Fahiym Hanna can come across as a bit single-minded.
Sitting at a table on a crowded Friday morning inside Spring Garden Bakery, Hanna talked passionately about his run for Guilford County Commission in District 8.
“As a young adult, I was obsessed with the idea of doing the most good,” said Hanna, who wore a dark-blue blazer and rounded glasses. “The idea of, What could you be doing that helps the most and is most in line with what you’re good at?”
Hanna, who is running on a platform primarily centered around a county-wide worker program, is up against incumbent Skip Alston, who makes the case for his re-election based on his years of experience.
Hanna has lived in Greensboro since 2006. He grew up in New York and Atlanta and then moved to the South, attending high school in Kernersville.
He first ran for county commission in a special election in 2018 against incumbent Skip Alston, the same opponent Hanna faces in March. Hanna lost by 40 points.
Despite that, he decided to run again this year.
“I deal with stuff related to basic needs,” Hanna said. “That’s been my focus in organizing. Things like public infrastructure, schools, food, water, shelter — county commission touches all of those points.”
His concentration, he said, is on raising awareness of and implementing what he calls the “correct priority society model,” or CPS for short. It’s about making sure residents’ basic needs like food, water, shelter and access to education and infrastructure are met through a county-wide work program. According to Hanna, under the model, participants would work from 7-14 hours a week in any of the basic-needs sectors, and in exchange they would receive access to all of their basic needs in the amount each needed.
“People want the security of their basic needs,” Hanna explained. “This is the easiest way to do it. It takes a minimum amount of time and it’s secure because it comes from the county. People would want to work for their basic needs.”
Prior to running for office, Hanna worked in youth organizing and other grassroots organizations. He said that in the past 14 years that he’s lived in the city, he’s seen a decline in the quality of life in the county.
“There are roads that aren’t fixed,” he said. “Schools in desperate need of fixing, housing problems left over from the 2008 housing crisis. Whatever [the county commission] is doing now isn’t adequate.”
Many of the answers to the problems Hanna mentioned lies in the CPS program, he said.
When it comes to the $1.5 billion need that was recently identified to fix county-wide schools, Hanna said he would focus on prioritizing schools in his district, but that money alone wouldn’t solve all of the problems. He said his model “is more innovative than that.”
According to Hanna, the CPS program is different from other work programs because there is no barrier to entry. Everyone is invited to participate regardless of income or job status. A single mother, a homeless individual and a full-time city employee could all reap the benefits of the program as long as they worked their hours.
According to Hanna’s website description, the model doesn’t aim to replace the for-profit economy because it wouldn’t actually pay its participants. It would just give access to basic needs based on how many hours the participant has worked.
If elected, Hanna said his main priority would be to institute the CPS model using a fraction of the current budget.
“I don’t imagine that I’ll get a lot of pushback,” Hanna said.
Still, if he’s elected and he’s not able to get the CPS model off the ground, Hanna said that he would step down.
“I would find a way to do it in a different capacity,” he said. “I would set it up as a nonprofit or as a business model, but it would be most ideal to do it through the county.
He said others on the board have often responded by telling him it’s a good idea but that they don’t see how it would practically be instituted.
“That’s why they need to get out of the seat,” Hanna said.
One of the members who’s confused about Hanna’s proposal is his opponent, long-time county commissioner, Skip Alston.
“I read it,” Alston said. “And to be honest with you, I don’t understand it. But it’s up to him to explain it to people.”
While Hanna consistently steered the conversation back to his CPS model, Alston repeatedly mentioned his more than two decades of experience as the reason why he is best suited to remain in the seat.
“I’ve gone through 22 budgets,” Alston said in a phone interview. “More than anyone on the entire board. It would be selfish of me to not lend my knowledge and experience at this crucial time.”
Alston first held the seat from 1992 to 2012, and served as chairman five times during his tenure. He was the first African-American member to serve in that position. Alston has also served two years as vice chairman for the board.
In 2012, Alston stepped down from the board, making way for Ray Trapp, who took over the seat from 2012-17, when he left to take a job at NC A&T University. In 2018, Alston reclaimed his old seat in a special election and said he plans on keeping it for now.
“Timing is everything,” he said. “It’s the right time for everything. When Ray stepped down, I thought it my duty and responsibility and with my experience and knowledge about the county, that I should run to deal with the Republicans.
“If I didn’t go, there would be someone with no experience,” Alston continued. “Someone with no experience with the budget and the partisan politics [that] were taking over the board.”
During the interview, Alston spoke about his disagreements with the Republican majority on the board.
“The Republicans are not looking out for the school system,” he argued.
Of the $2 billion needed for the county’s schools, Alston said he would work to get a $1 billion package to start and then phase in another approach for the remaining $1 billion.
“I think we can do that within six or seven years,” Alston said.
He spoke about his experience working on the 2008 school bond which totaled $457 million. Another $115 million bond was passed for a county jail.
“We cut $40 million out of the budget,” Alston said of working the numbers back in 2008. “And we delayed the sale of the bond until we actually needed it. We didn’t have a tax increase for four years. That was under my leadership as chairman. We gave the school board everything they needed.”
Going forward, Alston said that there would more than likely be a need for a quarter-cent sales tax increase to pay for the bond. But if voters don’t go for it, Alston said that he will find other ways to make up the money.
“It takes experience to do that,” he said.
In addition to school infrastructure Alston also mentioned the need for an increase in teacher pay and more economic development in the county.
“When the federal government cuts services to our citizens and the state government cuts funding to our schools, we have to be able to have the fortitude to say that we are going to look out for the citizens in our county regardless of what the federal government and the state government does,” Alston said. “And that’s what I want to do…. Even if the state government says no, we can still find a way in our budget to say yes. And for that, we need all hands on deck and the most experienced hands on deck.”