FAIRMONT — Mayoral candidates in Fairmont have different opinions on how local government should be administered, but all agree that among major issues facing their community are finding jobs and revitalization of the downtown.
When local voters go to the polls on Nov. 5 they will have the chance to re-elect Charles Kemp, the town’s mayor for the past eight years, or elect one of two other candidates as mayor — Bobby Charles Townsend, a 12-year veteran of the town council, or Channing P. Cunningham, a local preacher and state Department of Public Safety employee. Both Townsend and Cunningham say they are the candidate of “change.”
“There’s really only two issues — the need for jobs and the need for downtown revitalization,” said Kemp, who served on the town council for 28 years before becoming the town’s mayor. “I plan to focus on these issues 1,000 percent from the day I’m sworn in (again) until the end of my third term. I’m calling this a downtown Renaissance.”
Kemp, 67, taught high school history at Fairmont High School for 30 years before teaching another decade at Dillon and Lake View high schools in South Carolina. He retired in 2009.
He graduated from North Carolina Wesleyan College in 1969 with a bachelor’s degree in History, is a member of the Trinity Methodist Church in Fairmont, and is a member of the Fairmont Chamber of Commerce. In 2012, he received the Dr. Collie Coleman ‘Spirit of Unity’ award from The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Kemp, who has lived in Fairmont all his life, said his dream is that someday the town will recover its vitality and be the prosperous community it was during the days when tobacco drove the local economy.
“In the past three years I’ve held 27 job fairs where 1,800 people have been exposed to employers,” Kemp said. “… I wake up every morning and go to bed every night trying to find ways to find jobs for the people in this town.”
Kemp says that if re-elected, he will announce his choice to fill the newly created position of director of Downtown Development. He said that after a year of searching, he has found the right person to fill the position that will be responsible for recruiting new businesses to the downtown, retaining and maintaining existing businesses, and come up with “creative and interesting activities to enliven and promote the downtown.”
Kemp said that during his years as mayor numerous new programs have been established to serve all residents of the community, especially the town’s elderly and youth. Among his accomplishment he cites are the creation of the Fairmont High School Youth Council; establishment of the Seniors in Touch program, which offers monthly social activities for the town’s seniors; and the inauguration of the town’s annual Fourth of July ceremony and activities.
“All the things I have done benefit all of the people of Fairmont and not just one specific group,” Kemp said.
Townsend sees the need for job creation and revitalization of the downtown as major issues that must be addressed by the next mayor and town council. He said, however — without offering specifics — that he believes there are other possible ways to improve the local economy than those being employed by Kemp.
“I’m running for mayor to give the citizens of Fairmont a choice,” Townsend said. “I’m offering change and a different direction.”
Townsend, 56, is a lifelong Fairmont resident. He is a self-employed insurance agent and associate minister at First Baptist Church on North Main Street. In addition to having served 12 years on the town board, he is a member of the board of the Lumber River Council of Governments and a board member of Robeson Health Care.
‘Before we can grow the downtown, or do anything else, we need to get out of debt,” he said. “We have to look at all of the options.”
Another of his concerns, Townsend said, is operations of the Police Department.
“I’ve had people come up to me and ask if there isn’t something we can do so that our police office can be open 24 hours,” he said.
Revitalizing the downtown, and making other improvements in the community, is going to take everyone becoming involved, according to Townsend.
“It’s going to take community involvement and community presence,” he said.
The third candidate for mayor is Fairmont native Channing Presley Cunningham. Cunningham, 72, is a licensed chiropractor and currently employed by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, Division of Adult Correction.
Cunningham emphasizes that to know him one must be knowledgeable of his family background, his “legacy.”
He is the youngest son of the late Roland D. Cunningham Sr., the first principal of Rosenwald High School, and the late Ethel Sessoms Cunningham, one of the original Rosenwald High School teachers. They came to Fairmont in 1931.
After World War II, Fairmont’s returning black war veterans felt after serving in the war they should have the right to vote. Cunningham’s father led an organized effort for blacks in Fairmont to vote, assisted by the NAACP organizer from Fayetteville.
“They fought a good fight. They did their very best, but due to the zeitgeist, the spirit of the time, they were unable to gain their right to vote,” Cunningham said. “It was said that professor Cunningham was a man ahead of his time.”
Cunningham said that his brother, Roland D. Cunningham Jr., of Richmond, Va., served as a former civil rights coordinator for the state of Virginia. He also said that his own civil rights activism included as a college student in the 1960s being jailed and convicted as a criminal for his participation in the non-violent sit-in.
Cunningham is a graduate of Rosenwald High School; holds a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Virginia Union University and a Master of Divinity Degree, with high honors, from Shaw Divinity School. He also holds a Doctor of Chiropractic Degree from Life University Chiropractic School, Marietta, Ga., and attended both dental and law schools.
Cunningham is a member of First Baptist Church, North Main Street, in Fairmont, where he was licensed to preach.
Cunningham said that he is running for mayor to give the people of Fairmont a “choice for change.”
“This is the purpose of an election,” he said. “It gives voters the opportunity to maintain the status quo or usher in a new day.”
Cunningham said that he has plans for moving the community forward but will not be specific until he is elected mayor.
“More powerful than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come,” he said. “The idea of new jobs through training for entrepreneurship, better health through holistic and herbal healing and community leadership that is responsive to the real needs of the people.”
In addition to electing a mayor, Fairmont voters on Nov. 5 will elect three council members. The seats are for four years.
Council candidates appearing on the ballot are: Kim Prevatte Ammons, an incumbent; Amelia “Ann’ McLean; Andrew Grimsley and Terry Evans. Also running as a write-in candidate is Monte McCollum.