This article originally appeared in the Fayetteville Observer.
Many scandals are about crimes and money, but equally destructive are scandals that corrode our sense of honor.
Consider this sad moment from the waning days of Gov. Bev Perdue’s administration: Last week a bridge in Wilmington was named the Lanny T. Wilson Bridge.
“To name a road or bridge after an individual is really the highest honor N.C. DOT can bestow,” state Secretary of Transportation Gene Conti said at the naming ceremony, according to StarNewsOnline.com.
A lawyer and developer, Wilson was also an avid fundraiser for Gov. Mike Easley and for Perdue. Perhaps not coincidentally, he was named to the state Board of Transportation.
But he was tangled up in Easley administration scandals. According to the News & Observer and other news outlets, Wilson was identified as a financier of a Carteret County real estate development where Easley received a $137,000 discount on a lot. Federal lawyers prosecuting Easley aide Ruffin Poole charged that Wilson gave gifts and money to Poole in a “pay for play” scheme. The State Board of Elections also said that Easley’s campaign accepted illegal contributions from Wilson.
Ultimately, out of these and other issues, Easley was fined $1,000 after he took a plea deal; Poole went to prison. Wilson was neither charged with a crime nor fined by the Board of Elections. Yet he was mired in the kinds of deals that ensnared Poole and Easley. The furor did lead to Wilson’s resignation from the Board of Transportation.
His supporters say he deserves recognition because on the transportation board he shoveled state funds to the Cape Fear area. Yet, with the state bearing a heavy load of debt, spending taxpayers’ money should no longer be a mark of pride. If projects were truly needed, then Wilson was merely doing his job on the transportation board in supporting them. If any of the work was political pork, then the funding of it should be a cause for embarrassment.
The disgrace goes far deeper than that, however. On a recent trip to Florida, the car I was traveling in passed under the bridge carrying N.C. 59 over Interstate 95 near Hope Mills. The bridge was named for state Highway Patrol Sgt. Ed Lowry and Cumberland County Sheriff’s Deputy David Hathcock.
In 1997, Lowry was performing a traffic stop of a car on I-95. He learned it had been stolen, and called for backup. Hathcock responded. The men in the stolen car were Tilmon and Kevin Golphin, two brothers who had robbed a South Carolina finance company worker. The Golphins gunned the two officers down, with Kevin Golphin finishing them off at point-blank range with Lowry’s handgun.
The Golphins were apprehended and convicted of murdering the two lawmen. Tilmon Golphin successfully appealed his death sentence under the state’s Racial Justice Act. Kevin escaped the death penalty because of his age.
Think about it. One bridge in Cumberland County honors two men slain while trying to protect us from dangerous criminals. Another bridge in Wilmington is named after a well-connected developer who has been tainted by political sleaze.
As long as that bridge bears the name of Lanny T. Wilson, North Carolina should hang its head in shame.
Jim Tynen is the communications director for the Civitas Institute in Raleigh.