Politics & Government

Raleigh, Durham mayors welcome Pope Francis

Catotti N&O file

Mayors Nancy McFarlane of Raleigh and Bill Bell of Durham were two of several mayors on the south lawn of the White House on Wednesday to welcome Pope Francis and hear him speak.

McFarlane and Bell have previously visited the White House, but said this trip was particularly special. They didn’t meet Pope Francis or spend time with President Barack Obama, who they’ve met before.

But Bell said the experience was unlike any other he’s had in Washington. The atmosphere reminded him of when he attended Obama’s inauguration speech in 2008.

“Everyone was in a cheerful mood,” he said. “This was probably one of the most exciting times to be in D.C.”

Bell said he appreciated the pope’s comments on promoting equal rights and reducing poverty.

“To hear the pope speak about that on a global level just resonated with me,” he said. “It’s sometimes hidden in plain sight.”

McFarlane was inspired by the pope’s comments on climate change.

“So much of his message was about how climate change is real ... and how it’s our responsibility to take care of the planet,” she said. “It was pretty amazing.”

Catotti: “Too high”

Durham City Councilwoman Diane Catotti took a stand this week on granting economic incentives to downtown development.

On Monday, the city council voted 6-1 to approve a $5.25 million economic development incentive agreement. The money will help fund the $87.5 million first phase of Boston-based Longfellow Real Estate Partners and Durham-based Measurement Inc.’s plan to develop a 1.7-million-square-foot science and technology “Innovation District” on 15 acres between Duke Street and Durham Central Park.

The $5.25 million will be paid over a 15-year period after the project is completed and the amount of promised capital is invested. The project should yield $7.6 million in incremental property taxes to the city over that 15 years.

Catotti thinks the project is a good one, she said, but the incentive, which represents about 70 percent of the projected tax revenue, “is just too high.”

Closer ties sought

James West, chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, wants to build closer ties with the school system based on the recent experiences of two commissioners who’ve volunteered in schools as teacher assistants.

Commissioners Jessica Holmes and Sig Hutchinson served as volunteers to show their support for teacher assistants, whose value has been questioned by some Republican state lawmakers. West said at this week’s meeting that he’d like to arrange tours of schools so that Wake County school leaders can show things they’d like commissioners to support.

“You can’t lead where you’ve never been,” West said.

The all-Democratic board of commissioners gave a record $44.6 million funding increase to the Democratic-led school board this year.

Compiled by Paul A. Specht, Virginia Bridges, T. Keung Hui

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