The retirement of a political giant
in the Northeast Ward sets up a closely fought Democratic primary for
succession.

Many have challenged Mayor Pro Tem
Vivian Burke for her seat representing the Northeast Ward on Winston-Salem City
Council.

And many have gone down in defeat.

This is the first election since
1977 that Burke is not seeking reelection, leaving an open field for three
candidates. The winner of the Democratic primary on March 3 in the
majority-African-American ward will be taking the seat, barring a successful
signature drive by an independent candidate.

Although named “Northeast,” the
sprawling ward forms a hood along the northern fringe of the city, abutting
Walkertown and Tobaccoville. The Carver Road corridor anchors its political
base, but it also includes some of the poorest areas of the city, from 14th
Street up to Ogburn Station Shopping Center, along with Smith Reynolds Airport.

Two of the candidates in the Democratic primary are connected to local political legends. A third operates a popular downtown market.

Barbara Hanes Burke is the
daughter-in-law of the ward’s current representative, and the wife of Superior
Court Judge L. Todd Burke. Barbara Hanes Burke is currently serving her first
term on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board.

Morticia “Tee-Tee” Parmon is the
daughter of the late state Sen. Earline Parmon.

Keith King owns Kingz Downtown
Market, and ran unsuccessfully against Vivian Burke in the previous two
elections.

Although named “Northeast,” the sprawling ward forms a hood along the northern fringe of the city, abutting Walkertown and Tobaccoville.

Both Burke and Parmon insist that they’re their own persons, and not riding on the coattails of the matriarchs in their respective families.

“My mother-in-law did an outstanding
job,” Burke said. “I’m not Vivian Burke; I’m Barbara Hanes Burke. I will
definitely be unique.”

Burke, who is 59, noted that she has
a track record of public service of her own, including 30 years of work in
public education. Before winning her seat on the school board in 2018, she
served as an assistant principal at Carver High School. In her first year on
the school board, Burke said she created a community volunteer literacy council
to help improve third-grade reading, successfully lobbied the General Assembly
to withdraw a bill that would have staggered school board elections and
organized a college and career fair, while voting in favor of mandatory
African-American studies and against limiting public comment at school board
meetings (she was on the losing end of both votes).

Parmon, 43, said she grew up in awe
of the black women leaders — she calls them “the Golden Girls” — in her
mother’s orbit. She considers Evelyn Terry, a state representative, as an aunt.
DD Adams, who represents the North Ward on city council, taught her to play
tennis.

“It’s not about me trying to attain
the family legacy,” Parmon said during an interview at Krankies. “My mama made
her own legacy. No one will ever be able to fill her shoes.” But later, she
added, “I was cut from the cloth of the late Sen. Earline Parmon. All I know
how to do is fight for people.”

King, 53, has run Kingz Downtown
Market for 13 years, defying naysayers who told him the business wouldn’t
survive. A couple years ago, he added a lunch counter.

The store is located within a block
of the Clark Campbell Transportation Center, and King said many of his
customers are residents of the Northeast Ward.

“I am on the ground with the
people,” King said during an interview in the cramped office at the back of his
store. “People talk to me. I see how people live. I see eye to eye with them.”

His viability as a candidate is
proven by the fact that he’s already been a contender, King said.

“I have run against the best —
Vivian Burke,” he said, “and I did really well.”

In 2013, King collected about 7,500
signatures to get on the ballot as an independent candidate during the general
election. He won only 14 percent of the vote, but still out-polled Republican
Michael Owens. In contrast to the 7,500 voters who signed a petition to get
King on the ballot, only 1,883 people cast votes in total in the Northeast Ward
race.

Three years later, King ran in the
Democratic primary and won 35.4 percent of the vote, compared to 64.6 percent
by Burke. (In the Democratic primary for the previous election, Burke commanded
53.8 percent of the vote against two challengers.)

All three candidates emphasize education, and say the city needs to form a partnership with the school district to support schools and help improve third-grade reading levels.

Consistent with high levels of poverty, the inner-city portion of the ward is also home to some of the schools with the steepest academic performance challenges, including Ashley Elementary.

Although she has never held elective
office, Parmon has a record of advocacy in education to stack against that of
Barbara Hanes Burke.

For the past four years, local leaders have been talking about a potential deal in which the city would sell land to the school district for a new Ashley Elementary. Replacement of the school was included in an early list of bond projects, but then cut before the referendum went before voters in 2016. In 2017, teachers at the school began complaining that they were getting sick because of exposure to mold.

In September 2019, Parmon addressed
city council, asking why an item to sell land to the school district for a new
Ashley Elementary had been taken off the agenda.

“I’m standing before you tonight,
asking, pleading and even begging if you will please put the sale of the land
for Ashley Elementary School back on the agenda,” Parmon said. “In good
conscience, I would hope that you as a board would see that by not doing so
this continues to put our children’s health at risk and it stops development in
the Northeast Ward.”

Mayor Pro Tem Burke publicly
disputed Parmon’s characterization of the proposal as being taken off the
agenda. But at her prompting, an assistant city manager explained that the city
was yoking the proposed sale to an application by the Housing Authority of
Winston-Salem to replace the Cleveland Avenue Homes public-housing community.

A month later, the item was on the
agenda for the city finance committee, and at the next city council meeting
members voted unanimously to approve the sale of the property for the new
school.

The three candidates take somewhat
different stances on the housing authority’s application to the federal
government for a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant. The agency has been
turned down for the grant three years in a row, and is now applying for the
fourth time. Some residents have expressed concern that the replacement of Cleveland
Avenue Homes will result in displacement of poor people.

King said he’s satisfied with the
assurances that he’s heard from the housing authority.

“As long as the people have
somewhere to go and stay, it’s a good idea to have the federal government put
$30 million into the project,” he said. “Just make sure people have the
opportunity to come back.”

Parmon said she would always be open
to dialogue with the leadership of the housing authority, which frequently
comes before city council seeking financial assistance. But she expressed
skepticism that all of the residents will be able to meet the criteria to move
back in when the new project is completed.

“For those who don’t qualify, where are they gonna go?” she asked. “We already know there’s a shortage of housing.”

Barbara Hanes Burke said she’s
already met with housing authority CEO Larry Woods to discuss the grant
proposal. She said after the agency was turned down during the most recent
grant cycle, she successfully advocated for the grant proposal to expand its
focus to cover more areas of the Northeast Ward.

On many issues, the candidates are
in accord.

All three expressed concern about a
lack of access to healthy food in the ward.

“It’s a food desert,” King said.
“The elderly, disabled and kids have a hard time getting fruits and
vegetables.”

Parmon said the only grocery store
in the Northeast Ward is a Food Lion in the Northside Shopping Center.

King said he wants to try to recruit
a Food Lion to Ogburn Station Shopping Center.

“When we talk about development, the
best they give us is another Dollar General and a liquor store,” Parmon said.
“Those don’t sustain us.”

Burke mused, “It would be wonderful
if we could get some businesses to come to the Northeast Ward, especially a
restaurant that served healthy food.”

Parmon agreed. “We have a lot of
fast food,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of
sit-down-and-eat-healthy-open-up-a-menu type of places.”

All three candidates cited public safety as one the ward’s highest priorities.

Parmon said city leaders need to be
willing to “speak truth to power” on the number of homicides in the city, which
set a 25-year record last year, although only three took place in the Northeast
Ward.

In 2014, voters approved a public
safety bond to fund three police substations, located in the Southeast, North
and Southwest wards. King said he wants to see a substation placed in the
Northeast Ward with 24-hour staffing.

Burke is thinking along the same
lines.

“I believe we’re going to have to
work more closely with law enforcement,” she said. “We have done a great job in
the city of placing police satellite locations. We probably need to increase
that number.”

While the campaign is off to a
spirited start, the tenor has remained respectful, reflecting the intertwined
relationships among candidates.

Parmon said she has known Burke
since she was a student at Carver High School, adding that Burke encouraged her
to run for office, although perhaps not the same one she sought for herself.

“Outside of politics, we actually
have a good relationship,” Parmon said. “Win, lose or draw, after March 3,
we’ll shake hands and wish each other well.”

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