Candidate Profile: Skip Watkins, Wilmington City Council
Skip Watkins says he’s dreamed of serving in public office his whole life. A father, financial advisor and longtime volunteer with the Cape Fear Festival and Expo and the Azalea Festival, Watkins cites frustration over Wilmington City Council’s recent efforts to acquire a minor-league baseball stadium as the catalyst that ultimately spurred him to run for a seat on the Council. If elected, Skip Watkins hopes to provide the City with a dose of what he describes as “fiscal guidance.”
Watkins, a native of Goldsboro, has called Wilmington home since 1978. He holds a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from UNCW, where he met his wife Valerie. If elected, Watkins says he primarily hopes to help Wilmington streamline its spending habits.
"We have what I call the 'got to’s' and the 'want to’s, and we all have a lot of “want to’s” but we have to take care of our “got to’s” first. And that’s one of the things that got our nation in trouble financially, both on a governmental public and private level. We have credit card debt that’s excessive. That kind of relates to why I ran, because we have a mentality of 'spend spend spend.'"
Watkins says he hopes to enlighten municipal government some with the same principles he’s been using to counsel clients for more than twenty years as a financial advisor.
"In economics there’s quantitative and there’s qualitative. There’s, you know, there’s numbers and then there’s the social aspect. So everything can’t be a pure number. But, for example, anything that I would vote for or against would’ve gone through a cost-benefit analysis. I’ve got a pretty quick formula that I can do for my clients. So I’m sure I could modify something. But I’d do my research."
One measure that wouldn’t have cleared his analysis is the deal the City recently made with Harmony Hospitality for a new hotel next to the downtown convention center. A self-proclaimed free market capitalist, Watkins says the Council owes the public a thorough valuation of that hotly contested land.
"I’m not against a hotel coming. It just needs to be clear in the public eye that any group, whether it’s Harmony or anyone who comes in, that they’re paying market price, and they’re taking market risks."
If elected, Watkins would be one of only two Republicans on the seven-member Council. But he says one of the wonderful things about local-level politics is its nonpartisan nature.
"Most of the things in Wilmington aren’t Republican or Democrat; it’s mostly common sense. "
Watkins does note, however, that some stronger party influence could have sway in one area—city taxes.
"If you want to keep your taxes low, you find somebody that’s a fiscal conservative. I mean, end of story."
Getting back to Watkins’ list of “got to’s” and “want to’s,” he says the downtown riverfront area, as a tourism boon, falls into the former category.
"There is a perception that maybe downtown gets a lot of favoritism. But we have to understand that downtown is probably the crown jewel of Wilmington in the attraction area."
Watkins’ pet “got to” issue, however, centers around Wilmington’s crime situation, one he describes as a tidal wave that should be addressed through grassroots efforts to create more opportunities for at-risk youths to participate in positive activities—such as sports.
"We have got a lost generation, in my opinion, of young men—some young women, but mainly we’ve got a lost generation of young men. There’s boots on the ground, it’s a local thing going on now, where a lot of pastors and the police department are going into the communities and trying to say, ‘Hey, there’s a better way.’ Council can’t solve it, the school board can’t solve it, county commissioners can’t solve it, but all of us together? Business leaders, political leaders, volunteers, pastors, moms dads? "
Watkins says he has a vision of all these parties working together to fund and staff opportunities for youths--without raising taxes. He says he plans to seek help from big corporations in the area. Watkins also says that since Mayor Saffo’s running unopposed, he fears low voter turnout may be his biggest challenge going into the election. He adds that no matter its outcome, he’s dedicated to his preventative plan to tackle the city’s crime issues.