7 storylines from the Greensboro City Council election

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Mayor Nancy Vaughan shouldn't have too much trouble this year.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan shouldn’t have too much trouble this year.

by Brian Clarey

1. Toss-up in District 1
On Election Day 2013 — the day I got fired from another local newspaper, incidentally — incumbent District 1 Representative Dianne Bellamy-Small lost to Sharon Hightower by a mere 12 votes. After a failed run for Guilford County Commission, Bellamy-Small is back, this time with the support of former Mayor Robbie Perkins, whose sometime political ally Skip Alston has a well known distaste for the former councilwoman. This race is a true toss-up.

2. Newbies in D3
Justin Outling replaced District 3 representative Zack Matheny when he left to run Downtown Greensboro Inc. That gives Outling a slight incumbent edge in the primary against Michael Picarelli, former head of the Guilford County GOP, and Kurt Collins, a political outsider and former downtown resident who was for the noise ordinance. If he wins, Outling will become the first African-American rep elected in a district not specifically cut for a black representation.

3. Gadflies for mayor
Sal Leone, a Thomasville cop, is taking a shot at Mayor Nancy Vaughan’s incumbency. Devin King, who between he and his wife work four jobs and still qualify for food stamps, wants to represent the city’s working poor. Neither has ever held elected office, though Leone has run for unsuccessfully for council before, as well as the state House and Senate.

4. The unopposed
Councilman Tony Wilkins’ challenger in District 5, Maureen Washington — whom no one in local politics has ever met — unceremoniously moved out of the district in the middle of campaign season, making her ineligible for the seat. And Councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann, who has been running unopposed in District 4 from the beginning, is campaigning like she’s in a crowded primary.

5. Uncertainty in District 2
In 2013, Jamal Fox was the beneficiary of a misstep by incumbent Jim Kee, who used back channels to try to quash his challenger’s candidacy. This year he faces a newcomer, Thessa Pickett, who comes out of the Black Lives Matter movement and sided with Skip Alston on the failed bid to restructure council.

6. At-large sleepers
Generally the at-large race is like a battle royal, sometimes with a dozen candidates squaring off for the three seats. This year just three challengers, each with no previous experience, have arisen to take on incumbents Marikay Abuzuaiter, Mike Barber and Yvonne Johnson. Something dramatic and unforeseen would have to happen to change the current lineup.

7. Low turnout
With just two primaries in the D3 and mayoral races, two candidates running unopposed and a host of unknowns, this Greensboro municipal election could have the lowest turnout of any so far this century — but low turnout is the breeding ground for upsets and other Election Day surprises.