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Henry's Highlights
Thursday, May 6, 2004

By Henry Hinton
Broadcaster & Owner of Greenville Cable 7

Fates of ECU, UNC-CH plans intertwined


The countdown is on to next week’s opening of the North Carolina General Assembly. As the old saw goes, “Hide the women and children because no one will be safe.” The question for ECU partisans is how safe is the Cardiovascular Diseases Institute?

Much has been said and written about the effect this new initiative will have as part of East Carolina’s Brody School of Medicine. Would funding of it be equivalent to the economic thrust Greenville felt when Leo Jenkins demanded and finally got the med school itself?

That assessment may not be far off.

The rhetoric surrounding the university’s request sounds eerily similar to what was being said prior to last year’s session by local senators and representatives.

Here are some of the favorites from the General Assembly hit parade:

  • “If the funding can be found, yes, it will happen.”

  • “The economy is turning around. If we can’t get it done this year, we’ll definitely fund it next year.”

  • “Well, if we can’t give the full $60 million this session, we’ll put in some planning money.”

To quote a high ranking administration official, “We already have planning money. We’re ready to go. Anything short of full funding this time will be very disappointing.”

The Joint Economic Development Committee has been meeting behind closed doors the last two weeks in preparation for the upcoming session which opens in Raleigh on Monday.

Goldsboro Senator John Kerr, who has attained part of Pitt County in the recent round of redistricting is co-chairman of that powerful committee which is made up of both Democrats and Republicans from both chambers of the General Assembly.

To say that he has been fighting hard to find funding for ECU on this project would be a gross understatement. With an election on the horizon, Kerr would like to crow about this victory for his new-found electorate. He will be facing Republican Tony Moore from Pitt County if he wins the Democratic primary.

Moore switched from the Democratic to Republican party recently in a snit over the redistricting.

Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Patrick Ballentine, who just resigned his post as Senate Republican Leader to focus full time on his campaign, was in Greenville raising money and campaigning on Tuesday.

“I am 100 per cent in support of the Cardiovascular Center for ECU,” said Ballentine on our "Talk of the Town" program on Talk 1070 AM and Cable 7. “The funding can be found. It is a matter of priorities. We have to make it one of the top things to be funded in this session.”

A late check this week from the delegation representing the surrounding area does not give the project a slam dunk thumbs up. Locals are concerned this project may become a political football next week when the session opens and groups from around the state have their palms up.

Interestingly, ECU has a very strong ally in this fight. You have heard the term “strange bedfellows?” Perhaps East Carolina’s best bet to get funding is to support UNC-Chapel Hill’s request for its new cancer hospital.

While Chapel Hill’s request made it into the final bill of the 2003 session, East Carolina’s evaporated into a fight about funding.

Eastern legislators sent a strong message to Chapel Hill and its supporters by saying “not without our money, too.” The bill died in a midnight dispute between Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight and Co-Speakers of the House Richard Morgan and Jim Black.

House Whip Marian McLawhorn (D-Pitt) got the ear of Black and convinced him to fight the Basnight bill for Chapel Hill unless ECU got its share also.

It has been made clear to all that Chapel Hill and ECU will either sink or swim together in this session. One hospital will not be funded without the other. Black is even trying to get some funding thrown in to this negotiation for the Charlotte area.

All of the above has led to the “Purple Alert” initiative at ECU. A late check on Wednesday afternoon showed that 907 people have signed up in the last week.

According to Allen Thomas, who put the Purple Alert program together for ECU, the goal was to have a minimum of 10 people signed up in all 100 counties before next week’s General Assembly gavel falls to open the 2004 session.

While response from the eastern counties has been encouraging, Thomas feels more help is needed from Pirates in counties to the west. Sign-ups have exceeded expectations in Pitt, Wake, Craven, Forsyth, Mecklenburg and Guilford counties, to name a few.

More help is needed in other counties and there is a desire from the university to have at least 1,500 signed on before the session opens on Monday.

McLawhorn intends to introduce a bill as early as the first day in the House of Representatives, and Kerr has indicated his committee will also bring forth a bill very early.

The time is now for ECU. The Purple Alert website provides information on how to contact legislators in the entire state. If you want to weigh in on why ECU should get funding for this initiative, now is the time. You can enlist in the effort online or by calling 252-328-9300.

Former Voice of the Pirates passes

The Greenville and ECU community was saddened this week to learn of the Tuesday passing of one who played a huge role for the Pirates in the 'seventies.

Ken Smith, who served as the Sports Information Director at ECU, died Monday of a heart attack. Smith also served as the play by play voice on the Pirate Radio Network for several years.

Smith left ECU in the 80’s to go into private business. He was a key player for North Carolina Amateur Sports, Inc. in Raleigh. That group brought the 1987 United States Olympic Festival to the Triangle.

In recent years, Smith worked as a business broker and lived in Fuquay-Varina.

During his tenure with the Pirates, Smith was highly regarded by the members of the media he served. He also won the solid respect of his associates in ECU's athletic department at a time when the school was fighting to gain exposure and a solid foothold as a fledgling I-A program.

Friends remember Smith as a kind and very professional person who represented ECU well.

Ken Smith was 55 years old. Arrangements are being conducted by Thomas Funeral Home.

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02/23/2007 10:13:33 AM

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