Four candidates are vying in the March 3 Democratic primary to fill the East Ward seat that Derwin Montgomery held for nine years.
Photo from left to right: Kismet Loftin-Bell, George Redd IV, Phil Carter and Annette Scippio
Annette Scippio is the incumbent in the Democratic primary for the East Ward seat on Winston-Salem City Council. But since her appointment to fill the vacant seat in late 2018, this will be voters’ first opportunity to weigh in on the ward’s representation since Derwin Montgomery resigned to serve in the state House.
The relatively crowded race with four candidates suggests the challengers aren’t intimidated by Scippio’s incumbency. Since the majority African-American ward leans heavily Democratic, the March 3 primary will almost certainly determine who represents the ward when the new council is seated in December.
Scippio said during an interview at City Hall that her first year on city council has been a learning experience.
“It takes a bit of time to learn how to navigate this position,” she said. “The most important thing to know is that whatever you want to do, it’s going to take money to get it done. Money the city uses comes from taxes, bond money or outside sources such as grants. All of these require lead times.”
The 70-year-old Scippio worked in the nonprofit sector before taking the oath to serve on city council. She’s the former executive director of Leadership Winston-Salem, a program launched by the chamber of commerce in the 1980s, and the Delta Arts Center. Prior to that, Scippio worked as a group research manager at Del Monte, and research manager at General Foods, now part of Kraft.
Kismet Loftin-Bell, a 38-year-old consultant who currently teaches political science at Forsyth Tech and Surry Community College, said she can relate to the financial challenges of East Ward residents from firsthand experience.
“I am the East Ward,” she said during an interview at Krankies. “I understand what it’s like to be a child going home to little food. I understand what it’s like to be a young mother. I understand what it means to be disappointed. I understand what it means to be a single parent…. I understand what it means to be under-employed and unemployed, to be seen but overlooked, to be praised but passed over for promotion, to be hustling but never quite making ends meet…. To be told I have too many skills, but not the right skills…. I know what it feels like to feel violated, to have car break-ins in the neighborhood and… to be woken up by gunshots.”
George Redd IV, the 45-year-old program services director at Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County, said he decided to run for the East Ward seat after enrolling in the City of Winston-Salem University. Taking a bus tour across the city, Redd said he was struck by the contrast in comments by the other bus riders, who noted with pride that they shopped or dined at locations on the west side, but made comments like, ‘How do people live this way?’ when they got to the East Ward. Eventually, Redd spoke up, saying, “This part of town is all right. I’m proud of this part of town.”
He said he confided to his wife in March that he was thinking about running for city council. By October, he had finalized the decision.
The slate is rounded out by 60-year-old Phil Carter, who works in the Transformative Learning Department at Forsyth Tech.
Carter has made two previous bids for city council, first in 2009 in the North Ward, where he pulled 25.2 percent of the vote in a three-way contest won by DD Adams, who still represents the ward. And in 2013, Carter took 9.2 percent of the vote in a three-way East Ward contest won by Montgomery. Serving as Forsyth County Democratic Party second vice chair and precinct chair at the time, Carter intervened when rumors surfaced that Montgomery planned to anoint a successor in 2018. Carter insisted that the party should select the replacement through a formal process. After holding a public forum, the party recommended Scippio, whose appointment was ratified through a vote of city council.
“The people of the East Ward need to be brought back into governance,” Carter said. “They need to be positioned where ZIP code doesn’t matter. Genius knows no ZIP code, but opportunity has. [My representation] would be in keeping the people first, being well acquainted with the issues affecting their prosperity, organizing community members and business owners so there’s a wealth accumulation, sustainable housing, and inclusive governance where everybody wins.”
ONHOUSING IN THE EAST WARD
Preserving housing in the East Ward, where elderly residents struggle to keep up with maintenance and investors often buy up properties and convert them to rentals after owners pass away, is a shared concern for candidates.
Scippio said she is motivated to work to revitalize neighborhoods, and to eliminate board-up housing and vacant lots. And she wants to convince young people to buy homes in the East Ward.
Scippio attributed the changes she’s observed in the East Ward over the course of her lifetime — mostly for the worse — to the loss of manufacturing jobs and lack of personal responsibility.
“There was a great energy because of employment,” Scippio said. “Neighbors’ goals were to own a home. Homes were well-maintained. People worked hard. We didn’t have idleness. The homelessness was never evident. There was a strong sense of community. Children were nurtured by neighbors, churches and teachers. They were given expectations and aspirations. That doesn’t exist now.”
Kismet-Bell said she is serving as executor of her grandfather’s estate. She admitted it’s a “learning process and “it can be challenging.” She said she wants to enlist churches and recreation centers to get involved in educating residents about “after-life planning,” so that families can preserve wealth and housing.
“There are a lot of empty homes in the East Ward where the parents have passed away, and the children are not interested in taking on the responsibility,” she said. “They may have moved away. How do we protect them? We do it beforehand…. What’s going to happen? Is a family member going to take it over or donate it?”
Redd said serving on city council would be a natural extension of his work for Habitat for Humanity. One housing solution, he said, is a city program that’s already in place. TURN, an acronym of Transforming Urban Residential Neighborhoods, provides financial assistance to low- and moderate-income households, both owner-occupied and investor-owned, to make repairs.
“If elected as city council member, I will make sure everyone knows about the program,” he said.
Carter said, if elected, he would like Winston-Salem to implement something similar to the city of Chattanooga’s property tax relief program, which uses state funds to absorb the cost of any property tax increase for elderly, disabled and veteran homeowners whose annual incomes fall below a certain threshold. If necessary, Carter said, the city should lobby state lawmakers for legislation to enable such a program.
The East Ward is roughly split in two by Salem Lake. The subdivisions beyond the lake run as far as Glenn High School. The older portion of the ward, closer to downtown, includes both the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter and inner-city areas that were doubly devastated by redlining in the 1930s and urban renewal in the late 1960s. The contrast between the booming Innovation Quarter west of Highway 52 and the depressed areas to the east presents a challenge for the ward. Before he retired from the city council to serve in the state House, Montgomery shepherded the East End Plan, an effort to boost investment east of Highway 52 while protecting the area from gentrification. Under the plan, city council agreed to allocate $3 million in economic bond funds to SG Atkins Community Development Corp. for land-banking purposes. But Scippio was not comfortable with the plan, and at her prompting city council put it on hold.
The problem she had with land-banking, Scippio said, is that it wouldn’t deliver an immediate and tangible result to residents.
“I want a wow project,” she said.
Scippio said she asked SG Atkins CDC to bring back a new proposal.
“They will be coming forward with a real project,” she said. “We would invest the entire $3 million in one property. Hopefully, we’ll be announcing something soon.”
Loftin-Bell said it’s important to get the project back on track, so the ward doesn’t lose out on the funds. And she supports the partnership with SG Atkins CDC because, she said, it gives the city leverage to ensure that the ward gets the right kind of development.
“It’s necessary to protect our interests,” she said. “Then we can put in policies setting the guidelines for the kind of development we want: Are your employees coming from the district? Do they have adequate transportation?”
Redd articulated a similar position.
“I thought Derwin Montgomery had a great idea with the East End Master Plan,” he said. “We need to put that back on the table so we can have some say.”
But Redd said the public-input process leading up to the approval of the master plan wasn’t adequate.
“The city and SG Atkins should bring residents to the table to work out an amicable solution,” he said.
Carter said he would rather see the $3 million broken into $65,000 allotments to renovate houses in the ward. But he noted that would still only cover 46 houses.
“I would like for us to be able to do that, and more,” he said. “It can’t be a one-time event. That wouldn’t be enough.”
ON CRIME AND POLICING
While acknowledging that some residents are distrustful of the police or afraid to report crime because of fear of retaliation from neighbors, the candidates for the East Ward to varying degrees emphasized building a stronger partnership with the department.
Scippio said she often finds herself relaying concerns from residents to the police.
“Tell me, and I can get the police involved,” she said. “But it really helps our police if we get more firsthand witnesses.”
Redd is the grandson of one of the first black officers to serve on the Winston-Salem Police Department. His uncle, Donnell Oliver Redd, is a retired assistant chief. He wants to promote more dialogue between young people of color and the police. It’s work that Redd has already undertaken: He organized an etiquette class through Habitat for Humanity, and brought in Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough to talk about leadership.
“Training is a big part of it,” Redd said. “How to deal with situations…. People make assumptions about police officers that they’re bad. That’s not true. Police officers want to do their job, and they want to go home to their families.”
Loftin-Bell said she is concerned about racial profiling, but the solution to breaking down preconceptions is more community policing so that officers get to know people before trouble comes.
“At a recent public forum, I stood up and said, ‘Come visit me, so when you see my son in the street, you’ll know who he is,’” she said.
Loftin-Bell co-directed a summer youth-employment program funded by the city and operated by the Winston-Salem Urban League. During that time, she said she brought Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson in to speak to the participants.
“As we improve the relationship of the police department to the black community, can we also improve the diversity of the police department?” Loftin-Bell asked. “That will help address bias and racial profiling. People with lived experience can learn from each other and check each other.”
Carter said he has also facilitated meetings between residents and the police. He said the city needs to hire more officers to fill a deficit, and that greater communication will ensure that officers are assigned to the places with the highest need.
“We need to make sure our policemen are open to dialogue,” Carter said. “It is the wisdom of the people that guides how they patrol the community. The people know their community. They know them better than the police.”