by Eric Ginsburg
With only a few days remaining to file, there are so few candidates for Greensboro City Council that there is a strong chance there will be no primary election in October. Instead, contenders would move directly to a general election in November.
It looks like almost nobody, except the incumbents, wants to serve on Greensboro City Council.
There are a few potential factors as to why only seven challengers have filed to run for nine seats on council as of press time Tuesday afternoon, including a confusing sequence of events that would have radically altered this year’s election process and districts as well as a possible satisfaction with current representation. A changed filing time causing a shorter period between filing and the election can’t have helped either. But regardless of the causes, there is a strong chance that when filing ends, there won’t be enough candidates to require a primary.
Challengers, most of them first-time candidates, have filed in four of the five districts, two at-large for three existing seats and one to compete for mayor. All but one incumbent already put their name in to run for re-election, and the remaining councilman has said he will before filing ends at noon on Friday.
In order for there to be a primary, the number of candidates running for a given seat must exceed double the number of seats available in a given race. So with only two candidates for a seat, the contest would skip the Oct. 6 primary and go straight to the general election on Nov. 3.
With three at-large positions, that race would need seven candidates to require a primary. Right now, even counting Councilman Mike Barber who hasn’t yet filed, there are a mere five. Three candidates in any other race would create a primary, but right now no contests meet that threshold.
Two newcomers filed to run for city council at-large, joining incumbents Marikay Abuzuaiter and Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson in the struggle for one of the three citywide council seats. Barber told Triad City Beat his filing was delayed because he was out of the country last week when filing began.
One of the two first-time candidates is Marc Ridgill, a retired 29-year veteran of the Greensboro Police Department. Ridgill, a lifelong Guilford County resident who also writes longwinded blog posts about local and national politics at marc.ridgillrant.com, said his training in conflict resolution and peer support would be an asset on council.
He describes himself as “one step right of center” but said he has never voted straight-party ticket; he is registered unaffiliated and votes in Republican primaries, according to his public voter history.
The only other at-large challenger who had filed by press time was Brian Hoss, a native of the Winston-Salem area who moved to Greensboro a little more than a year ago. Hoss, 31, works at Finnigan’s Wake Irish Pub in downtown Winston-Salem as a server and manager, and wants to see downtown Greensboro flourish as the Camel City has.
“For a city as big as Greensboro it’s a very sad reality that there’s nothing going on in downtown Greensboro,” he said. “It’s kind of a shell of what city council wants it to be. That’s the main reason why [I’m running].”
He would be the first openly gay Greensboro City Council member if elected, and he wants to use the position to help make the city safer and more welcoming for LGBT residents. Hoss, who described himself as a “regular, working-class person who wants to make a difference,” dropped out of Appalachian State University after three years, he said, but has toyed with the idea of pursuing a real estate license.
Little information is publicly available about Thessa Pickett and Maureen Washington, who are challenging incumbents in district races. Pickett, a Democrat who is running against Councilman Jamal Fox in District 2 in east and northeast Greensboro, says on Facebook that she has served on a commission on the status of women subcommittee and a human relations commission committee. She is a case manager with the Housing First Team of Guilford County, according to Facebook.
Washington, who is registered unaffiliated, in challenging conservative Councilman Tony Wilkins in District 5 covering the southwestern and western part of Greensboro, the city’s most Republican-leaning district. A booklife.com profile says Washington is the author of Life on Purpose and identifies her as a business entrepreneurship student at NC A&T University, but the school couldn’t immediately find her among its registered students. The online profile also says Washington is a podcaster and business owner.
Neither could be reached for comment.
As of press time, Councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann had not attracted a challenger in District 4, making her the only incumbent without an opponent. Sal Leone, a perennial candidate, is the only person running against Mayor Nancy Vaughan, and said before he might run just to give Vaughan a hard time and raise some meaningful issues. Leone is not, by any stretch of the imagination, expected to pose a serious problem for the mayor.
But the District 1 and 3 races promise to be interesting.
A rematch between former councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small and Councilwoman Sharon Hightower, who won last election and unseated Bellamy-Small in District 1 by only a dozen votes, is a true toss-up. As of press time, there are no other candidates in the race.
There is no true incumbent in District 3 — Justin Outling was appointed by council last month to fill out the remainder of Zack Matheny’s council term after the latter resigned to become the CEO of Downtown Greensboro Inc. Outling, a lawyer with Brooks Pierce and the former chair of the city’s minimum housing commission, wants to hold the seat, and will be running his first election this fall.
Challenging him is right-leaning Kurt Collins, a city human relations commissioner who said he started paying attention to city politics during the controversial noise ordinance debates. Collins, who serves with Outling on the leadership committee of the SynerG young professionals group, aligned himself with Matheny’s politics and leadership style.
There are similarities between the two besides their work together at SynerG; Collins said both are younger than most on council, chose to make Greensboro home and may have overlapping visions for the city. But he said the two might have different ways of going about it, adding that he may be more conservative.
Triad City Beat will provide extensive coverage of this fall’s Greensboro City Council election, with or without a primary. Check back next week for a detailed look at one of the most competitive races this election season.
Update (Aug. 6 at 9 a.m.): Councilman Mike Barber did file yesterday. He was the only candidate to do so, meaning that thus far there will still be no primary election in October.