It seems as though the primaries are hardly over, and now it’s time to go back to the polls.
The Oct. 10 primary winnowed unruly fields in Greensboro and High Point down to two candidates per seat, and early voting begins Thursday for a 13-day run in advance of the Nov. 7 general election.
For the first seven days, early voting takes place in the Blue Room of the Old Courthouse in downtown Greensboro and Washington Terrace Park in High Point. You can vote at either location as long as you’re eligible to vote in the Greensboro or High Point elections. On the last week of early voting, two additional sites open — the Ag Center on the east side of Greensboro, and Leonard Recreation Center on the west side. And on Nov. 4, the Saturday preceding Election Day, a total of eight early-voting sites open, including Deep River Recreation Center in High Point. Visit the Guilford County Board of Elections website at myguilford.com/elections/ for additional information about early voting and to find out which candidates will appear on your ballot.
All elections are important, but this one is a pretty big deal. For the first time, terms for mayor and city council members in Greensboro will be extended to four years from the current two. High Point will be electing a new mayor and filling two vacant seats, while tightly contested races in Greensboro’s at-large bracket and District 5 could potentially determine the direction of the city. Go vote.
Mayoral (vote for 1)
Nancy Vaughan (i): Over her two terms as mayor, Nancy Vaughan has led a center-left coalition that has promoted downtown reinvestment and multiculturalism. As executive director of the Guilford Green Foundation, which advances the interest of LGBTQ people, she represents a cultural counterweight to a Republican-controlled General Assembly that has taken multiple opportunities to undermine gay and trans rights. She’s walked a fine line on police reform issues, as revelations of racial disparities in traffic stops and excessive force have trained unwelcome attention on the department. She met for months with reform advocates and sat on a panel with author Michelle Alexander, but publicly backed the Greensboro Police Department against accusations of excessive force involving a 15-year-old in the controversial Jose Charles case. And yet the Oct. 10 primary proved that Greensboro is not Charlotte — unlike Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, who lost her primary, Vaughan came through with a commanding 61.4 percent of the vote, while two challengers from the left and right shared the leftovers.
Diane Moffett: A longtime pastor at St. James Presbyterian Church in southeast Greensboro and new resident who recently relocated from Jamestown to the city, the Rev. Diane Moffett snagged a spot on the general election ballot with her second-place finish in the primary. But considering that she received 21.7 percent of the vote, Moffett has a lot of ground to make up. And it’s unlikely she’ll be able to woo supporters of John T. Brown, the conservative Republican eliminated in the general election. Some on the left are discontent with Vaughan’s track record on police accountability and the city’s growing wealth gap, but Moffett has her work cut out to distinguish herself on those issues. Attracting jobs that pay a living wage, improving police-community relations and addressing poverty are a few of Moffett’s interests.
At-large (vote for up to 3)
Yvonne Johnson (i): One of Greensboro’s most significant political leaders over the past quarter century, Yvonne Johnson was the first and only African American elected mayor, and she’s served on city council for 24 years, with a two-year break from 2009 to 2011 when she lost her mayoral re-election bid. Johnson has achieved a rare alchemy in the at-large race, earning respect as a veteran incumbent while also capturing the support of a new progressive coalition seeking police reform and more aggressive policies to promote affordable housing and increase wages. Johnson said she prayed and analyzed the situation before courting Democracy Greensboro voters. It must have paid off: Johnson led the balloting in the Oct. 10 primary, polling 7.8 points ahead of the nearest contender.
Marikay Abuzuaiter (i): A one-time protégé of Yvonne Johnson, former restaurateur Marikay Abuzuaiter has come into her own in her three terms on council, building on a political base from the city’s international community and lasting goodwill from her ardent opposition to efforts to reopen the White Street Landfill. Abuzuaiter recently parted ways with Johnson on police accountability by publicly backing the police after reviewing police body-camera video of a July 4, 2016 encounter with 15-year-old Jose Charles, while Johnson said, “There are rules where it’s legal to do something, but it may be that a better decision could have been made.” While alienating Democracy Greensboro voters, Abuzuaiter has received endorsements from the Greensboro Police Officers Association and the Professional Fire Fighters, and took second place with a 3.4-point lead over fellow incumbent Mike Barber.
Mike Barber (i): A conservative Democrat, Mike Barber has publicly tangled with police-reform advocates, and in one instance criticized the parenting skills of the mother of Jose Charles. He identifies public safety as the city’s most pressing issue in a voter guide produced by the League of Women Voters, adding, “We are beginning to feel the effects of a number of factors leading to higher 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.” From an economic standpoint, Barber is a typically a reliable vote for rezoning requests on the basis that expanding the tax base will allow the city to keep the property tax rate down. Among the incumbents, Barber is the most conservative and the most vulnerable, leading his nearest competitor by only six votes in the primary.
Michelle Kennedy: Among a slew of progressive change candidates, including four who serve on the city’s human relations commission, Kennedy came into the race with the strongest name recognition as executive director of the Interactive Resource Center, an outspoken advocate for poor people, and the News & Record’s 2016 Woman of the Year. That reputation likely boosted her fundraising ability, giving her the highest amount of cash on hand of any at-large candidate, as of the most recent campaign reporting cycle. Kennedy has pushed back against talk of moving services for poor people away from downtown — sure to be a significant issue in the next four years. As one supporter who expressed overall satisfaction with the direction of the city put it, Kennedy would be the “conscience” of the council.
Dave Wils: A Democratic Party activist and officer with the Guilford County Association of Educators, Dave Wils spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in 2016. Along with Kennedy — a fellow Greensboro human relations commissioner — Wils’ fifth-place showing in the primary cements his reputation as a power player. And after Kennedy, Wils goes into the general election with the second-largest campaign war chest among the at-large candidates. His day job as a teacher at Grimsley High School provides the perfect metaphor for the politics of a progressive rising star. “I believe everybody does better when everybody does better,” Wils says in a professionally produced campaign ad featuring some of his students. “You know, we should care as much about the person who’s struggling to get by as we do about the person who’s making it just fine. That’s how I approach my classroom; that’s how I want to approach the city of Greensboro.”
Dianne Bellamy-Small: A former member of Greensboro City Council from 2003 to 2013, Dianne Bellamy-Small often found herself playing the role of lonely warrior as representative of District 1. If she wins one of the three at-large seats, she would be only the second African American after Johnson to win a citywide election since the early 1980s. A victory for Bellamy-Small could make for an awkward working relationship with Sharon Hightower, a former ally who unseated her in 2013, or she might turn out to be an effective amplifier for the needs of the historically disenfranchised east side. Bellamy-Small currently serves on the Guilford County School Board, and it’s not altogether clear why she would want to give up that seat, but she clearly feels a sense of responsibility for the city. “In the current political environment, it’s almost as if we don’t want honorable people to serve,” she told . “I believe I have the expertise to make a difference for this city. I have a track record of making sure the council addresses the needs of all the people, not just the downtown or the west side.”
District 1 (vote for 1)
Sharon Hightower (i): With two terms on city council under her belt, Sharon Hightower came through the primary with the highest poll numbers of any incumbent — 78.3 percent, against three challengers. District 1 voters in southeast Greensboro appear to be loyal to their representative, and this boring race contrasts with the drama in District 2, where there’s an open seat. Hightower has distinguished herself as the strongest voice for police accountability and transparency on the council, making her a model candidate for the progressive Democracy Greensboro, a PAC that has encouraged challengers in other districts. Hightower voted against giving police officers a 7.5 percent raise this year, arguing that it was insensitive to other city workers who toil at less celebrated labors, particularly the Greensboro City Workers Union.
Paula Ritter-Lipscomb: An intervention specialist with Guilford County Schools, Paula Ritter-Lipscomb said she always tells her students that they should “reach for the sky” and that they can have a voice. The realization that she needed to practice what she preaches led to her decision, after praying over it and consulting with her family, to run for city council. Ritter doesn’t necessarily take issue with her opponent’s position on police reform, but she’s said that transparency is “two-way street,” adding that community members should be willing to sit down and talk with officers while keeping an open mind. Relationship building is the key to everything, in Ritter-Lipscomb’s view, both among council members and between the district representative and her constituents. Once those relationships are in place, Ritter-Lipscomb said she’d be able to work effectively to address challenges like affordable housing, transportation and crime.
District 2 (vote for 1)
Goldie Wells (i): The daughter of legendary civil rights leader Golden Frinks, Goldie Wells holds an unassailable social-justice pedigree of her own. She led the fight to keep the White Street Landfill closed to household waste and the effort to open the Renaissance Community Co-op, and that was she served two terms on city council from 2005 to 2009. In July, Wells was appointed by city council to fill the unexpired term of Jamal Fox — leading to criticism from some that she’s too closely aligned with her colleagues on council. Her 53.9 percent showing might look like a mandate, but supporters of CJ Brinson, who was eliminated in the primary, are challenging her positions on public safety. Wells expressed concern during a candidate forum in August that the homicides in District 2 are “black on black,” a phrase that Black Lives Matter activists find offensive because it ignores the fact that most crime is committed within racial groups, justifies increased policing and distracts from racially biased policing. After the election, Wells rebuffed Brinson’s proposal for a community forum, and said she would be open to considering increased levels of policing and reinstating the gang unit.
Jim Kee: Developer Jim Kee has also previously represented District 2 on council, and received Wells’ backing in 2009. But over the years, as Wells is happy to point out, Kee’s leadership has engendered distrust from some northeast Greensboro residents. As the District 2 councilman in May 2011, Kee told a community meeting led by Wells that it appeared the city council was going to reopen the landfill and that he was focused on ensuring that adverse impacts to residents were minimized. Residents at the meeting made it abundantly clear they planned to fight the landfill and would not support any political compromises. Today, Kee is quick to remind people that his was one of five votes to keep the landfill closed once Nancy Vaughan was freed from a conflict of interest. In 2012, after attending meetings with a group of people who conceived of the plan to open a cooperative grocery in a derelict shopping center on Phillips Avenue, Kee threw his support behind a plan by realtor-politico Skip Alston to privately develop the shopping center. Today, Kee says he has a plan to stabilize the co-op. And in 2015, Kee, a newly-minted Republican, supported a plan by state Sen. Trudy Wade to restructure Greensboro elections. The federal court struck down the plan earlier this year, finding that it packed Democratic voters into districts to maximize Republican candidates’ success. Kee says his experience as a business person gives him an edge at promoting economic development and argues the city needs to reduce property taxes and fees to compete with Alamance County, while tacking to Wells’ left on the issue of police accountability.
District 3 (vote for 1)
Justin Outling (i): The first African-American representative of District 3, Justin Outling is a corporate lawyer who describes himself as progressive on social issues and conservative on fiscal issues. He authored a policy governing the release of police-worn body-camera video before it was canceled out by a restrictive state law filed by Rep. John Faircloth (R-Guilford). On police accountability issues, Outling tends to side with law enforcement, and has received the endorsement of the Greensboro Police Officers Association. Celebrating a 69.1 percent showing in the primary, Outling said that if elected to a second term he wants to work with Mayor Nancy Vaughan on a “cite and release” policy that allows low-level offenders to avoid being booked in jail.
Craig Martin: Public defender Craig Martin, who describes himself as a “progressive voice” who would bring “positive change” to the city, earned a rating of 4.9 out of 5 rating from voters at a conference held by the progressive political action committee Democracy Greensboro. Despite his efforts, Martin received only 21.8 percent of the vote in the Oct. 10 primary. Attempting to make up ground, Martin has been focused on a vote Outling took to prevent the city from awarding a healthcare management contract to Cigna Health Insurance that benefited competitor United Healthcare (which does business with Outling’s firm), despite the fact that an independent consultant found that going with Cigna would save the city $650,000.
Martin is also telling voters they shouldn’t be impressed by the police body-camera video policy authored by Outling. “It’s been stated that the city’s policy that they passed before the Faircloth bill was enacted is progressive,” Martin said. “In reality, it mirrors the Faircloth bill, and is restrictive and does not allow access to the video. The presumption of the policy is that the video is private; the presumption should be that it’s public.”
District 4 (vote for 1)
Nancy Hoffmann (i): Nancy Hoffmann’s poll workers greeted voters during the Oct. 10 primary holding signs with a red line across the words “tax increase.” The popular message underscores Hoffmann’s conviction that the city needs to encourage building to increase the tax base so the city won’t have to raise taxes to cover the cost of services. She also cites a need for more affordable housing. The tradeoff is that sometimes council has to approve unpopular rezoning requests. Hoffmann remains unrepentant about her support for a controversial rezoning that would have extended commercial development west from the Friendly Center, lamenting that the coveted Trader Joe’s shied away after neighbors mounted resistance. Despite some residents’ misgivings, Hoffmann came through the primary with two thirds of the vote, making the three-term councilwoman a formidable incumbent.
Gary Kenton: Gary Kenton was an early participant in the group that would become Democracy Greensboro, which coalesced as an effort to push local government to the left as the cataclysmic implications of the 2016 election were becoming clear. A retired communications professor, Kenton has argued that Hoffmann and other incumbents haven’t been transparent enough about policing, and he walked the walk by getting arrested in January during a civil disobedience action to demand that the city release the investigative file surrounding discipline of an officer in the Dejuan Yourse case. It’s not altogether clear that voters in District 4 — an area on the west side that is more affluent and white than the city as a whole — are all that appreciative. “I say it’s incumbent on all of us to look at our city and say it’s incumbent on people to look at our city and say that poverty, race and jobs — those are the main concerns, I think, on city council,” Kenton told voters at a forum last month. “It is incumbent on all of us to keep on raising those issues in every setting we’re in.”
District 5 (vote for 1)
Tony Wilkins (i): The most stunning outcome of the Oct. 10 primary was incumbent Tony Wilkins’ second-place showing behind challenger Tammi Thurm. As the only registered Republican on the nonpartisan council, Wilkins has attempted to put a brake on spending. Wilkins voted against the 2017-18 budget, expressing concern about the tax rate while declaring that District 5 was a “conservative district.” (Ironically, the vote placed him in the same camp with two of the council’s most left-leaning members, Sharon Hightower and Jamal Fox, who opposed it because it raised pay for police and firefighters while leaving other city workers behind.) He cast the lone vote against apologizing for the Greensboro Massacre in August, and opposes participatory budgeting. When staff was able to procure game tables approved by District 5 voters at 50 percent of projected costs, Wilkins persuaded fellow council members to reallocate the $10,000 surplus from participatory budgeting funds to Out of the Garden Project, which sends food home with K-12 students over the weekend and operates mobile markets in under-served areas across the city.
Tammi Thurm: An administrator at Hagan, Barrett & Langley law firm, Tammi Thurm has already disproved the conventional wisdom that District 5 is a conservative stronghold, outpolling incumbent Tony Wilkins in the primary, 46.0 percent to 42.6 percent. That doesn’t mean she’ll be a walk-on in the general election. Votes won by two other contenders who were eliminated in the primary likely skew conservative and favor Wilkins. But during the primary, Thurm dominated precincts west of Guilford College Road, and mostly split the vote elsewhere in the district. An adherent of the Jewish tradition of “healing the world,” Thurm 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-camera footage as legally permissible.
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