Tige Watts at the Five Points Starbucks, Friday, Jan. 30, 2015.
To begin with, Tige Watts isn’t just running against Cameron Runyan because of the incumbent’s solitary stance in November against providing same-sex couples with marriage-related benefits.
The 42-year-old Watts says that actually, his interest in running for council has been “bubbling up for awhile.”
As he sees it, he started on this path 13 years ago when he bought a home — in the neighborhood across Garner’s Ferry from the V.A. hospital — and started getting involved with his neighborhood.
And boy, did he get involved. He not even rose to leadership in his own neighborhood, but became president of the Columbia Council of Neighborhoods. When he entered that office, there were 81 neighborhood associations on the council. He resolved to grow it to 100, and reached the 104 mark before he left office.
He says his name was first mentioned for city council in 2010, but that was a bad time for him. He was about to become president of Neighborhoods USA, the national group of such associations. He is now serving his second term in that position, after a brief hiatus required by the organization’s rules.
Through his involvement in such groups, he says, he’s learned a lot about how local government should function, and how it can function.
“I see what people go through every day,” he said. The things that matter are basic — ensuring that “homes are safe, trash is picked up, water lines are running.” It’s “what really impacts people on a daily basis.”
He sees running for council as a “natural progression… City council is the next stop.”
He foresees his campaign focusing mainly on three things: Public safety, financial stewardship and the younger generation.
On public safety, he says it’s “easy to pick on” flashpoints such as Five Points, but he sees the challenge more holistically. He likes what Chief Holbrook has been doing in his brief time in office, and sees him as a welcome addition after the turmoil in police leadership the last few years.
Mr. Watts is a believer in the “broken windows” school of community policing, and believes that ultimately, “Prosperity is the best deterrent.”
On financial stewardship, “I worry about some of the commitments we’ve taken on.” He was very much against the city exposing itself so far on the Bull Street development, but now that Columbia is committed, “We’ve got to make that a success.”
He worries that Columbia relies far too much on government for jobs.
As for youth, he is concerned that too many are at risk, and we may be “losing a generation” to crime, gangs, and a lack of good job opportunities. As with so many things, he says this is something he has seen up close “in our neighborhoods.”
In our conversation at the Five Points Starbucks Friday, he sounded communitarian themes so often that I began to wonder who might have coached him for this interview. (Not that he couldn’t have coached himself — he is, after all, a political consultant, one who does “everything but raise money.”) He talked about the need to get people back out on their front porches, and get to know their neighbors. “Neighbors watch out for each other.”
Mr. Watts showed little interest in talking about Mr. Runyan’s vote on the benefits issue. When I noted that some people believed that was why he was running, he responded, “The only thing I’ll say is… If he can discriminate against one type of person, he can discriminate against others.”
And he changed the subject. The biggest thing he seems to take issue with the incumbent over is Bull Street. “I don’t thing that was a good risk” for the city. But again he stressed, “Now that it’s done… we’ve got to make sure it is a success.” He says he’s “dying to see the letters of intent” from prospective business tenants that the developer is said to have.
He plans to launch his campaign two weeks from today, on Feb. 16.