Leading from the Left

Monday, November 26, 2007

Matthew's Chocolates

I've never used this blog space before to highlight a new business in the County, but there is a great new shop in Downtown Hillsborough that's getting strong--and deserved--buzz.

Matthew's Chocolate's opened last Friday on Churton Street next to Gulf Rim Restaurant. Chocolatier and chef Matthew Shepherd, who moved to Orange County from South Florida earlier this year, handmakes each chocolate on site. Friends, these are world class chocolates; each is a work of art...they are buttery, rich, fragrant and unique.

My favorite so far is the pomegranate truffle. Seriously, you've got to check these out.

And on a side note, if you have not yet tried Panciuto Restaurant in Downtown Hillsborough, you don't know what you're missing. It's excellent Italian cuisine in a relaxing, simple atmosphere. Your server initiates the experience by presenting each lady in the party with a flower and each guest with a small glass of prosecco. Don't miss this restaurant...definitely worth a trip up to Hillsborough if you live in Carrboro or Chapel Hill. I went with my brother and sister-in-law on Friday night; they were suprised to see both writer Frances Mayes and former NY Mayor Ed Koch dining there that night.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Economic Development: Missed Opportunities

Last night the Board of County Commissioners had a dinner meeting with the Economic Development Commission to discuss economic issues. The discussion was fruitful and began a good dialogue between the two bodies. Frankly, we should talk more often.

One discussion point, in particular, deserves to be mentioned I think. Mark Crowell, an EDC member who works for UNC, shared with us that since he's been at UNC about 40 businesses have spun off from research conducted by faculty and staff at the university. Of those spin off businesses, only 3 are currently located in Orange County.

Wow. Those numbers pretty much tell the story, don't they? We're losing a golden opportunity to grow exactly the kind of businesses we'd like to have in Orange County. Mark said that these businesses would like to stay close to UNC, near where the research is being conducted, but they can't find adequate space to site their ventures.

The commission and the BoCC went on to talk quite a bit about recruiting businesses from outside the county, perhaps through some sort of incentive program.

But I keep coming back to what Mark said. It seems to me that, when it comes to economic development, we should pick the low hanging fruit first. That is to say, these start up businesses spinning out from UNC want to stay in Orange County; they want to be part of our community. They don't need incentives to come, because they're already here.

It seems to me, what we need to do as a community is to ensure that these local start up ventures have what they need to survive and thrive. For some that might be finding the right kind of space or enough square footage, for others it might be a start up or expansion loan, and for still others it might just be as simple as having welcoming posture at the EDC.

The County is in the process of searching for a new Economic Development Director. Our highest criteria ought to be finding a candidate who has experience working in a university community and who can assist us in retaining these kinds of spin off businesses.

Second, I think we need to set some clear Economic Development priorities. We can't do everything at once, therefore our first priority should be focusing on the low-hanging fruit. If faculty and staff at UNC are creating new business ventures based on their research, we should be bending over backwards to keep them.

Other priorities, like discussing incentives to attract outside business ventures, should come later. First things first, my grandmother always used to say.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

American Hero

One of my heroes died yesterday, Marty Ravellette. The N&O provides detail in an article published today.

If you live in Chapel Hill or Carrboro, you probably saw Marty around town. He could often be spotted mowing grass, driving through Carrboro, or eating at Sutton's. None of this would have been remarkable, except Marty was born without arms. Yep, he drove without arms, ate dinner without using his arms, and made a living mowing grass without arms.

I was always impressed by his skill and tenacity and willingness to work hard for everything he got. But what impressed me most about Marty was his spirit.

He was abadonded by his parents shortly after birth, he was raised in an orphanage, he had a tough life growing up teased and ridiculed by other kids, and he had a handicap that would have discouraged most of us from even trying. Yet Marty was always chipper, always nice, always smiling and always had a kind word for others.

He was, perhaps, the most impressive individual I've ever met. The world was a richer place because he walked amongst us.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

News & Observer Followup

In response to my blog post several days ago about their use of the word "homosexual" to describe gay people, the N&O has begun a discourse on its own blog. Check it out here.

I commend the N&O for using a public forum like blogging to solicit input and beginning a dialog. Thanks, y'all...

Language matters, and I believe it's time for the N&O and other local media to abandon medically accurate terms (like homosexual) and use language that reflects the humanity of the LGBT community. While 'homosexual' is, as the editor points out, technically a synonym for 'gay,' so is 'Negro' a synonym for African-American or black.

But I imagine that it can be hard for a newspaper to judge the moment when a social custom has changed. When, exactly, does a term like 'homosexual' become 'antiquated?' When is it time to drop a term of reference that a minority group finds objectionable and adopt language more in keeping with the times?

For me as a gay person, the answer to those questions is obvious; to the editor of paper with a diverse readership, change might be slower in dawning.

Here's a disturbing, and true, example of how little things have changed. When Joe Herzenberg died last week, there were numerous articles in the local and regional papers about his death and his accomplishments. One VERY prominent Orange County elected official complained that the articles about Joe were 'too gay.'

Yep, she did. Let's face it, Joe's contribution to history was his election to the Chapel Hill Town Council as North Carolina's (and the South's) first openly gay elected official. While there was much more to Joe than just that one victory, it is only natural that newspaper accounts of his death cover that victory. The media handled the subject in exactly the appropriate way.

However many older people (the person in question is just shy of 76 years old still don't have a comfort level with sexual orientation or the gay community. Even if they publicly support gay rights, as this person does, they still can't get past the old notion that being gay is something better 'not talked about.'

Yes, it's homophobic. But we're along way to a day when that attitude is no longer held.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Levelheaded Leadership Pays Off for Lavelle

First, hats off to all the winners in yesterday's election. All three local governments and the school board will see new and returning members who are stellar.

And kudos to those who got defeated as well. Several worthy candidates lost and we are the worse for it....Bryant Kelly in Hillsborough, Gary Wallach for the schoolboard, and--of course--my friend Cam Hill. All are great guys who have a lot to offer the community. I hope we will see them again.

Saving the best for last...I am thrilled nearly beyond words that Lydia Lavelle won in my old hometown of Carrboro. Lydia is as capable a public servant as I've ever met. Her level-headed approach to problem solving will serve Carrboro, and all of us, well.

Lydia ran, unquestionably, the strongest campaign of any candidate this year. She and her team created an admirable grassroots organization, proving that basic, retail politics (knocking on doors and talking to voters) pays off. Her knowledge of the issues and progressive values were so impressive that she ended up receiving the endorsement of every organization and newspaper that issued endorsement this year. Indeed, a significant accomplishment.

I'm very, very proud of Lydia.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Transfer Station Decision to Be Revisited

Last night, the Board of County Commissioners decided to revisit the decision to site a Waste Transfer Station on Eubanks Road. As I've stated here before, I believe reopening the discussion is the right thing to do.

I extend my gratitude to Board Chair Moses Carey for changing his mind and agreeing to re-open the dialogue.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Why is the N&O Homophobic?

"How the media portrays the LGBT community doesn't make a bit of difference. It makes ALL the difference." So said my friend Neil Guiliano, president of GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) at the Equality Conference & Gala on Saturday.

Neil's right.

Which is why I finally have had enough of the N&O's homophobia. I woke up Sunday morning to read that paper's coverage of Saturday's Equality Conference. They pulled their typical "homosexuals" this and "homosexuals" that mess.

Oh, puh-lease. Homosexuals? What's wrong with saying Gay? Or Gay and Lesbian? Or LGBT? Would they refer to Barack Obama and Sherrif John Baker, who died last week, as Negroes? No, of course, not.

So why adopt the language used by the far right to sexualize gay people? It's not by accident, my friends, that the far right uses the word "homosexual" when referring to the gay community. They do so because it reinforces the stereotype that being gay is about a sex act. Doing so denies our greater humanity, and greater worth, and focuses on sex.

I called the reporter in question and asked her to never use that word to describe my people. It's time to join the 21st Century, News & Observer. African-American's aren't called Negro anymore; women aren't called 'ladies;' handicapped aren't called 'cripples;' and Gay people aren't called 'homosexual.'

Contact the N&O and let them know that it's time to join the rest of us in the 21st Century.

How the media portrays gay people doesn't make a bit of difference; it makes all the difference.