Elections may feel like a popularity contest, but ultimately, for sincere and statesman-like candidates, they’re an appeal.
Those seeking office state their cases, make their pleas about what they bring to the table and cast their respective visions for leadership — then hope voters get the message.
But what we’ve seen in this year’s Siler City’s municipal election has turned that notion on its head, even in the post-truth, social media-driven world where facts are often a malleable commodity.
The vacant mayoral seat and three contested town commissioner seats are on the ballot in Siler City. A total of 11 candidates are vying for the four seats. That’s good for the town; choices give voters options, and competition is motivation for candidates to put their best foot forward in a clear and unmistakable way, then serve with distinction.
When the appeal, however, is done with smoke and mirrors, some obfuscation, and bait-and-switch misdirection, it’s worth sounding the alarm.
So here it is. We’re sounding the alarm about Siler City’s “Unity 2022” candidates: Nick Gallardo, Dean Picot II, Jared Picot and Samuel Williams.
The four candidates are joined at the hip and are tied to and apparently supported by — although he denies financial assistance — Courtney Jordan, whose sudden entrée into Siler City, with his hints of a financial lifeline, have both intrigued and incensed locals.
The self-mythologizing Jordan has painted himself as a knight clothed in shining armor and pockets overflowing with cash, hinting and teasing Siler City with his apparent largesse. He, along with the mysterious StartUp Siler, Jordan’s London-based foundation, and presumably (this is where the clouds turn particularly thick) the Unity 2022 fellows, are all new here. Jordan says he wants to come to the aid of the town, and, along the way, slay poverty, expensive housing, the town’s drug woes and bring prosperity for one and for all.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat. But to resurrect the fortunes of a town? That’s a long-term prospect involving a pretty narrow list of must-haves — notably secure jobs, a shared vision, communal buy-in and commitment. Positive outside forces and strokes of good fortune always help, but change typically works best inside-out, not outside-in.
What’s rankled us (and plenty of others, including town officials and not a few long-time residents, some of whom have turned into internet sleuths) is the methodology of the Unity bloc and the change agents they claim to be.
If someone two weeks into a Marketing 101 class designed a municipal election campaign, it might look a lot like the Unity 2022 ticket’s effort. The attempt may have indeed been sincere and the motives genuine. But there’s a clear disconnect between what these unproven, untested candidates have pledged — on their respective websites and in other written and spoken statements — and some of their actions.
They have done a number of things right — volunteered, canvassed, provided a comprehensive list of objectives, made some pledges. They’ve shown up in an age where showing up counts for a lot.
But the notes they’ve missed, including misstatements, outright lies, refusal to answer questions aimed at getting to the bottom of the stories, are most troubling. That’s putting it mildly. We outlined some of those in our top story in last week’s edition; you can find plenty of other sour notes both online (the group’s website is unity2022.org; you can find the candidates’ sites there, too) and on a Facebook page created by locals who have done deep-dives into the men and their patron (at www.facebook.com/SaveOurSiler, provided it doesn’t get taken down again).
The more layers you uncover, the more questions and concerns you find. Our research has been a seemingly endless maze, particularly when trying to track down whether those listed on various websites are real people or made-up accounts. Just one example: the LinkedIn page of a man listed as the executive director of the Courtney Jordan Foundation lists two universities from which he supposedly graduated; both have confirmed in the last few days they can’t find records of the man having ever attended or graduated.
We’ve gotten very little in the form of satisfactory response to new rounds of questions we’ve asked the candidates and StartUp Siler. So what does this all mean? Maybe that one of two things is going on. One, the Unity candidates assumed they’d be enthusiastically embraced by Siler City voters who bought their statements about the town board’s alleged ineptitude and neglect and their own rescue plans. Or two, the group calculated those same voters would be easily swayed by drone videos, staged standing ovations at a candidate forum and talk about millions of dollars in grants, housing loans and bond issues — all during a mid-term primary where voter turnout is almost guaranteed to be low.
It could be something else entirely. With so many unanswered questions, it’s hard to know. Either way, the Jordan/Unity/StartUp Siler collective approach has been a poorly executed miscalculation and, as a political effort, a bit of a train wreck — reinforced by a growing list of concerning revelations and the stubborn lack of clear answers to the long, long list of questions the Unity ticket’s candidacies have generated.
Put simply, Courtney Jordan aside, handing the keys to town hall over to four political novices with a demonstrable lack of understanding of how municipal governance and administration work is a really, really bad idea.
We will add this, though: Jordan’s sudden appearance has shone a spotlight on problems within the town, issues that are well known and documented, yet still more than niggling. That’s been helpful. And the fact that three of these Siler City races have drawn three candidates, and that two incumbents aren’t seeking reelection, certainly signals something about local satisfaction.
Even so, it’s well known that Siler City was on an upward trajectory before the Unity crowd got here. New development downtown, the growing popularity of Siler City’s Chatham Advanced Manufacturing megasite, adjacent development (VinFast, FedEx and Chatham Park here, and Toyota in Randolph County, just for starters), plus the town’s location as part of the Carolina Core and U.S. 421’s future as I-685 — all mean a rising tide. A new town manager, Hank Raper, is coming aboard with a strong track record and a skillset to help captain the ship.
What Siler City needs come May 17 is a board of commissioners with a sense of what “true north” really is. Leadership, not sleight of hand, is the real path to prosperity.
So when you vote, think hard before casting your ballot for Gallardo, either of the Picots, or Williams. Giving any of the four a seat, and a voice, on Siler City’s board of commissioners is a risk not worth taking. It could sink a ship headed for better ports.
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