Q&A with Kinston Mayor Dontario Hardy
Photo Credit: Bud Hardy
Dontario Hardy was a decorated Navy veteran and Kinston police officer when he made his initial foray into local politics and won the race for mayor of Kinston in November. In an hour-long exclusive interview, The Neuse News sat down with the mayor a few weeks ago to find out what motivated him to run for mayor and what the first six months in office have been like for Hardy, among many other subjects.
Here are the highlights of that interview with the mayor.
Neuse News: Thanks for sitting down with us, Mr. Mayor! Tell us a little about yourself.
Dontario Hardy: I was born and raised here in Kinston and have lived here almost all my life. Right after graduating from Kinston High School, I was on three ships in the United States Navy in four years of service. I traveled all over the world, including Singapore, Australia and Hawaii, along with Guantanamo Bay.
NN: What did you learn from your Navy service that you apply to your office today?
DH: The Navy was the greatest thing that ever happened to me because I learned about the teamwork that is required to work together. I really grew up in my time in the Navy.
I also learned about safety – when you’re on the ship, you and your fellow sailors are all you have. We’re our own firemen, our own police and our own security.
The most important thing I learned was that you have to work together to get your mission accomplished.
If people could simply have a year of military training after high school, it would be an eye-opener for them – they would think differently and they would do differently and not take for granted the things we have.
After the Navy, I returned to Kinston and attended Lenoir Community College to receive Basic Law Enforcement Training and then began working with the Kinston Police Department in traffic control. I was there for seven years until 2013. I also attended the federal law enforcement academy.
NN: How much do you think being a Kinston police officer helped you to get to where you are today?
DH: I learned it’s all about servitude and service; what do you want to do to help others? I learned it’s not all about traffic control and patrolling – I helped change tires, I carried bags for folks from the grocery store to their car and helped people when they ran out of gas. Those things matter to folks.
I went out and talked to people because communication is key – building rapport is important. Doing those things make you a better person.
I learned to treat people the way I wanted to be treated. Serving others is the most important thing you can do as a police officer or public official.
NN: What did you want to do when you grew up?
DH: I went through a lot of different phases! I wanted to be a DJ and to be a dancer at one time when I was a teenager – I was in a little dance crew called Styles Entertainment. We even had our own T-shirts and went to parties and dances. I would DJ sometimes and would dance at others. I just wanted to entertain and make the crowd happy.
NN: When was the moment you decided you wanted to become mayor of Kinston?
DH: I had been considering running but when Hurricane Matthew came through in October 2016, it made up my mind.
I was at work that day as a police sergeant in public safety for the UNC Lenoir Health Care hospital and I worked about 15 hours the day it started flooding. My wife called me and said our home on Doctor’s Drive was starting to flood.
I made it home and the water was already to my waist line; it was about 3 to 4 feet already and my wife’s car was flooded. I got her out and then went back to get others out, too.
As the waters started to recede, I started receiving calls from friends and people all over Kinston about their struggles with the Red Cross and getting food. My concern was that I felt we were not operating the way we needed to operate, as far as our emergency operations.
There were a lot of people struggling about where they were going to get food, get clothes and where they were going to live. That pushed me over the line and made me realize we needed to be proactive when it comes to these events instead of reactive. I didn’t feel like these struggles were being taken seriously and I wanted to find a way to help.
God forbid, I hope we never have another event like Hurricane Matthew, but if we do, folks will not be treated the same way.
NN: In your first campaign, you entered the 2017 election as a decided underdog against a popular two-term mayor. Did you think you had a chance to win?
DH: I knew if I did all the things I needed to do and put the right people around me, I’d win. I wanted to do whatever it took for us to move forward and create momentum. I knew we’d need to work together as a team, especially against a two-term incumbent.
I was also working night shifts at the hospital, so I knew there’d be a sacrifice. But I did it with all my might because I believed in myself. Once I said I was going to do this, I had the faith we’d win.
From the beginning, I knew I was going to win, but I didn’t know by how much of a margin. I knew it was probably going to be close but it was going to happen because of the person I know I am.
I started working with the Kinston-Lenoir County Chamber of Commerce as an ambassador and met a lot of great people there.
I went door-to-door and listened to everyone’s concerns.
Not one time did I doubt I would win. I was motivated and I had people around me motivating me. A few people asked me why I thought I’d win and I’d say, “Why not?”
NN: Who are some of the people who encouraged you to run and helped you on the path to your victory?
DH: Phaedra Holley, a retired educator here in Kinston, and Angela Daughety, another educator, were of great help. Maria Washington was incredible and motivated me greatly – we argued and stuff sometimes, but it was out of love and that’s what you need. My campaign manager was Deonko Brewer and he did a tremendous job. My wife was also a great support.
I had a lot of support from a lot of others, including Joan Harris, Quinton Baker, Jeanene McBride, Faylene Faison, Khayyam Shepherd, Breonna King, William Glenn, Tiffani Koonce and Clemonte Mills.
NN: What has surprised you the most in your first six months as mayor?
DH: I knew I didn’t know everything when I came into this, but all the things behind the scenes really surprised me – funding, budget line items, personnel matters and all that. It was a shock to my system to learn how to make things work but I’m still learning how to do that.
NN: What are your goals for the next three-and-a-half years and further?
DH: I want to see our city move progressively further. I want to see our city look the way it did in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s when we had a successful downtown business district. I want to create jobs for people.
I see the Global TransPark being a great deal and asset for our city and for everybody east of the I-95 corridor and the surrounding area.
I want a commercial airline here in Kinston; we’re closer to that then we have been in a long time, I believe.
You build off small businesses and that’s what we need to do here. We need to offer jobs that no one else has.
NN: What are the biggest issues your constituents are asking you about?
DH: The No. 1 issue is servicing our roads. The winter was particularly tough on our streets and roads. We’re trying to get every type of assistance we can from the state and beyond to help improve our roads.
Folks also ask a lot about retail and places to shop. I’m excited about Cookout being here and a Starbucks coming but we need more and I’m working towards getting more to Kinston.
NN: What is your advice for young people in Kinston who one day might want to be the mayor or anything else in their life?
DH: The first thing is to walk like, talk like and act like the position you want. Go talk to someone in that position and get insight into what you want to do. They’ll give you the “real deal Holyfield” about that job.
You can do all the research you want but you really need to talk to those already in those positions to find out how to get there. Use the feedback they give you. If they tell you to dress a certain way, to talk a certain way or whatever, you do it.
One of the most important things is to have a genuine concern for others.
NN: What would you like to tell the people of Kinston?
DH: We must not continue to make excuses about the things we can’t change, we must change them.
NN: Finally, what do you consider the secret to your success?
DH: It all starts with a conversation; if you don’t talk and really listen, you can’t be successful.
You can reach Bryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.