutes representation rather than (gives) greater representation. Elected officials shouldn’t be elected by the amount of money they raise only. Anything grassroots is positive. I wouldn’t necessarily call it racist. … I think it’s classism. I would much rather see more engagement — more than 10% engaged in the election process. The difference is not based on race; it’s based on class.”

When former City Councilwoman Tisha Waddell resigned in November, she made allegations of corruption and unethical behavior on the part of Mayor Colvin and other members of the council. Some of the allegations concerned a proposed deal to turn over management of the Public Works Commission to a private company. How do you respond to those allegations?

Colvin: “I think all of that was completely baseless and unfounded. If a company comes to our community tomorrow, I plan to have a conversation with them and bring them to the right party. … I just think the public didn’t give a lot of credence to what she said.”

What is your vision for the community and how, through your leadership, does the city get there?

Colvin: “So, basically, I envision the city overall finding its rhythm and determining who it is that we are. What defines us as a community? We’re watching the success of other communities that have already solved that. As we continue to define who it is we are, I envision us finding that niche and making the community a place where people prosper and have a good quality of life. It will take time and commitment.”

De la Cruz: “Well, first of all, truthfully, in the military we change jobs every two or three years because of complacency. Complacency is always a drawback to fresh ideas. I believe the city, as you know, it’s been pretty dysfunctional. I’ve noticed in the last two to two-and-a-half months, it has been mutual: The truth of the matter is that a lot of people in Fayetteville don’t like the direction that Fayetteville is going.

“I feel like I’m a uniter. I like to get things done. We can agree and disagree, but at the end of the day we have to help the people. Pull the onion back and see what people in Fayetteville need for help. Those are the people in the buses; they’re trying to get something done. The homeless — they just need to work; find ways to get these guys work.”

Fayetteville, elections, mayor, Mitch Colvin, Freddie de la Cruz