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A state Republican Party attack on Raleighs parks and greenway system drew former Mayor Charles Meeker into the political fray last week.
Meeker called a news conference at his downtown Raleigh law office Tuesday to rebut a pair of GOP mailers that criticize Democratic candidate Sig Hutchinson, who is running against Sen. Neal Hunt in suburban Raleighs District 15.
One mailer mocks Hutchinson for his support of Raleighs greenway network. It features a close-up photo of a smiling horse next to the words Sig Hutchinsons wacky agenda: Higher taxes and horse trails.
Another mailer says Sig Hutchinson helped raise Raleigh property taxes, quadruple the citys debt to over $1 billion, and pushed for a $60 million sales tax hike on Wake County residents.
The ads are false or misleading on several fronts, Meeker said. Hutchinson chaired five bond campaigns to support parks, greenways, open space and transportation, but it was Raleigh voters who ultimately approved passage of the bonds and ensuing tax increases.
This year, Hutchinson supported a ballot initiative to let voters decide on a half-cent sales tax for mass transit. Wake commissioners did not schedule a referendum.
As for the citys debt, Raleigh has borrowed $1.38 billion for roads, water and sewer plants and a new downtown convention center, among other items.
About 10 percent of the citys general governmental fund goes to pay the general fund debt service a smaller ratio than in Charlotte, Durham, Winston-Salem and Greensboro. Meeker points to the citys AAA bond rating as an affirmation of the citys sound financial position.
Political campaigns sometimes involve exaggeration, but false statements simply need to be responded to, Meeker said.
Reached Tuesday afternoon, Hunt said he hadnt seen the mailers and couldnt comment on their accuracy.
The state GOP stands by the ads, said party spokesman Ray Martin. The mailers do not claim that Hutchinson himself raised taxes, but instead say that he helped raise taxes through his support for bond initiatives, Martin said.
The comments marked a return to the political stage for Meeker, a parks advocate during his 10-year tenure as mayor. Meeker was quick to say that his return is just on a temporary basis.
I dont have plans other than what were doing this morning, he said.
There was a time when Hunt understood that greenways are important to quality of life, business recruitment and public health, Meeker and Hutchinson said.
Greenways make our city great, Hutchinson said. Its just amazing that the far right does not see the value of our trail and greenway system.
Hunt, a former Raleigh City Council member, voted to place a $47.2 million parks and recreation bond on the ballot in 2003.
Two years later, Hunt was elected to the state Senate and has risen to become a top budget writer. In 2010, he earned 60 percent of the vote to defeat Democratic challenger Charles Malone.