Garner Cleveland Record

Calabria to challenge Matthews for Commissioner next year

Matt Calabria likes what he sees in Wake County. But he doesn’t think the Wake County Commissioners have taken full advantage.

The Fuquay-Varina lawyer and Democrat announced his candidacy for the District 2 commissioners seat currently held by Garner Republican Phil Matthews.

“I think there’s an overarching lack of vision on some of these issues, and overarching opportunity to move ahead,” Calabria said.

In particular, he advocates for a more proactive transit policy and greater investments in school, areas that would help drive his third priority, economic development.

Commissioners run countywide but represent regional district. District 2 encompasses southern Wake County including Fuquay and most of Garner.

Calabria, 30, grew up outside of Charlotte and first came to the Triangle for college. He graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2005 and from law school at Duke in 2009. He works primarily in commercial litigation matters.

He moved into Wake County after graduating from Duke. He is married and hopes to raise a family in the area.

Vaccine vs. surgery

Republicans hold a majority in the county’s governing body, which has proved lukewarm on mass transit. Calabria points to major municipal support for the county’s transit plan presented in 2011, and said the issue is critical if the area wants to avoid the traffic gridlock in cities like Atlanta. Orange and Durham counties have approved moving forward on a commuter rail line linking Chapel Hill, Durham, RTP and Raleigh.

Garner mayor Ronnie Williams has said the town has tried to push Matthews toward support for the commuter rail. The plan includes two stations in Garner.

“The plan had bipartisan support throughout the county, and it’s really the commission holding up the process,” Calabria said. “We’re at a point where we have to make a decision whether we are going to avoid having problems or wait until we have problems to fix them...A vaccine is better than emergency surgery.”

A study paid for by the commissioners reported that the town didn’t need to invest in rail at this point, instead suggesting a more flexible expanded bus service. But Calabria said the 2011 study involved far more extensive study and surveying of stakeholders.

“Almost everyone I’ve talked to about this has seen this as a primarily political move,” Calabria said. “The investment that went into the 2011 plan has a lot more credibility. That’s not to say we shouldn’t consider all factors moving forward. Certainly we need to think about Wake County’s needs and think practically and pragmatically, but it’s important to invest in the long run.”

Calabria supports the school construction plan, and said Garner will reap large benefits. He advocates investing heavily in schools and said that, like transit, good schools will draw young professionals and innovation sector workers to the county.

He credited past policies with creating the success of Wake County including investments in education and the development of Research Triangle Park.

“I think Wake County is rightly considered to be one of the top places to live in the country. I think we have highly competent municipalities to thank for it. And we benefit from decisions made long ago,” Calabria said. “But we are being held back by an inability to move forward on transit and held back by the need to increase support for our schools.”