Raleigh council hopeful objects to candidates forums held in churches

ccampbell@newsobserver.comSeptember 13, 2013 

  • Meet the candidates

    The League of Women Voters and WakeUp Wake County will hold their Raleigh City Council candidates forum at 7 p.m. Monday at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, 1801 Hillsborough St., Raleigh.

    On Tuesday, the Saint Augustine’s University Student Government Association and activist Octavia Rainey will hold a forum at 7 p.m. at the Seby Jones Auditorium on campus, 1315 Oakwood Ave.

— City Council and mayoral hopefuls will share their visions for the city at a forum Monday – but one candidate won’t be there.

Sam Smith, who’s running for Northeast Raleigh’s District B, doesn’t think the venue is appropriate. The League of Women Voters, WakeUp Wake County and several other groups are hosting the forum at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church.

“I don’t believe we should be holding political forums in a church,” he said. “It’s disrespectful for the church and disrespectful for the seat I’m running for.”

It’s not that Smith doesn’t feel comfortable in a church – he’s actually a Baptist – but he says he doesn’t want to campaign for office in God’s house.

“It is a place of worship, not a place of political discussion,” he said. “In our country, we were founded on a separation of church and state.”

Marian Lewin of the League of Women Voters said her group is willing to consider other locations – provided they don’t charge rent.

“We are open to holding it anywhere that will donate the venue,” she said. “We don’t have enough money to rent the space.”

That means the forums have been held at a variety of Raleigh churches, because they’re willing to host forums for free and can seat plenty of people. Lewin stressed that the nature of the space doesn’t give the forum a religious tone.

Lewin also pointed out that many churches serve as polling places on Election Day. She said Smith is the first candidate to decline a forum invitation because of the location; all other candidates will attend the League’s event.

Smith’s views have cost him a podium at another forum, too. Last week, the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association held its debate at Martin Street Baptist Church. Smith declined to attend.

But Smith said he’s eager to share his platform at non-religious venues. He plans to attend a forum Tuesday at Saint Augustine’s University, hosted by Southeast Raleigh activist Octavia Rainey.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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