Voters' Guide 2022: Meet Fayetteville City Council District 3 candidates Benavente, Jones

·9 min read

Antonio Jones is the incumbent in District 3. The City Council in November chose him last fall to fill the seat that had been vacated by a previous member. The challenger is Mario "Be" Benavente. Jones is a veteran who is a broker for Jones Realty and leads the Temple of Faith Church in Fayetteville. He wants to add workplace and affordable housing and partner with organizations to address issues such as homelessness. Benavente is a lifelong resident of District 3 who recently earned his law degree from N.C. Central University. He helped found the Fayetteville Millennial Advisory Commission. His goals recruiting and retaining next-generation talent and addressing social and economic inequality, according to his campaign website.

Here are their answers to a candidate questionnaire from The Fayetteville Observer. Some Voter Guide profiles ran before the primary in May. They have been edited for style and grammar.

Mario Benavente
Mario Benavente

Mario Benavente

Age: 32

Immediate family: Miguel and Insun Benavente (parents)

Occupation:  Community ORganizer; NCCU Law Graduate ‘22

Elected office held: Chair, Fayetteville Millennial Advisory Commission

How can the city address the increased number of murders? Is the Police Department doing all it can, in your opinion?

Proactive measures based in Restorative Justice practices and community-based solutions as a complementary strategy to law enforcement are the way forward. This is where I focused my research while in law school, and trained with organizations in Durham that are pioneering these strategies.

Relationship-based conflicts are rarely going to happen in plain view of a uniformed officer. Therefore, we have to equip vulnerable communities with the resources necessary to de-escalate and mediate situations before they evolve into deadly violence. With the help of community-based public safety professionals trained in high-risk intervention, this approach has proven to be the most effective way to prevent interpersonal conflicts from escalating. This is where we ought to invest City money as it’s the best way to improve public safety.

Our city leadership has become overly reliant on a single department to resolve all the challenges facing Fayetteville. The police can help, but they can never heal our communities.

We also need to be proactive and target the root issues that lead to anti-social behavior: Poverty. Nearly 20% of our residents live in poverty and Fayetteville ranks nationally as having some of the worst outcomes when it comes to economic mobility. If you’re born into poverty here, research shows you are more likely to end up even poorer than your parents if you stay. Until we start to care about the least among us so all people can thrive, we will continue to struggle as a community when it comes to crime.

Can the city and Cumberland County improve their relationship? What joint projects do you think might be useful to consider going forward?

The city and county must improve their working relationship. Too often each body has blamed the other for failing to take initiative or make the necessary investments that would benefit all the citizens of our community.

Firstly, as a proud Golden Bull and member of the Board of Directors for the E.E. Smith Alumni Association board, no one will work harder to ensure we secure long-overdue investment.

Additionally, Cumberland County Schools must become the home of the best teachers in the State. We have brilliant graduates of Fayetteville State, Methodist, and FTCC that are passionate about teaching and we are losing them to cities better prepared to support them.

Our city already subsidizes housing for police employees and city government employees in order to recruit and retain the best candidates. We need to incentivize educators in the same way to improve our public school system.

When we have a public school system people want their children to attend, they will root and raise their families in Fayetteville. When more young professionals decide to stick around here and grow this city, higher salary careers become the norm. This is how we take Fayetteville to the next level.

Downtown has received plenty of attention when it comes to economic development and new initiatives to encourage investments. What is your plan to encourage development and investment in the rest of the city?

The Murchison Road corridor has been overlooked time and again for investment that would improve the lives of the residents in District 3. I serve on the housing working group for the Murchison Choice Neighborhood project where HUD grant money, if awarded, would make $30 Million available to make necessary development possible. That investment must be applied in a way that preserves the legacy of our historic neighborhoods and with a keen eye to prevent gentrification. Long-standing residents ought to benefit first and foremost as we grow this area.

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Antonio Jones, candidate for Fayetteville City Council
Antonio Jones, candidate for Fayetteville City Council

Antonio B. Jones

Age: Not provided

Immediate family: Amichia Gainey-Jones (E.E.Smith graduate); two sons, ages 21 and 23, one at Fayetteville State University

Occupation: Licensed Realtor-owner, Key Diverse Solutions, LLC; Pastor, Temple of Faith Church; father

Elected office held: District 3, Fayetteville City Council; N.C. Realtors Diversity Committee Executive Committee mMember; Cumberland County JCPC (Juvenile Crime Prevention Council)

How can the city address the increased number of murders? Is the Police Department doing all it can, in your opinion?

Just as murder is a multi-faceted problem, it has to be addressed in a like manner, as there is not one solution to this problem. This includes a significant increase in community engagement through but not limited to, increasing community watch participation and support (i.e, mini-grants, neighborhood FPD meet-and-greets, safety trainings, etc.), increasing efforts to remove illegal weapons from our streets and extensive use of the Violent Crime Community Advocate program to engage the community along. These initiatives could be used along with the new CPAB to create viable partnerships with organizations already serving our youth in a preventative manner. This age group is involved in many of the shooting incidences. Working across and with agencies and ensuring our Police Department has the necessary tools and technology will assist, as well as FPD doing what it can to deal with the troubling national trend of increasing murder rates. Having more things to engage our youth and attracting companies to provide jobs is also a component. We must continue our increased efforts to recruit and maintain tenured officers, increase pay and deal with any morale or communication issues. That will help keep experienced officers here who learn their areas and establish relationships with residents.

Can the city and Cumberland County improve their relationship? What joint projects do you think might be useful to consider going forward?

I firmly believe that the city and county can improve on the collaborative relationship. This is one aspect that I believe I can assist with based on my past experience with collaborating with state, federal and local agencies on projects and initiatives. One joint project or area that the city and county can work together on is the homelessness issue, as the county is the main recipient of funds in that regard. Current efforts are underway to do so. These must be continued and met with a resolve and subsequent actions to get everything completed as planned. Being the current representative of District 3, I must add that another joint project(s) that should be considered is the development of the northwest corridor of Murchison Road from Interstate 295 to Shaw Road. This is one of my personal focuses during the time I am on council as it seems to be one of the areas that has been forgotten. I firmly believe since the county and city both own land in this area, it would be an ideal area to consider building affordable housing units (via partnerships, housing trust, etc.). The units could be built along with some form of recreational or green space since our parks and recreation master plan shows it to be a recreational desert. This area in my district could actually serve as an impetus for the city and county to be an example and demonstrate how strong and united we are in regards to working as ONE cohesive unit to serve the community. And lastly, possibly, just possibly, with the aforementioned items included, this could be the area that the new E.E. Smith High School, which is under consideration for construction. This area is still part of the Murchison Road corridor, it’s proximal to Fort Bragg I-295 and it is definitely one area where my efforts, among others, will be focused as the potential here is unlimited. Since the current location of E.E. Smith is landlocked, why not seriously consider “unlocking” the potential of the northwest Murchison road corridor? A joint venture would open up opportunities for grants and other funding to help with what could easily be one of the biggest joint ventures in recent history. A project could give the community what it wants and deserves, in the form of a new technologically advanced high school with a community connection and a history that is vital to preserve.

Downtown has received plenty of attention when it comes to economic development and new initiatives to encourage investments. What is your plan to encourage development and investment in the rest of the city?

I believe we must focus on other areas of the city in order for us to be the destination place that many desire us to be. As council members, we must remember that, while we are representatives for our specific districts, at the end of the day we are all TEAM FAYETTEVILLE. We collectively represent everyone. Just as the city has done throughout the years for other corridors, the same aggressive approach, if not more, needs to be placed on areas that can and should be developed. This cannot be in theory either, as it must be coupled with strategic planning AND funding to make it a reality. These under-developed, or should I say, underserved areas must receive consideration for new capital projects, to include but not limited to, new entertainment venues, recreational facilities and the like. We want to attract various types of businesses, including those in the tech industry but must proactively develop these noted areas that have been forgotten or overlooked for many years. It should be part of an effort to draw the businesses to those particular areas. We need to be intentional about building up the other areas throughout the city in order to attract not only visitors to these areas, but provide our city residents with a plethora of choices. Let’s not only imagine and talk about a city and/or county where there’s something for everyone to do but let’s start making it a reality, In this way, wherever people go, they see excellence EVERYWHERE, not just SOMEWHERE: #onefayetteville

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This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: Voter Guide 2022: Fayetteville City Council District 3