Crowded field of candidates scrambles for Greensboro at-large seats

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Greensboro City Council at-large candidates Irving Allen (left) and Michelle Kennedy chat before a forum. (photo by Jordan Green)

The Oct. 10 primary will narrow a crowded field of 15 down to six at-large candidates for Greensboro City Council.

The field for the three at-large seats on Greensboro City Council — with 15 candidates on the ballot for the Oct. 10 primary — is the most crowded in at least 20 years, although the contests in 2011 and 2007 came close.

The 2007 at-large race attracted 13 candidates as longtime Mayor Keith Holliday announced his retirement and discontent over then-City Manager Mitch Johnson’s handling of a police scandal unsettled city government. Four years later, a backlash against the unsuccessful effort to reopen the White Street Landfill swept in a more progressive cohort.

The three incumbents in the at-large race this year are all veterans of at least one of those pivotal elections. Yvonne Johnson, who was first elected to city council in 1993, won election to one term as mayor in 2007, lost her reelection in 2009, and then returned as an at-large representative in the 2011 redemption contest.

“I love service,” Johnson said at an Aug. 24 candidate forum hosted by the Guilford County Democratic Party. “I believe service is the rent I pay for living on this earth. And there’s nothing I love doing better than serving the people of Greensboro. I believe my voice is important because it’s a voice of reason and it’s a voice of patience. It’s a voice of resistance, it’s a voice of inclusion, and it’s a voice that always wants a better quality of life for the people of Greensboro.”

Mike Barber was first elected to city council in 2005, and then retired in 2009 after floating the idea of reopening the landfill. He returned to council in 2013.

“I think my key role is to support public safety — police officers and firefighters — and to determine ways to help all citizens while keeping the tax rate steady, as we’ve done over my four terms serving,” Barber said.

Marikay Abuzuaiter staked out a position as an ardent foe of the landfill as a human relations commissioner, and then won her seat after two unsuccessful previous attempts in 2011. Since her election, Abuzuaiter has weathered a controversy over the disclosure that she acted as a confidential informant to the Greensboro Police Department, and has become a reliable steward on transportation policy.

One other name on the ballot will be familiar to voters even if she’s not an incumbent. Dianne Bellamy-Small represented District 1 in the city’s southeast quadrant from 2003 until 2013, when she was unseated by Sharon Hightower. Bellamy-Small is running for city council at large only one year after her election to the Guilford County School Board.

Much as Abuzuaiter, along with District 4 Councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann, matriculated from the human relations commission in 2011, a total of four candidates from the human relations commission are running at large. Each has taken a critical stance towards the current council on the matter of police accountability while also highlighting issues like affordable housing, gentrification and poverty.

Irving David Allen is an organizer identified with Black Lives Matter and the nephew of the late David Richmond, part of the legendary quartet of NC A&T students who initiated the 1960 Woolworth’s sit-ins.

“Greensboro has stood on that history for a long time, but where’s the progress that we’ve seen behind that?” Allen asked at the candidate forum. “I think it’s time for us to be accountable and stand up and say that we deserve better in this city. I think we deserve better in this city when you can look at east Greensboro and west Greensboro and see the disparity.”

Michelle Kennedy, executive director of the Interactive Resource Center, touted her experience managing nonprofits and awards from the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, the Guilford Green Foundation and the News & Record, while noting her role in drafting the city’s winter emergency shelter plan and her work with the United Way of Greater Greensboro to alleviate poverty.

Lindy Perry-Garnette, CEO of the YWCA of Greensboro, received notoriety when she went public with her misgivings about the Greensboro police’s handling of the case of Jose Charles, a 15-year-old who was involved in an altercation with officers at the Fun Fourth Festival last year. As a result of speaking out on the matter, Perry-Garnette was removed from the city’s police community review board.

“There are times when it’s time to stand up for what’s right, and there are times when it’s time to compromise,” Perry-Garnette said. “I believe I have a record in this city of demonstrating that right is right, and when it’s right I’ll stand up no matter what the consequences are.”

Dave Wils, a teacher at Grimsley High School and 2016 delegate to the Democratic National Convention, appealed for a repair of the socio-economic divide between Greensboro’s east and west sides in his remarks, while applying an educational precept to city politics: “Everybody does better when everybody does better.”

Acknowledging the mathematical challenge of contending for three seats in a field of 15 candidates, Wils said, “I don’t need to be your first choice, but I certainly would appreciate being one of your three.”

Sylvine Hill, a restaurant host, is the only challenger who also ran last election. She placed fifth in the balloting during the 2015 general election. As a participant in meetings at the Beloved Community Center, Hill travels in some of the same political circles as Allen, but she emphasizes that she exercises independent judgment. Her community CV also includes volunteer work at the Greensboro Science Center and Greensboro Historical Museum.   

Jodi Bennett-Bradshaw, a special education teacher with Guilford County Schools, touts her “collaborative leadership style.”

“The greatest obstacle we’re facing is our cultural climate — social injustice, systemic racism, multilateral division and economic injustice,” Bennett-Bradshaw said. “And it’s unlikely that I have a solution that works for everyone. Solutions to social problems can only be discovered through collaboration and innovation. And innovation does not spring from homogeneity. It is derived from creative friction. And that means that the best ideas come from folks from all different backgrounds, levels of expertise, life experiences and social-economic status.”

James Ingram, an auditor who favors lowering property taxes, launched his campaign at Jerusalem Market on Aug. 25 with a program that featured two Guilford County Republican state lawmakers — Majority Whip Jon Hardister and Rep. John Blust.

Despite his influential friends, the 28-year-old Ingram’s biography isn’t that of a typical Republican. The NC A&T University alum found himself homeless after moving away from Greensboro when the grant money for a consulting gig was suddenly withdrawn. He decided to return to Greensboro, and said he wants to give back through public service to the city that helped him get back on his feet.

“What really supported me the most was a couple of churches,” Ingram said. “The body of believers — they saw that I was angry. They always kept reminding me that there’s love and grace in Christ. They’ve done so much for me.”

MA Bakie, a local business owner involved in the export industry, said in an email to Triad City Beat that unless the city addresses social issues like violent crime and opioid addiction “businesses will be reluctant to move to areas like Randleman Road, South Elm-Eugene, East Market, MLK… just to name a few. Therefore, new and adequate strategies to restore public safety are very crucial in order to rebuild investors’ confidence and trust that we need to reconnect our community development with the global job market.”

The three remaining candidates tout their ability to approach service on city council as a full-time job by virtue of having recently retired from professional careers.   

Andy Nelson spent 35 years working in the transportation field.

“Probably my strongest ability is I’m a pragmatic problem-solver,” he said. “I tend to see issues from both sides of the table…. I don’t know all the problems, but when I see ’em I’ll work as hard as I can to solve ’em.”

Dan Jackson recently retired from the US Postal Service.

“My overall issue is being fiscally responsible, spending money wisely and keeping our taxes low so we can attract new business,” he said. “We have higher taxes than Raleigh and Charlotte. We’re pricing ourselves out of the market.”

Tijuana B. Hayes retired as a teacher with Guilford County Schools in 2014. Noting that she’s a life member of the Greensboro NAACP and previously served as president of the Guilford County Association of Educators, Hayes said public service is in her blood. She said it’s important to promote the city while looking out for its most marginalized residents.

Hayes said she’s thrilled that there are so many people running for city council this year, particularly young people.

“A lot of our younger citizens, they want to contribute to the city,” she said. “We have to remember that we have all these colleges and universities in the city. We’re moving onward and upward. I’m looking forward to the diversity of the election. These seats don’t belong to anyone; as long as we’re law-abiding and honest we have just as much right to run as anyone else.”

  • Richard Broaddus

    Am I counting wrong? I only see 14 names listed in the article about a 15-candidate race. Is that intentional?

  • Jordan Green

    Massive oversight. My apologies to Dave Wils. Corrected now.