After 35 years as a resident and more than 14 years of service to the Town of Wrightsville Beach, Mayor David Cignotti is stepping away from public office.
The 57-year-old consistently said he never saw himself getting into politics, but after serving on the Wrightsville Beach Planning Board for more than six years, from 1994 to 2000, he was exposed to how the town operates and later encouraged by people to run for local office.
“I’ve told people I’m truly not a politician, I’m just a neighbor who is involved in our community,” Cignotti said. “And that’s why I don’t have any desire to stay in it for many, many more years, because I’m truly not a political junkie.”
Cignotti ran unsuccessfully for an alderman seat in 2001, before he was elected to serve as an alderman from 2005-09. He later served consecutive two-year terms with perfect attendance as mayor from 2009-13.
Cignotti, who retired as assistant principal of Noble Middle School after he was elected as mayor, said this is the first time in his life that he does not have a plan. But there are a few things he still wants to keep on his radar.
“A personal thing I would like to see is a fourth home at the historical square,” Cignotti said. “People have joked with me in years past that I’m a tree hugger, and I am. I’m sure I will stay involved with environmental issues.”
In 2004, he served on the ad hoc Tree Preservation Committee, which later led to the Tree Preservation ordinance as an effort to protect important trees on the island.
Cignotti is quick to give credit to others involved in what he said are some of the most noteworthy board accomplishments during the past four years.
“A lot of things, I learned, take time to get accomplished in politics, and a lot of times it was the work of past boards and present board members, obviously the staff always contributes to successes and then even citizen input and advisory boards,” Cignotti said.
He noted the housing of the police and fire departments in the public safety building, working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation on the $8 million bridge renovations and HAWK light, the new event stage at Wrightsville Beach Park and the move of the North Carolina Coastal Federation to the town’s historic square.
“I’m proud that I was the mayor during the smoking ban,” Cignotti said about the enacting of the first smoking ban on a North Carolina beach. “I think that was really unique to see how democracy works and that was truly a citizen-driven ordinance where they called for a referendum and they passed it themselves.”
The board also reached out to beach towns and the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners for joint meetings to open up communication.
“One of the things that happened on my watch, that to me were big challenges, were that we had to hire a new town manager, hired a new chief of police and then also a new finance officer,” Cignotti said. “We lost very experienced people and I think we did a good job of hiring.”
A couple of things he said he wishes had gone differently were that he would have liked to see the staff cost of living allowance approved sooner, and he wanted to opt in to the New Hanover County Emergency Operations Center, a $70,000 investment.
He has joked with neighbors about the delayed bridge construction, saying it was his hurricane.
“I didn’t have a hurricane in four years, but I got stuck with the bridge,” Cignotti said. “In the long run, this is going to be a huge improvement for our community. Has it been difficult? Extremely. But we’ll weather it and we will be a better community for it.”
Like with the bridge, he said he has always prided himself on trying to be civil and keeping a sense of humor.
“Being elected mayor was the biggest honor of my life, because it’s humbling to have people put their trust in you to run their community,” Cignotti said. “It’s a challenge. It’s a difficult job.”