During the seventies and eighties, Felix Cooper served as New Hanover County’s finance manager and later, its county manager. Following those sixteen years of local service, a subsequent stint as city manager of Key West in Florida, and several years of retirement, the Democrat is throwing his hat in the ring again. This time, he’s vying for a seat on Wilmington’s City Council. And, Cooper is a major proponent of increased synergy between the city council and the county commission.
Throughout his time with the county, Cooper says he’s most proud of how he helped to develop the airport, renovate the Old Courthouse and collaborate with the city to perform building inspections. The soft-spoken great-grandfather and widower says that at this stage in his life, local government is his most enduring passion. He praises Wilmington as a particularly well-run city.
"I just want to help. I’m not anxious to change anything; we’ve got a wonderful city here with some assets that other cities don’t have. We’ve got a river that runs right up through town, we’ve got a viable historic district, we’ve got the beaches, we’ve got the airport—which, if you’ve been through it, you know what it’s like now, but you didn’t know what it was like before then—so, my priority is just to be available and to use what experience I do have, maybe to help, in certain instances."
One of those instances involves drawing up budgets. Cooper says that over the years, he’s created some twenty to thirty of them.
"I know the ifs and the ands and suches of budgets. And I can recognize right away when somebody’s telling the truth, and when they’re just putting something down to gain some additional funds."
Cooper believes things would run more smoothly around here if the city and county would consolidate and work together more often. He says he could play a key role in smoothing that vital relationship.
"I still have a lot of friends in both the city and the county. Like I said, just about any kind of problem that was had, I’d have some kind of experience in."
Cooper says he’d also like to see the city more involved in major county decisions such as the future of waste management and the proposed Titan Cement Plant in Castle Hayne. He says that as a grandfather and great-grandfather, environmental matters in particular concern him.
"Once you screw up the environment it’s there forever, but jobs can be done and handled from some other source. And you can certainly alleviate that, but you can’t alleviate danger to the environment."
Cooper, a native of Atlanta, lived with his family in downtown Wilmington from 1975-1985. During that time he was an active member of Residents of Old Wilmington, and a major advocate for the revitalization of the downtown.
"I remember when we first started the growth of the businesses down there, especially in the Cotton Exchange. It brings back a lot of memories of what my wife and I did. "
Cooper commends the city for what he says are the “imaginative” ways they’ve since improved the waterfront. But he says that asset has yet to be fully tapped. He adds that Wilmington’s recent growth calls for an update in the city’s parking operations and traffic control.
"There are more cars in Wilmington right now than there are places for them. And something’s gotta be resolved about that; I don’t know yet what the answer is."
Over the years, Cooper has developed a defined philosophy when it comes to public service.
"It’s the people that count, not the government. And I believe that whatever you do in public service, you’ve got to keep in mind that you’re working for the public, and they’re paying the bills. And as long as you do that, I think you’ll be all right."
When not campaigning, Cooper--an Army Veteran and member of the Post 10 American Legion--can be found strolling the downtown riverfront, watching baseball games or attending residents’ association meetings at his home within Wilmington’s Brightmore retirement community.