Featured photo: Attendees pack Forsyth County Central Library’s auditorium for Triad City Beat’s primary election candidate forum for Winston-Salem City Council. (photo by Gale Melcher)

During Triad City Beat’s first election forum this week, candidates for Winston-Salem City Council spoke on everything from the city’s budget — which totals more than $600 million with $94.3 million earmarked for police — the problem of violence in the city, affordable housing and chronic homelessness.

This year, candidates for five of the eight wards, and the mayor, are on the ballot for the primary election which began on Thursday. 

The city holds partisan elections for eight city councilmember seats plus the mayor’s, and its voters lean Democratic in most races; in the 2020 presidential election 113,033 people voted for Democrat Joe Biden while 85,064 voted for Republican Donald Trump. 

Only one Winston-Salem city councilmember is a registered Republican. That’s Robert C. Clark, who won’t be on the ballot this March, but is being challenged in November by Democrat Chris Smith. The same goes for Democrat Scott Andree Bowen in the Southwest Ward race and Southeast Ward incumbent James Taylor, Jr., D. 

That leaves six primary races — and five of the seats will be decided by how the primary election shakes out.

At the forum, 14 candidates (and one proxy) running in six different races flashed in front of viewers to answer five fast-paced questions with one minute to answer each one.

As a reminder, early voting runs through March 2. March 5 is Primary Election Day. Early voting for the general election starts Oct. 17 and runs through Nov. 2. General Election Day is Nov. 5, and all voters must have a valid ID to vote this year. 

Read our primary election guide on every race from presidential to city council here.

Winston-Salem’s eight wards (city map)


Longtime Mayor Allen Joines has led Winston-Salem since 2001, after a long career in city government. This year, he’s being challenged by two community activists, Frankie Gist and JoAnne Allen.


Allen Joines, (i)

Did not attend. Click here to learn more about this candidate.

Frankie Gist

“I was a troubled kid, my father wasn’t there in my life. It caused me to go down a road of destruction.” 

By 16, Gist was looking at three years in prison. Then he got a chance to turn his life around, and now he’s the leader of an organization called HOPE Dealers Outreach. The group aims to point kids in a positive direction and combat police brutality and gun violence by offering educational programs, back to school drives and hosting protests. 

The group also works to combat homelessness, Gist said. “So many of the social issues, we’re in the community fighting on a daily basis.” Gist said that he wants the job because he cares for the people. “I want to fight for the people to make this city a better place for all of us.”

Gist thinks that the city should be putting more money into programs that will combat gun violence and into shelters and programs for the unhoused. If elected, tackling gun violence is one of the things he’d do immediately, he said.

As someone who experienced evictions and stayed in hotels with his mother, Gist said that the city needs to “sit down and create a plan of action, a real plan of action,” for affordable housing, and that jobs are a part of this. The city needs to create programs that will “help bring jobs” that will “sustain” people and help them “take care of their home,” Gist said.

In terms of policing, the BEAR Team, which is the non-police response team sent out for mental-health calls, Gist said that the initiative helps people going through a mental health crisis “calm down and recalibrate,” Gist said.

JoAnne Allen

Did not attend. Click here to learn more about this candidate.

Winston-Salem’s Northwest Ward (city map)


Incumbent Jeff MacIntosh, a Democrat, isn’t seeking re-election this time around, telling TCB in January 2023 that he hoped announcing his decision early would bring “lots of candidates out of the woodwork to think about running.” And so it has — four candidates are vying for the seat.

The Northwest Ward holds Wake Forest University, Crystal Towers, Polo Park and Reynolda Village.


Robert (Bob) Hartwell

As a northerner, Hartwell feels like he’s “crossing over the divide.” He served four terms as a Democratic state senator in Vermont.

If elected, Hartwell is interested in a variety of projects, from a municipal bond to creating a civilian conservation corp to address climate change. Hartwell thinks that another big issue is filling law enforcement positions and that the city needs to “create an environment where people want to go into law enforcement.”

What’s not being done that Hartwell would like to change immediately? Hartwell said that too many accidents are occuring in his ward due to speeding, bad road design and the “persistent urge to make cars go faster.”

Affordable housing and homelessness are related, Hartwell said. “Drug abuse, alcohol and all the despair that comes with homelessness, that gets addressed when you put a roof over their head first.”

Hartwell said that the BEAR Team is a “great alternative” in diverting police to areas where they’re needed.

Regina Ford Hall

Hall is a “lifelong resident” of Winston-Salem, a product of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County public schools and has lived in five of the city’s eight wards. 

“I have dedicated my entire professional career to public service,” Hall said. “I believe that the city should tackle public safety, housing, poverty, provide small business support and engage citizens.”

Hall is the executive director of Boston-Thurmond community network, and previously worked as the reintegration and youth development manager with the city. She was also the chief-of-staff for Winston-Salem’s Urban Food Policy Council and the program administrator for Successful Outcomes After Release, or SOAR, a city program that temporarily employs former offenders and gives them work experience in routine labor and clerical jobs. 

These are “folks who have maybe made some wrong choices in their past, but have served their debt to society and are now coming back and reacclimating themselves to society,” she said.

Hall thinks that the city should be spending more money on workforce development programs like SOAR. Hall agreed with Hartwell on the need for traffic calming strategies, and added that trash could be handled a bit better.

Hall believes that the city has gotten off to a good start with some of their recent affordable housing projects as well as conversations around a community land trust and permanent supportive housing projects. Once those come to fruition “and we can see how those things sort of work together, then I think we’ll be able to see a path forward,” Hall said.

The BEAR Team has a “special sensitivity that needs to be had” and that it should continue to be funded, Hall said.


Jimmy Hodson

Hodson has lived in the city for 30 years. “The city has grown, the city has done phenomenal things since I’ve been here,” Hodson said. 

But Hodson thinks that the city needs to “take steps now” because “violent crime is rising, our property taxes are going up, some of these things can be mitigated in different ways.”

Hodson thinks that the city should be investing more money in public safety to make sure that the police department is staffed if “some kind of disaster comes to our town.”

“We spend a lot of time and a lot of money on homelessness, but all we’re doing is hiding them.”

Hodson thinks that the city’s current tactics are “enabling some bad behavior.”

“When someone’s having a drug overdose,” Hodson said, they’ll have it in a “nice little apartment that we paid for” instead of “under a bridge.” To add to his point, he thinks affordable housing and homelessness are two separate issues and that “homeless people are not looking for affordable housing” because “they couldn’t afford it anyway.”

“There are systemic problems with homelessness that a house doesn’t fix. The housing-first idea is that they’re drunk and on drugs because they don’t have a house. And it’s not that way at all; they don’t have a house because they’re drunk and on drugs all the time.”

“We can build a million hotels and stick everybody in there and then we have no more homeless, but they’re still going to be doing the same behavior,” he added.

Despite Hodson’s objections, multiple studies have found that the housing-first model offers greater long-term housing stability, particularly among people experiencing chronic homelessness, and other studies have found that these programs may also “reduce costs by shortening stays in hospitals, residential substance abuse programs, nursing homes, and prisons.”

Hodson said that the BEAR Team is “paying huge dividends” so that people can get plugged into resources that they need instead of being “abusers of the 911 system.”

Herbert Burns

Burns is a Christian author and architect who is running for office for the first time.

“I’ve been building foundations for buildings for many years; now I’m building foundations in people’s lives,” he said. As an architect, Burns said that he understands zoning.

As for what he thinks the city should be spending more or less on, Burns thinks that’s not for him to decide. 

“I need to be part of a team,” Burns said, pointing at the audience. “We need to decide where the money is going to be best spent.” If elected, Burns said that he’d seek stronger communication with citizens and wants to bridge the divide between neighborhood associations and councilmembers.

Burns had a softer approach to affordable housing and homelessness than his Republican counterpart, saying that the unhoused need to be connected with organizations and services that can help them. 

“We need to provide a place for them to stay, a safe home for them,” he said.

Burns noted that the problem also lies with landlords raising rent. “We’ve got to figure out a way to deal with greed that’s harming people.” 

Like all of the candidates who attended the forum, Burns supports the BEAR Team.

Winston-Salem’s South Ward (city map)


This seat is currently held by Democrat John Larson. It contains Old Salem Museums & Gardens, City Hall, the Strollway, University of North Carolina School of the Arts and the Children’s Museum.


John Larson (i)

During the event, incumbent Larson said that he is “anxious to serve again.” 

As for what the city should be spending more or less on Larson said that the city can’t “scrimp” on basic responsibilities like fire, police, garbage collection and more. In his remarks, he also noted that the “police have taken a beating over the last several years, politically and economically, as cities have tried to cut back and scale back on their responsibilities and activities.” Larson added that the city has a “great police force” and that he would “never scrimp on our health and safety issues.”

He also noted that many complex issues like housing, jobs and food deserts are interconnected. As an incumbent, he also attempted to assuage voters’ criticisms by saying that the city is working hard on many of these issues, “believe it or not.”

Larson, who was on council when the BEAR Team was introduced, said that he fully supports the initiative and that as fewer people signed up to become police officers, the city council had to take a look at how police were spending their time.

Vivian Joiner

Joiner is the owner of the beloved downtown restaurant Sweet Potatoes. Joiner has lived in the city for 25 years, but she’s originally from Washington, DC. 

“Here in Winston-Salem I’m asking that we talk about homelessness, I’m asking that we define and understand what homelessness is,” she said about her priorities. “It is not necessarily someone that has a mental issue.”

“We don’t have enough inventory of affordable housing for the workforce,” she noted. Based on her passions, the number one thing she would push to spend more money on is housing.

She noted public safety and raises for first responders, too, but “housing, housing, housing. That’s what we need to work on, because no one can work in Winston-Salem if they don’t have proper housing.”

Joiner also addressed the issue of homelessness, stating that the city needs to “work on those encampments.” The city’s home program manager Shereka Floyd told councilmembers on Feb. 12 that there are 46 encampments in the South Ward. In a direct jab to Republican Jimmy Hodson, Joiner asserted that “unlike some people might think” not all homeless people are drug users; “they’re not all addicts, they’re not all alcoholics.”

Some folks just “don’t have a place to lay their head,” she said. “Some people have to choose between getting a medical procedure and giving up their home or working until they die.”

Joiner thinks that the police “do a great job,” but that the BEAR Team helps in a lot of ways, particularly for those that are unhoused.

Adrian Smith

Adrian Smith, who was “tied up in a previous engagement,” sent his campaign manager Wake Forest student Hasan Pyarali, who spoke in his stead at the candidate forum. 

“Adrian is running to address climate change, affordable housing and public safety,” Pyarali said. “We’ve been spending more and more on energy, and it’s been less and less reliable,” claiming that if the city switched over to solar energy, they’d save more than $750,000 annually. “We’re gonna bring the money back to you and put you guys in homes.”

“Half of the city of Winston-Salem is a country club, the other half is the country. We need to bridge that gap,” Pyarali said.

Pyarali also stated during his portion that in the South Ward, “zoning does not allow multifamily houses to be built.” 

A quick fact check shows that this is not true. There are many areas in the South Ward that are zoned for several different types of multifamily housing like duplexes, triplexes and quadruplexes, including a plethora of RM-8 districts that allow for a mixture of duplexes, twin homes, townhouses and multifamily buildings. Take a look at how each ward is zoned here. On Feb. 15, Smith told TCB that this was a miscommunication, rather that he wants to open up zoning in his ward to allow for more two-to-four unit multifamily housing.

Pyarali also expressed support for the BEAR Team, stating that he’d like to see an expansion of the efforts. He also said that the city needs to bring the police force back up to snuff and make sure people are safe. “You shouldn’t have to look over your shoulder when you’re walking home at night. You shouldn’t have to worry about the police not being trained in a domestic dispute,” he said.

Carolyn Highsmith

“What sets me apart are my years of community service to the people of the South Ward,” Highsmith said. Highsmith is a member of the Coalition for Accountability and Transparency, a local advocacy group. “My journey has led me to the heart of our neighborhoods where I have been on the front lines protecting our South Ward by forming neighborhood watch groups, creating and leading community associations, orchestrating community issue campaigns while fostering equity.”

When it comes to city spending, Highsmith said that she would like to look at the budget “line by line” and find out where they are “actually achieving outcomes.”

She also believes that city workers should be receiving adequate salaries. The current minimum wage for Winston-Salem’s city employees is $15.45, meaning that a 40-hour work week can earn many Winston-Salem city employees a little more than $32,000 annually — and that’s before taxes. The Economic Policy Institute family budget calculator estimates the amount needed to support a “modest yet adequate standard of living.” In Winston-Salem, that’s $41,889 for one person. 

Highsmith added that they could be using city recreation buildings as shelters for the unhoused at night. “We need to be thinking creatively, out of the box, for all of the budgetary needs that we have,” she said.

If elected, Highsmith said she’d have regular community meetings with residents to talk about the ward’s problems. She wants to provide more “open communication,” which she said has been “declining.” 

Highsmith said that she’d also like to expand the BEAR Team.

Winston-Salem’s East Ward (city map)


This seat has been held by Democrat Annette Scippio since 2018. She’s being challenged by both first-time and long-time candidates. The East Ward is home to Trade Street, Piedmont Triad Research Park, Winston-Salem State University, Salem Lake and Happy Hill.


Annette Scippio (i)

Did not attend. Click here to learn more about this candidate.

Jared D. Lamkin

Did not attend. Click here to learn more about this candidate.

Christopher Taylor

Taylor is currently the equitable and economic engagement coordinator for Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods. He’s got a “footprint in over 20 different neighborhoods around the community,” he said, adding that he’s been an educator for more than 10 years in local schools. “I’ve been a community activist, a political activist for a very long time as well, so my experience is very diverse.” Taylor added that while he is a young person, he has a “lot of different experiences” that would help him in this role.

The city should be spending more money on environmental initiatives, Taylor said. He’s advocating for Winston-Salem to align with the federal government’s Justice40 initiative, which aims for “40 percent of the overall benefits of certain federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution.” 

Taylor also wants to spend more on youth-based initiatives. 

“The children today have access to things we never had before…They can get on TikTok and learn how to hijack a car,” he said. 

Last year, after multiple car thefts following a viral social media trend that exposed security flaws in the systems of some Kia and Hyundai cars, WSPD gave away steering locks to prevent car thefts.

Taylor said that if elected, he would “listen to the people.”

“Especially in my ward, that’s one of the things that a lot of people feel is not happening,” he said.

Taylor said that he’s interested in municipal bonds for housing and that people need to “listen to the unhoused…people who are actually going through these experiences.”

Like other candidates Taylor expressed support for the BEAR Team but was the only one to evoke the racial justice uprisings and Black Lives Matter as the impetus for changes within law enforcement. 

“I’m a part of the generation that talked about Black Lives Matter and finding different ways to invest funds,” he said.

Phil Carter

Carter is a lifelong resident of Winston-Salem, and said that he’s running because of how infrastructure has impacted his ward. Carter has run for City Council in the past.

“The East Ward is across 52, and you all know what that means,” he said. When Highway 52 reached Winston-Salem in the ‘40s, it cleaved the city down the middle and cut off many neighborhoods in the east from resources and opportunities that lie on the other side of town. 

Carter is pushing for economic empowerment, housing stability and a “community that has a voice with its governance.”

“It is time that diversity and economic mobility shifts to the East Ward,” he said.

The city should be spending more money on housing, particularly low-income housing, according to Carter.

“When a person doesn’t have a stable house to live in,” things like “depression, anxiety, drug usage and criminality” can happen to them, Carter said.

What would Carter change? “People need to be part of the decision-making process…Citizens are our greatest capital and that is what we should be investing in them.”

“My No. 1 platform is to hold quarterly meetings with the constituents,” Carter said. “I have the time, I’m retired and I don’t have nothing else to do.”

To tackle affordable housing and homelessness issues, Carter said that the city needs to use a dual model of “intervention and prevention.” As for the BEAR Team, Carter stressed the importance of wraparound services and aftercare for people experiencing mental-health issues.

Winston-Salem’s North Ward (city map)


This seat has been held by Democrat Denise “DD” Adams since 2009. It’s known as the home of the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company’s Whitaker Park facility and encompasses Paisley and Northwest Middle Schools, Martin Luther King Community Recreation Center, the fairgrounds and the coliseum.


Denise “DD” Adams (i)

Mayor Pro Tempore Adams is running for her fifth term because she believes “in public service and volunteerism.” Housing is her priority and has been during her time on council, she said. “I’ve done things, I did things, I do things and I’m not done yet.”

Adams’ biggest problem with the city’s budget is that there’s “not enough money.”

When budget season comes around, “everybody wants something,” she said. “We have to look at the big picture.” But one of the things they should be spending more money on is housing, Adams said. While they’ve spent millions of state American Rescue Plan Act dollars on the issue, “that’s not gonna cut it,” she said, so they’re looking into a housing trust fund and a bond.

And what’s on Adams’ wish list if she’s re-elected? More housing, of course. Adams prefers “income-based housing” as opposed to “affordable housing.”

As for how to tackle the issue of homelessness, Adams said that it all comes down to “collaboration” with other stakeholders and nonprofits.

“Until we can all sit down at a table of discussion and talk about what the agencies do, the nonprofits, the different institutions, the city, government, county, state — we will all just keep saying this over and over again,” she said. And Adams wants people who are facing homelessness to have a seat at that table.

Adams said she’s always been a supporter of BEAR, even though she says she’s been accused of not supporting them, adding that she’s “always” been a supporter of public safety teams like fire and police. She added that funding for the team will be increased and that “BEAR will probably be in the budget until hell freezes over.”

Eunice Campbell

Campbell is a graduate of Winston-Salem State University who has “spent many years in corporate America” and says she has dealt with budgets the size of Winston-Salem’s.

She said that she’s running to be the “catalyst for change” that the “community so desperately needs.”

Winston-Salem has received money from the state to be spent on housing, but Campbell feels like the city should be spending more of their own money on building more units and “actually put money in the budget for housing.” Campbell thinks that the city wasted money on a hydroponic greenhouse that opened in October 2022. It’s managed by nonprofit organization Help Our People Eat, or HOPE, which distributes food to families experiencing food insecurity.

What would Campbell change on her first day in office? If elected, Campbell said she would come up with a “comprehensive plan” for dealing with flooding that occurs in the area. 

Campbell also feels that Winston-Salem is behind cities like Charlotte on housing. “We’re just now really talking about housing,” Campbell said. “We grow from truth we receive, not from the truth we hear, because if it had been a priority, we wouldn’t be this far behind.” 

Campbell is a fan of the BEAR Team, and wants it to be a permanent fixture in the budget. 

Kymberli Rene Wellman

Did not attend. Click here to learn more about this candidate.

Winston-Salem’s Northeast Ward (city map)


This seat has been held by Democrat Barbara Hanes Burke since 2018. The ward is home to Smith-Reynolds Airport, Maple Chase Golf and Country Club, Cleveland Avenue Homes and stretches of Liberty Street.


Barbara Hanes Burke (i)

Burke is running for her second term in the ward that her late mother-in-law Vivian Burke led for more than 40 years. She’s had a long career in education and was on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board as a member and vice chair. She thinks that city spending should be most focused on housing, permanent supportive housing and low-income housing, while making sure that they are in reach of resources. She said that “investment has not taken place for decades” in her ward, and that they need money to go into revitalizing their neighborhoods “so they can look just as good as neighborhoods on the other side of town.” 

Burke added that the city is proud of the BEAR Team. Since this team came around, they’ve been able to give relief to public safety teams like fire, police and EMS, “so that they can do the jobs that we need for them to do along the line of safety. That has freed them up. And it has given the BEAR Team the opportunity to provide that one-on-one attention.”

Paula McCoy

McCoy is a longtime resident who runs McCoy Enterprises, a consulting and coaching firm; she previously served as the executive director of Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods. She thinks that the city should be spending more on neighborhood resources and wants residents to “have a voice,” adding that “top-down decision making hasn’t worked in our community.”

People are “hurting” and “in pain,” McCoy said; that’s her No. 1 concern for her ward, and what she hopes to change. “I think we really need to take a look at addressing poverty in our community.” 

McCoy said that to combat the housing crisis, they should produce and work to preserve their housing, as well as diversifying their housing options. McCoy likes the idea of creating more innovative programs like the BEAR Team, but noted that the city needs to “engage the community in that.”

“We need to be in the conversation, talking to police, building trust. We need to build trust between police and the community,” she said. “Engage the community.”

Get each candidates’ full answers by watching the forum here.

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