Featured photo: Greensboro mayoral candidate and city council member Justin Outling speaks at the Historic Magnolia House in Greensboro on June 2, 2022. (photo by Juliet Coen)

As ominous-looking clouds moved in overhead and strong winds shook the legs of the party tent set up in the backyard of the Historic Magnolia House on Thursday evening, Greensboro mayoral candidate and city council member Justin Outling called for the people of Greensboro to make a choice.

“I am not originally from Greensboro,” Outling said as he spoke to the crowd of supporters and undecided voters. “I was born in Buffalo, NY. What I learned in Buffalo from my father was the significance of choice. Through my father, I saw my family, and specifically him, make a choice that affected not only his life, but also the life of my brother, Amos, as well as myself. My father had a good manufacturing job in Buffalo, but then lost that job due to changes in the economy.”

During his speech at the campaign kickoff, Outling spoke about how he, much like his father who chose to “get back up and keep on fighting,” has used that same work ethic as an attorney for Brooks Pierce law firm for the last seven years and how he would bring that same passion if elected as mayor come July.

Justin Outling laughs as he talks with Greensboro residents at the Historic Magnolia House in Greensboro on June 2, 2022. (photo by Juliet Coen)

Since 2015, Outling has represented District 3 on the Greensboro city council and is currently making the bid for mayor for the upcoming general election on July 26 against incumbent Mayor Nancy Vaughan who has served in that position since 2013.

In the primary election, Outling came in second place behind Vaughan with 35.3 percent of the vote behind Vaughan’s 45 percent. The two other competitors, Mark Cummings and Eric Robert, came in third and fourth place with 10.2 and 9.5 percent, respectively.

In an interview at the event, Outling expressed that while he came in second, the majority of voters who turned out for the primary election, voted for a change in mayoral leadership.

“The reality is for everyone who ran in the primary, they all introduced themselves to voters,” Outling said. “Most people know Nancy Vaughan. But the majority of people voted for change.”

As Democrats, Outling and Vaughan share fairly similar policy positions on council. However, Outling has made the case that he will be an agent for change and a mayor of action over symbolism. He has also made a push to make public safety a larger focus for council if elected.

And the tactic to centralize public safety as part of his campaign appears to be working with several of his supporters who attended the event.

Felita Donnell, a “mature,” Black woman who has lived in Greensboro all of her life, said that she showed up at the event to support Outling because she believes Outling has a strong platform and because of her concern with crime rates.

“I think he’s the change Greensboro needs,” she says.

Audience members, including Felita Donnell on the far left, listen to Justin Outling speak at the Historic Magnolia House in Greensboro on June 2, 2022. (photo by Juliet Coen)

While she said that she doesn’t have anything against incumbent Mayor Nancy Vaughan, Donnell said she’s a firm believer in term limits and that the city needs a change. She also said she’s interested in the employment of youth as well as the handling of city contracts.

On that last point, one undecided voter said that he is still unsure of whether or not he’ll support Outling because of his current occupation as an attorney for Brooks Pierce, a large law firm that has handled contracts between the city and companies such as Toyota who has been contracted to build a megaplant in the city.

“I think he’s a little too much a part of the system,” said Jeredan Surgeon, a 22-year-old Black man who attended the event with his friend. “He’s a white-collar attorney.”

Surgeon, who also was born and raised in Greensboro, said that his mother supports Outling but that he is more concerned with how COVID recovery funds are spent as well as someone who won’t be swept up into the “culture wars.” Still, Surgeon said he voted for Outling in the primary because he wants change.

“Nancy has been around for a long time,” he said.

Community organizer and 27-year-old Adon X. is also still on the fence about Outling. He said he attended the event on Thursday to learn more about Outling’s stances.

“I’m out here to support the community,” he said. “We have got to get real and to figure out which one of the candidates can bring about that change that we so desperately need in the community.”

Adon X. mentioned police accountability, transformative justice, affordable housing and supporting the local homeless population as his main concerns.

In the past, Outling has not supported an independent investigation into the death of Marcus Deon Smith, whom some in the city call “Greensboro’s George Floyd,” but he has supported a written-consent measure for traffic stops.

In the primary, he said that he voted for Eric Robert, who he saw represented the radical change Greensboro needs.

“All I know about Justin is from the city council meetings,” he said. “I don’t think that’s enough to vote for him for mayor.”

Audience members listen to Justin Outling speak The Historic Magnolia House in Greensboro on June 2, 2022.

Still others pointed to Outling’s experience on council as a good indicator of his potential leadership as mayor.

“Nancy is more oriented on politics and symbolism,” said Robert Winslow, a 66-year-old, white, male supporter. “Justin is more focused on results and action.”

He pointed to the fact that VF Corp. left Greensboro under Vaughan’s leadership. However, the city has seen an influx of corporations such as Boom Supersonic and Toyota in recent years.

Winslow has also lived in Greensboro his entire life and echoed Outling’s talking points about how Greensboro could be the best city in North Carolina with the right leadership.

“We have not had anything better than babysitting leadership for the last little while,” Winslow said. “I think Justin will put controversial topics on the agenda. We can’t just keep Greensboro calm and nice. We’ve got to make Greensboro prosperous and thriving.”

The issues most important to Winslow include equity of environment, opportunity, helping people access jobs and accessible transportation.

If elected, Outling promised to those in attendance that he would create change.

“Greensboro deserves a good quarterback,” he said. “That’s why I’m running for mayor.”

The general election for Greensboro city council, including the mayor’s race, will take place on July 26. To learn more about the race, go here.

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