Greensboro, High Point city council candidates line up to run

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Jay Wagner is one of three candidates for mayor in High Point. (photo by Jordan Green)

High-profile candidates for mayor emerge in High Point, while challengers push against incumbents from the left in Greensboro.

It’s still early — the filing period for Greensboro and High Point city council elections remains open through July 21 — but the general outlines of the two nonpartisan elections are starting to take shape.

Voters in both cities will go to the polls for the Oct. 10 primary, which will winnow the candidates down to two per seat, and then voters will make their final choices in the Nov. 7 general election.

High Point residents can count on the certainty of having a new mayor, although the contenders are seasoned politicians.

Mayor Bill Bencini, who has served only one term, announced that he won’t seek reelection. A former city council member and Guilford County commissioner, Bencini was elected mayor in 2014 after a period of instability in which former Mayor Bernita Sims resigned before pleading guilty to a felony worthless check charge, and citizens expressed discontent about the council’s ambivalence towards urban revitalization. Council members voted to appoint Councilman Jim Davis to finish out Sims’ term.

Jay Wagner, a two-term councilman, and Bruce Davis, a former county commissioner, have filed for mayor. Jim Davis, a conservative voice on council, said he planned to file for mayor on Wednesday.

Wagner said he wants to continue the progress made under Bencini’s leadership, which includes plans to build a multi-use stadium as a catalyst project, outdoor enhancements at the High Point Library and a blight-reduction initiative.

“I think we’ve reached the point where the city, the general public, the business community and High Point University are all on the same page,” Wagner said. “We’re not arguing about whether to do it anymore. We’re arguing — to the extent that there’s any argument at all — about how best to do it. We have buy-in from all these parties. I’m the person who has the confidence of all those groups.”

Bruce Davis was the Democratic nominee in the 13th Congressional District in 2016, but lost to Republican Ted Budd in the GOP-leaning district. Davis left the possibility of another congressional bid open in announcing his candidacy for mayor on July 9. “One day in the near future I will run again for Congress; however, there is a pressing call for me to seek the High Point mayor’s seat,” he wrote on Facebook. “I hope that all of my supporters understand that this was a tough decision but necessary and the most logical choice at this time.”

Davis chairs the High Point Convention & Visitors Bureau, where he has helped shape the downtown stadium plan. He has also spoken out on the rise in homicides in the city, and criticized police Chief Kenneth Shultz and City Manager Greg Demko for not attending a High Point NAACP meeting called in late April to address the matter.

The top of the ticket in Greensboro looks more stable.

In two terms as mayor, Nancy Vaughan has presided over continued downtown revitalization, although the signature Tanger Performing Arts Center is running far behind schedule. She and her colleagues on city council have faced greater challenges on the issue of police accountability. Advocates for reform have faulted council members for a perceived lack of transparency, while others have grumbled that Vaughan hasn’t exercised adequate control over city council meetings disrupted by protesters.

To date, Vaughan has attracted one challenger: a general contractor named John Brown who has assailed the current council and city staff in a bombastic series of videos that generally feature a conservative slant. Two other would-be rivals have opted to stand down. Robbie Perkins, a one-term mayor who was unseated by Vaughan in 2013, has said he doesn’t plan to run. And Mike Barber, a longtime councilman and former Guilford County commissioner who has generally staked out more conservative stances than Vaughan, filed to run for re-election at large.

Barber is joined by incumbents Yvonne Johnson and Marikay Abuzuaiter in seeking reelection to the three at-large seats. Four newcomers who have either filed or announced plans to run — Dave Wils, Jodi Bennett-Bradshaw, Michelle Kennedy and Lindy Garnette — are running to the left of the incumbents, pledging to increase police oversight while emphasizing social justice and human rights. Marc Ridgill, a retired police officer who placed fourth in the at-large balloting two years ago, said he decided against running this time because he plans to move out of the city in the middle of the next term.

Meanwhile, the at-large race in High Point — with two seats up for grabs — remains unsettled. Latimer Alexander IV, who currently serves at large, said that having given 13 of the last 15 years to elected public service, he wants to give others “a chance to serve.” He said he’s not supporting any particular candidate at this time, but might weigh in later in the campaign.

Don Scarborough, a retired administrator at High Point University and political newcomer, is the first candidate for file for an at-large seat.

Scarborough said reducing violence is one of his priorities.

“I think my role in that would be to re-enter some of those [low-income] areas and find out what they need,” he said. “It’s easy for me to say, ‘We need to do this, that and the other,’ but it may not be what these communities want to do. Our role is to be the ear and help them implement the things that can help them to live a better life.”

Cynthia Davis, who was elected to her first term as an at-large council member in 2014, said she’s been preoccupied with her mother’s health and hasn’t decided whether to run for reelection. “I probably will,” she said, “but I’m not sure when I’m going to find the time to go down and file my paperwork.”

A fiscal conservative and advocate for economically challenged areas of the city, Davis has expressed skepticism about economic development initiatives like the multi-use stadium, butting heads with Mayor Bencini over the past three years.

Most of the district races in Greensboro have attracted candidates.

Most notably, four candidates — CJ Brinson, Tim Vincent, Felicia Angus and Jim Kee — have stepped forward in a bid to replace Councilman Jamal Fox, who announced he wouldn’t run for reelection and would resign before the completion of his term. (City council will vote on an appointment to replace Fox on July 18.)

In District 1, Paula Ritter-Lipscomb is challenging incumbent Sharon Hightower.

Two candidates — Gary Kenton and Joe Schuler — have announced they’ll run against incumbent Nancy Hoffmann in District 4.

Councilman Tony Wilkins, a conservative who currently represents District 5, has said “most likely” he will run for the same seat, while leaving the door open for a potential mayoral bid. Three other candidates, Tammi Thurm, Sal Leone and Tanner Lucas, have already filed for the seat.

Justin Outling, who currently represents District 3, was the only contender who’d filed for the seat at press time.

In High Point, the candidate list is somewhat sparser: Ward 1 Councilman Jeff Golden, Ward 2 Councilman Chris Williams and Ward 6 Councilman Jason Ewing — all incumbents — were the only candidates to file for their respective seats at press time.

Alyce Hill, who was elected to the Ward 3 seat in 2014, has opted to not run for reelection. Monica Peters, a revitalization proponent who launched the We “Heart” High Point” and founded the EbFest Music Festival and Maker Fair, has filed to run for the seat with Hill’s blessing.

Jay Wagner currently holds the Ward 4 seat, and his bid for mayor opens the position up for competition. Jim Bronnert — who served previously on the parks and recreation commission and ran unsuccessfully against Wagner in 2014 — and Wesley Hudson are seeking the seat.

Two candidates — Vic Jones and Deric D. Stubbs — have filed for the Ward 5 seat that is being vacated by Councilman Jim Davis, who is running for mayor.

Lauren Barber contributed reporting for this story.