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Final thoughts on 2021: The hospital sale, 'community violence,' and the politics of Covid

Port City Politics wide

On this episode we look back at another long, strange year — from the contentious sale of the hospital to the recent focus on what's being called 'community violence' to the sticky political mess that's spread alongside Covid.

Editor's note — Correction and clarification.

Correction: On this podcast, WHQR News Director Ben Schachtman said that Wilmington Police Department Chief Donny Williams did not make a statement immediately following the deadly April 3 shooting on Kidder Street in Wilmington's southside — that was inaccurate. While there was no press conference until May 14, Chief Williams stated to WHQR that he made multiple attempts to contact two television stations on the night of the shooting, and was ultimately to connect with WECT. He then did make a statement, during an interview with a WECT reporter. However, due to technical issues with the recording, only a snippet of the interview audio was used the following morning.

Clarification: In the same segment, Schachtman noted that the Kidder Street shooting highlighted the poor relationship between the WPD and low-income minority communities. For the sake of clarification, these comments were based on interviews in such neighborhoods around the city. Some members of the community hold both Williams and the WPD in high regard, and compared them positively to previous police administrations. Others, however, did not, and — specifically with regards to the Kidder Street shooting — expressed distrust, a lack of faith, and even contempt for the Department.

Sale of NHRMC to Novant

In July of 2019, journalists received an embargoed email from New Hanover County, announcing that the county was moving forward to 'explore' a plan to sell New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Over the next year, several things became increasing clear: (1) despite publicly saying that all options were on the table, including keeping NHRMC, restructuring the hospital, and partnerships, the county and the hospital never really considered anything short of a sale, (2) the conversations about selling the hospital had been going on for years, (3) the hospital had been quietly careening towards a financial cliff for almost as long.

At the beginning of this year, the sale to Novant was completed — but it left lingering concerns about the transparency of the process and the operation of the newly created $1.25 billion community endowment which now manages the profits from sale.

'Community violence'

This year was not, on paper, more violent than any previous year — in fact, according to FBI statistics, it was less violent. However, a series of high-profile shootings built pressure on local officials. Some have pointed out that this pressure only came after shootings happened in places that impacted more affluent white residents — but, once the issue was brought to a head by a shooting at New Hanover High School, public officials were suddenly ready to spend big on the issue.

So, what's really going on here — and what's actually going to be done about it?

A political plague

Looking into a journalistic crystal ball on New Year's Eve 2019, it would have been hard to predict that mask wearing would become one of the most politicized issues of the coming years — but, here we are.

The battle over masks isn't just about science vs. virtue signaling, it's also about the limits of executive power, accountability, and the role of appointed vs. elected officials.

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Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature.