A community meeting at a recreation center in northeast Greensboro on Thursday evening provided an arena for a sharp-elbowed generational clash to determine the leadership of District 2, with candidates’ backers lodging pointed questions to opponents and sometimes shouting each other down.
Held at Peeler Recreation Center, the meeting of Concerned Citizens of NE Greensboro was billed as an opportunity for residents to meet candidates for the District 2 seat. Goldie Wells, who formerly served as president of the organization, had several loyalists in the room, but her opponent CJ Brinson swamped the meeting with about 15 supporters, whose questions and reactions set the tone for event.
“You need someone who can feel the urgency of these issues,” said Brinson, a 28-year-old Black Lives Matter activist. “Some folks can’t feel the urgency because they may be in the golden experience of their lives. There is an urgency that exists that people my age, a little bit older and younger are feeling. They don’t feel the hope that maybe you felt before. I’m scared to death for my daughters to be in any interaction with police. And I’m definitely scared for my son, who is coming into this world.”
Wells, a veteran community leader who helped found Concerned Citizens in 1998 and served previously on city council from 2005 to 2009, owned the slight from her opponent.
“I’m so glad that a young person like CJ can cause you to get involved,” Wells said, addressing Brinson’s supporters. “My name is Goldie — you heard something about golden. So I will not campaign like the others because I’ve been there campaigning. You promise people and you can’t do it.”
Wells added that she took a more ambitious approach when she first ran for the seat in 2005.
“I came out gung ho, and I wanted to see things change,” she said. “And I did see some changes. But I realized I was only one person on that council. Therefore I can’t make a lot of promises to change council because there are eight other people. Now, what I do promise is that I will be faithful to this community as I have been since 1998.”
Wells was appointed by a unanimous vote of city council to fill the unexpired term of Councilman Jamal Fox, who resigned to take a job with the city of Portland in Oregon, on July 18. Three days later she filed as a candidate for the next term, which runs through 2021.
Wells said after the forum that she decided to join the race “because of the people who are running,” adding, “I didn’t hear them saying they were trying to carry on what Jamal was doing. They were far removed from the community. I’ve been here and I did not want to see the community regress.”
Wells highlighted one of the signature developments in District 2 under Fox’s tenure as representative of District 2 since 2013.
“Right now we have the largest development in the city with Revolution Mill,” Wells said.
Brinson argued that the redevelopment of Revolution Mill doesn’t benefit the district’s black working-class residents.
“No longer should we do development that benefits corporations and leaves the community behind,” he said. “In my estimation, Revolution Mill was not a good plan. So many people in that community are going to be dispossessed because they won’t be able to keep up with the tax base.”
While Wells held the floor, Brinson’s supporters peppered her with questions about how many black people are employed by the businesses in Revolution Mill, whether businesses recruited by the city provide living-wage jobs and what she would do about racist policing.
During one exchange, Black Lives Matter leader April Parker interjected, “White owned,” when Wells noted that craft brewer Natty Greene’s has recently opened a new brewpub at Revolution Mill.
Nikki Mintz, who is white, picked up the thread.
“When you got black people that live here and you got businesses that come that people aren’t interested in, doesn’t benefit their families, isn’t a place of interest at all, not for your community, your culture, your experience, what was the point in bringing it?” Mintz asked. “So that I can go?”
Wells responded: “Just think: Somebody worked to build it. If you go there, you are increasing the income. If I do not go there, it doesn’t mean that wasn’t a good project.”
At one point, Wells responded to a complaint about black underemployment by saying, “We realize this country’s DNA is racist. So deal with the reality, and figure out how we’re going to overcome those things. But we cannot use it as an excuse.”
Wells’ supporters hazed Brinson in equal measure.
“I don’t know how long you’ve been in this community, but this is my first time seeing you,” Georgeanna Womack said. “And a lot of projects that we had going on I didn’t see you anytime. I don’t even know if you supported us. Your people — the people you brought with you — they know what you’ve done. But I’ve been in this community going on 40-some years. And this is the first time I’ve heard your name. So your people can clap on you, but what about us that have been here?”
Brinson responded by saying that he’s been a member of the Renaissance Community Co-op for two years, that he’s spent the past six months working as a community organizer to promote police accountability in the Dejuan Yourse and Jose Charles cases, and that he’s collaborated with local barber Gene Blackmon on a campaign against community violence.
Jim Kee, a developer who served on city council from 2009 to 2013, highlighted his role as a businessperson as an essential asset in addressing northeast Greensboro’s economic and social challenges.
“I have a proven record of working with all businesses — majority businesses, small businesses and minority businesses — to bring jobs to Greensboro,” Kee said. “That will abate a lot of the crime. If people have money in their pockets they don’t need to go out and rob.”
Kee’s support for a plan proposed by Republican state Sen. Trudy Wade to restructure Greensboro elections did not come up during the event. He said afterwards he has no regrets about signing on as a defendant-intervener in a lawsuit challenging the plan. A federal judge struck down the plan, calling it “a ‘skewed, unequal redistricting’ intentionally designed to create a partisan advantage by increasing the weight of votes of Republican-leaning voters and decreasing the weight of votes of Democratic-leaning voters.”
Kee said he liked the plan because it guaranteed that black candidates would hold four out of eight seats, not counting the mayor.
“It was the perfect plan,” he said. “It had four minority seats, and four majority seats, with the mayor only voting to break a tie. What could be more fair than that?”
Felicia Angus said during the Concerned Citizens meeting that she was withdrawing because of family obligations. Tim Vincent, who also filed for the seat, did not show up for the event.
The three remaining candidates presented strikingly different emphases on law enforcement and violent crime.
“We can’t continue to believe that more police is going to stop crime,” Brinson said. “If you find any research you find that is not the case. We have to put measures in place to hold our police accountable for individuals like Jose Charles, who was 15 and was assaulted by the police, and lives right here in the district. There are other methods to reduce crime — workforce programs, apprenticeship programs. In New York they have ‘cure violence’ programs where the city invests and sends out interveners into the community so that they can intervene on behalf of violence and treat violence as a health issue as opposed to criminalizing those who are impoverished in the community and find themselves in situations where they have to be involved in the illicit trade to provide resources for themselves.”
Wells lamented that 13 out of the 23 homicides in Greensboro this year to date have occurred in District 2.
“The other thing that bothers me is that the suspects or the people who they think caused it are all black,” she said. “So it’s all black on black.”
Wells specifically directed her remarks to April Parker.
“Economics is our problem,” she said. “We don’t have jobs. We don’t have the income. So what happens to our young people, young men 16 to 25? They want to make money. So someone comes along and says, ‘You can make money fast selling drugs.’ Then they’re selling drugs. Then they got guns. Then they’ve got drug deals and things go wrong. Then they start shooting at each other. And then we’ve got crime. But it all goes back to economics…. Everybody didn’t go to college that’s in Greensboro. But people can do construction jobs and make good money.
“When you live in an oppressed society for so long… when you feel like you can’t meet up to the standard, you feel depressed,” Wells added. “So you start turning on each other, because you feel like, I can’t do anything about this, but I’m gonna do something.”
Kee gave credit to Brinson for raising concerns about police-community relations.
“There’s no question about it — the disparity between the police department and the African-American community,” he said. “All over the country, not just in Greensboro. We have to make sure we are addressing that because we had a major situation in 1979 and we don’t want a reoccurrence of that. I want to make sure that your kids are safe, my kids and my grandkids.”