WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- In the past several weeks in Downtown Wilmington, someone slashed a Marine with a razor blade, drunks hit a police horse and patrol car, and someone reported a man pulling a gun on bystanders. Despite the police reports to back this up, Mayor Bill Saffo blamed the media during last night's City Council meeting for creating the image of a violent downtown.
"If it's a slow news day and something is going on at the bars, it's going to get attention," Saffo said Tuesday night. "Unfortunately the perception of downtown is that it's violent. I can tell you I've walked down late hours, and I've never been bothered, but if it bleeds it leads."
But when we asked him Wednesday to elaborate, he suddenly changed his story.
"I'm not blaming it on the media," the mayor said. "If it was taken that way, I'm sorry. I didn't mean for it to go that way, and I probably shouldn't have said that. I think the media's helped us in shedding light on some of the problems."
Obviously the mayor and Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous are not on the same page. In an exclusive interview on WWAY last week, Evangelous acknowledged that downtown is safe a majority of the time, but on the weekends there are problems.
"We have a handful of bars that are problem bars for us; maybe three or four," Evangelous said during his appearance on WWAY NewsChannel 3 at 5:30 Sept. 15. "It is a safe place, downtown. I'm here to tell you we have virtually no crime till about midnight or so until about 3:00 in the morning. Other than that it's a great place."
As Saffo apologized and backtracked, he said he's human and was really frustrated with how people perceive downtown.
Tuesday night City Council voted unanimously to implement a new policy giving the city a bigger role in regulating the downtown bar scene. Any new downtown clubs will now be required to locate at least 330 feet away from the nearest bar. Council also decided to form a committee to review liquor license permit requests. The committee will have the authority to suspend or revoke permits and will notify landlords when a tenant has any sort of violation.