Early voting for the Oct. 10 primary elections in Greensboro and High Point opens today. For roughly two weeks, voters will be able cast their ballots at the Old Courthouse in downtown Greensboro and Washington Terrace Park in High Point. With more than 50 candidates on the ballot between the two cities, it’s the most exciting municipal election in at least six years. Visit the Guilford County Board of Elections to see who’s on your ballot, read this election guide and go vote.
Mayoral (vote for 1)
Nancy Vaughan (I): In her two terms as mayor, Vaughan has become a kind of standard-bearer of urban politics in North Carolina, presiding over a progressive council that passed resolutions opposing HB 2 and welcoming immigrants while shepherding a brisk downtown renaissance, albeit with a performing arts center as the signature project that’s running behind schedule. Like other progressive mayors facing discontent over policing, Vaughan has walked a difficult tightrope between responding to calls for reform and backing the police. In a normal political year Vaughan shouldn’t have to worry much about two newbie opponents, but it can’t bode well that Jennifer Roberts — a fellow Democratic mayor — was recently primaried in Charlotte this year.
John T. Brown: Greensboro elections are nominally nonpartisan, but the GOP donors, including the Greater Greensboro Republican Women’s Club, are decisively swinging behind Brown, a businessman given to overheated rhetoric. He argues that the city is hemorrhaging quality jobs, and that crime is out of control. His prescription for improving police-community relations is to have city council butt out.
Diane Moffett: A pastor at St. James Presbyterian Church and co-chair of the Greensboro Faith Leaders Council, Moffett has owned a house in Jamestown with her husband for 12 years, but updated her voter registration to a Greensboro the day she filed to run for mayor. An energetic and inspiring public speaker, Moffett’s platform of business promotion and inclusion is at heart not too far removed from the policies of the woman she hopes to unseat, although she’s gained traction with progressive reformers, earning a 4.3 rating from voters who attended Democracy Greensboro’s candidate/platform conference on Sept. 16.
At-large (vote for up to 3)
Yvonne Johnson (I): A former one-term mayor and city council member since 1993 — with the exception of a two-year gap from 2009 to 2011, the 74-year-old Johnson is like the den mother of Greensboro politics. The only African American who’s been elected mayor, Johnson has traditionally enjoyed support from the city’s development interests while maintaining a strong social justice voice. At Democracy Greensboro’s conference on Sept. 16, Johnson ticked through a number of initiatives she’s taken that align with the progressive group’s platform: Leading the charge to pay city employees a minimum of $15 per hour, being a champion for participatory budgeting, prodding the city attorney to sue the state to block a racially gerrymandered redistricting scheme, creating a Community Sustainability Committee and voting in support of unsuccessful efforts to create a police review board.
Marikay Abuzuaiter (I): A former restaurateur and protégé of Johnson’s, Abuzuaiter cut her teeth on the human relations commission before winning her first election to council in 2011. Now that she’s retired, the 63-year-old incumbent tells voters that serving on city council is her full-time job. Abuzuaiter has become a policy wonk on transportation, serving as a liaison to the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transit and troubleshooting dangerous crosswalks, but progressives have faulted her for reflexively backing the police when their conduct towards civilians is called into question. An endorsement from the Greensboro Police Officers Association suggests her efforts haven’t gone unappreciated.
Mike Barber (I): A longtime elected official, Barber served on city council from 2005 to 2009, and then returned to the dais in 2013 after a family sojourn in Spain and after reinventing himself as a youth-services nonprofit director. He’s a reliable vote for new development that will increase the city’s tax base, but he’s tangled with advocates for police reform. In a voter guide produced by the League of Women Voters and others, he identifies public safety as the most pressing issue facing the city, adding, “We are beginning to feel the effects of a number of factors leading to higher crime and gun availability on the streets. Opioid and other drug use, the continued erosion of school system effectiveness, [and] the challenges of supervision in economically challenged households are among a few.”
Irving Allen: Part of a wave of Black Lives Matter candidates in Greensboro politics, Allen is the nephew of the late David Richmond — one of the famed A&T 4 — and a member of the human relations commission. Allen’s call for investment in east Greensboro to offset the punishing effects of racial segregation will sound familiar, but his call for divestment from the police department is a break with his black political elders.
MA Bakie: A businessman involved in the export industry, Bakie highlights the need for investment in battered industrial corridors like Randleman Road, South Elm-Eugene Street and East Market Street, and argues that public safety is a perquisite for economic development. The police department needs to be “strengthened,” he told TCB, “so gang members will not overpower them.”
Dianne Bellamy-Small: When Bellamy-Small served as representative of District 1 for a decade, she played the role of firebrand, going to the mat for her constituents’ interests, even if meant fighting alone. Opposing a teen curfew in downtown was one example. Now that her ally-turned rival Sharon Hightower has succeeded her in District 1, Bellamy-Small is taking on a new role — that of seasoned veteran — as she attempts to return to council as an at-large candidate. She’s currently on the Guilford County School Board.
Jodi Bennett-Bradshaw: A special-education teacher with Guilford County Schools making her first run for elected office, Bennett-Bradshaw is given to dramatic declarations like, “It is time for white women like me to stand up and bravely say, ‘Black lives matter,’” but it’s not really clear how, if at all, they indicate the kind of job she would do as a city council member.
Tijuana Hayes: A former president of the Guilford County Association of Educators, Hayes retired from Guilford County Schools in 2014. She projects a positive and inclusive attitude in her pitch to voters. “I feel now is the time for Sister Hayes to get up off the couch and become more involved in the city,” she told voters at a recent Democracy Greensboro forum. “As a citizen, I will work for you, the citizens of Greensboro. I’m a native. I’ve been here all my life. I love Greensboro. Greensboro is a great place to live, a great place to work, a great place to advocate for the least of those among us.”
Sylvine Hill: A recent college graduate putting her sociology degree to work as a restaurant host in downtown Greensboro, Hill is making her second run for council, and speaks persuasively about the economic frustrations of her fellow millennials. An uncharacteristically reflective candidate, Hill has said she isn’t raising money for her campaign and plans to ride the bus on a “listening tour.” Ordinarily that doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, but in this strange political year, who knows?
James Ingram: Ingram attracted Republican state Reps. Jon Hardister and John Blust to his campaign kickoff and has earned the support of the Greater Greensboro Republican Women’s Club, but part of the first-time candidate’s bio is a temporary stretch of being homeless. Consistent with his conservative governing philosophy, Ingram favors low taxes and champions the generosity of the faith community. The 28-year-old Ingram is the kind of candidate who makes politics personal. “It’s all about letting someone know that there’s someone that loves you,” he said in a recent interview. “I want to fight for you.”
Dan Jackson: One of two at-large candidates with backing from Republican donors, Jackson wants to leverage his experience in supply management to make Greensboro’s tax rate more attractive to businesses considering relocation to the city.
Michelle Kennedy: The executive director of the Interactive Resource Center, the city’s homeless day center, Kennedy out-raised all 14 opponents in campaign fundraising through the end of August. An influential voice, Kennedy has been credited by Mayor Vaughan for helping her understand the criminalization of poverty, and she hasn’t shrank from criticizing the council for any number of shortcomings, including a panhandling ordinance that indirectly led to a Greensboro woman’s death in the county jail in 2015. Kennedy earned a 4.5 rating from voters at a recent Democracy Greensboro platform conference, the highest among at-large candidates.
Andy Nelson: A novice candidate retired from the transportation field, Nelson possesses a rare quality in politics — a complete and utter inability to pander. “I’m really a moderate with libertarian tendencies, so I’m not sure I’m going to match up well with this platform,” Nelson told the progressive group Democracy Greensboro. It wasn’t a complete loss, however. “I’m completely for demilitarizing the Greensboro Police Department,” he added. “That speaks to my libertarian tendencies.”
Lindy Perry-Garnette: Perry-Garnette, CEO of the YWCA of Greensboro and a member of the human relations commission, has a political backstory that either hurts or helps. After reviewing the police body-camera video of officers’ interaction with Jose Charles as a member of the police community review board, Perry-Garnette told the News & Record: “If we can’t see this one as wrong, we can’t see anything as wrong.” The statement put Perry-Garnette at odds with the police department and four members of city council. It also resulted in Perry-Garnette’s removal from the police community review board. The candidate has fashioned the experience into a character testimonial.
Dave Wils: A former party officer with the Guilford Dems, Wils is a rising political talent straight out of central casting. His chosen profession as a public school teacher at Grimsley High School provides the perfect slogan for the post-Obama Democratic Party: “We all do better when we all do better.” Like three other candidates in the race currently serving on the human relations commission, Wils wants to address affordable housing, to bridge the city’s racial divide and to improve police-community relations.
District 1 (vote for 1)
Sharon Hightower (I): Prior to winning election in 2013, Hightower logged years of service as a neighborhood leader and voter-education activist in east Greensboro. She served on the citizens committee that helped select former police Chief Ken Miller prior to her election, but as a council member has proven to be a reliable ally of community members pushing for greater transparency and accountability from the police. Her record includes votes to release the investigative file in the Cole-Yourse case, and she publicly stated that she disagreed with fellow council members who said the police acted appropriately in the Jose Charles case. Hightower voted against giving police officers a 7.5 percent raise this year, arguing that it was insensitive to other city workers.
Devin King: Two years ago, King figured that with no prior political experience he had a pretty good shot at mayor. He lost to incumbent Nancy Vaughan, 286 votes to her 18,031. This year, he’s appropriately adjusted his sights on a more attainable goal. Yet his campaign has no digital footprint and he could not be reached by phone, so it’s not at all clear what his platform is.
Paula Ritter-Lipscomb: An intervention specialist with Guilford County Schools, Ritter-Lipscomb says her work experience will help her build strong relationships within the community and that the city’s most pressing issue is budget restraints. She showed up for Democracy Greensboro’s platform conference, and 12 voters gave her an average rating of 3.2 out of 5.
* Charles Patton Jr. confirmed that he has withdrawn from the race, but his name will remain on the ballot.
District 2 (vote for 1)
Goldie Wells (I): A revered community leader, Wells led the fight to close the White Street Landfill before winning election to the District 2 seat in 2005 and serving through 2009, but her reputation as a fighter soared afterwards when she led the successful fight to keep the landfill from reopening and then helped spearhead the effort to open the Renaissance Community Co-op. On July 18, she was appointed to fill the unexpired term of former District 2 Councilman Jamal Fox.
CJ Brinson: Part of the Black Lives Matter wave of candidates, community organizer Brinson has embraced a class-conscious and intersectional approach to black empowerment. He willingly subjected himself to arrest in January with a group of activists demanding that the city release the Cole-Yourse investigative file, and supported a march of undocumented immigrants in downtown Greensboro in February. While Wells is championing Revolution Mill as a milestone in economic development for District 2, Brinson charges that the jobs aren’t benefiting black residents and the project risks displacing poor people. Brinson received a rating of 4.8 out of 5 from Democracy Greensboro.
Jim Kee: A developer, Kee represented District 2 from 2009 to 2013, when he was unseated by Jamal Fox. While Kee was part of the successful effort to keep the White Street Landfill closed, his efforts to steer the Renaissance Community Co-op into a private development deal and his backing of a controversial redistricting plan that was struck down by the federal courts has left a bad taste in some residents’ mouths. Many of Kee’s solutions come back to economic development. “I want to do like my friend, [Mayor] Bill Bell did in Durham,” Kee said recently. “He proposed a neighborhood revitalization bond — $50 million neighborhood revitalization bond. $30 million went to the majority community, $20 million went to the minority community. And he stimulated economic development. He improved neighborhoods. We can do the same thing in Greensboro.”
* Felicia Angus and Tim Vincent announced they have withdrawn from the race, but their names will remain on the ballot.
District 3 (vote for 1)
Justin Outling (I): A business litigation lawyer with the Brooks Pierce law firm, Outling was appointed to the District 3 seat in 2015, when Councilman Zack Matheny resigned to take the job of president of Downtown Greensboro Inc. Outling has achieved a rare political alchemy as the first African American elected to represent the majority-white district, while raising a sizable campaign war chest from an array of business professionals. As an enthusiastic booster of the resurgent downtown and an ally to police and firefighters, Outling has landed big endorsements from the Greensboro Police Officers Association, the Professional Firefighters of Greensboro, Equality NC and the Replacements Limited PAC.
Antuan Marsh: An interior painter, Marsh wants to promote employment. His specific plan for job growth involves hosting three job fairs per year, one in the spring, one in the summer, when students are graduating from area colleges, and a third in November when seasonal hiring takes off. Some parts of his platform come across as unfocused, as when he talks about mediating unspecified issues “so the city and citizens can have a win-win situation.”
Craig Martin: Public defender Martin is running on a modest slogan, “Consider Craig,” but in an unsettled political year rife with resentment towards the status quo, there’s a segment of the electorate primed to hear what he has to say. The campaign’s Facebook page talks about going beyond the removal of Confederate monuments to address mass incarceration, and Martin received a near perfect score of 4.9 from Democracy Greensboro. It’s a telling that Martin, who is white, has received the endorsement of Black Lives Matter leader April Parker.
* Payton McGarry confirmed that he has withdrawn from the race, but his name will remain on the ballot.
District 4 (vote for 1)
Nancy Hoffmann (I): In 2011, Democratic businesswoman Hoffmann swept out reactionary Republican Mary Rakestraw with a campaign that embraced millennials and inclusion. Now, as a representative of a new pro-growth, pro-police establishment, Hoffmann finds herself challenged by a progressive electoral force eager to hold representatives’ feet to the fire. Probably figuring she wasn’t likely to gain any votes from the new Democracy Greensboro, Hoffman made a bold play by deriding an illustration in one of the group’s brochures as “socialist art from the 1950s,” and attacking part of its platform as “incendiary.” Hoffman’s red-baiting rhetoric lays down a line in a fight over who gets to define what it means to be a Greensboro progressive in 2017.
Andrew Belford: A project manager for Defense Department contracts who works with the Navy, Belford said he was inspired to run for city council by his father, who serves as a regional counselor in New Zealand. Now that council members will serve four-year terms, Belford said he thought it was especially important that incumbent Nancy Hoffmann have a challenger. “I’m definitely a long shot,” he said. “I’m keeping a low profile, and that’s all right.”
Gary Kenton: A retired communications professor, Kenton was motivated to run in part because he wanted to push incumbent Nancy Hoffmann to the left. Whether that tack pays off or not, Kenton has been putting in his legwork, subjecting himself to arrest — along with District 2 candidate CJ Brinson — in January while demanding that the city release the Cole-Yourse investigative file, and helping Democracy Greensboro develop its platform. Kenton said he sees himself in the mold of Durham City Councilwoman Jillian Johnson, who considers herself an activist first and an elected official second. Whatever the moderate leanings of District 4 voters, Kenton pledges to keep raising issues of institutional racism and poverty.
District 5 (vote for 1)
Tony Wilkins (I): More conciliatory than his predecessor, Trudy Wade, who has moved on to the state Senate, Wilkins is the only Republican on the council and its most conservative voice. He can be counted to stand with the police when their conduct is called into question, and to oppose new spending outside of public safety. He opposes participatory budgeting and cast the lone vote against the city issuing an apology for the 1979 Greensboro Massacre in August. He frequently talks about the city’s food insecurity rate, too. While the district was drawn to favor a Republican, it’s not monolithic, with a racially diverse and working-class corridor running through the middle that is bracketed by affluent islands at either end.
Sal Leone: It’s hard to keep up with all the times that Leone — a law enforcement officer from New York City — has run for council. The most recent of his attempts — none of them successful — was for mayor two years ago. Leone’s most interesting idea is merging the Greensboro Police Department with the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office. It’s hard to know where he stands on police accountability because on one hand he argues for greater sensitivity and transparency, but then accuses the current council of pandering to “the east” (read: black people).
Tanner Lucas: A political neophyte, Lucas’ responses to the League of Women Voters’ questionnaire indicates that he sees manufacturing jobs as the city’s top priority. “Ever since Greensboro has lost textile mill jobs a decade ago, Greensboro has been in need of specializing in producing important material goods,” he writes.
Tammi Thurm: A firm administrator at the Hagan, Barrett & Langley law firm, challenger Thurm has raised $27,110 — more than double what her incumbent opponent has generated. Thurm’s campaign finance reports paint a picture of a candidate closely tied into the city’s business and philanthropic networks, but her progressive bona fides are established by a perfect 5 score from Democracy Greensboro. She favors tying business incentives to an average minimum salary for workers, using tax increment financing for economic development, and providing as much public access to police body cameras as legally permissible. Two pro-LGBTQ committees — Replacements Limited PAC and Equality NC — are banking on Thurm with endorsements.
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