A Democratic challenger makes a pitch for racial inclusion in her bid to unseat a Republican mayor buoyed by a rising tide of downtown growth and an upsurge of civic pride in High Point’s mayoral election.
Jay Wagner painted an inspirational picture of the city of High Point under his leadership during his concluding remarks at a candidate forum hosted by the city’s chamber of commerce. “Since I’ve been mayor and during my time on council, especially the last five years, I’m so excited because this city has gone from a city where people said, ‘That’ll never happen here,’ to a city that is now saying, ‘What are we gonna do next?’” he said. “And the most gratifying thing to me is just the vibe of this city has changed. We have this attitude now that we can just do anything. And I believe we can do anything, as long as we work together.”
When it came time for Carlvena Foster, Wagner’s opponent, to speak, she asked the moderator to repeat the question. “Concluding statement,” he said. “Oh, I was listening,” Foster said, as she attempted to regain her footing. “It was enthralling, wasn’t it?” Wagner said, displaying a wide grin.
Foster, who is 69, noted that she lived through segregation, building a case that she’s the candidate who can bring inclusion to High Point. “I do credit the business community and the council with all they have been able to do,” she said. “I believe I could bring a different flavor to the council, and continue everything that has already been started. I think I could step into this seat tomorrow, and not miss a beat or lose any of the continuity, but bring this city together so that every citizen across this city can enjoy the same opportunities.”
Notwithstanding her spellbound reaction to Wagner’s closing statement, Foster took several opportunities to differentiate herself from her opponent during the mayoral panel in Business High Point’s candidate forum at High Point Theatre on Thursday [Oct. 24] for the city’s upcoming nonpartisan municipal election. Her first opening came early in the panel when, Wagner, the Republican incumbent, posited that violence is the city’s most pressing issue.
“I do believe that the gun violence in our city is a big difference in this race,” said Foster, who is a Democrat. “As we know, most of the violence, or all of the shootings or killings have been in ZIP code 27260, and they have been people of color. I bring a different perspective because, quite obvious, I am a person of color. So, I am close to what’s happening in the community. I believe that we have to get to the root of the violence in our community. The gun shootings, the murders are all caused by needs in the community. People want to think that they are all gang-related, that they are all drug-related. Most of them are, but a lot of them are not. Some of them are domestic. Some of them are just street fights. Some of them are retaliation.”
As a solution to the program, Foster said city officials “have to devise some kind of a mechanism where people feel safe in pointing out the police, and the authorities what’s happening in the community.” The starkest differences between the two candidates emerged over whether High Point should establish its own school district after 26 years as part of Guilford County Schools.
Noting her previous tenure on the Guilford County School Board, Foster said it wouldn’t be in the city’s best interest to set up its own school district. But she said the city “should come up with a commission that partners with the Guilford County commissioners and the Guilford County Board of Education to identify the needs in High Point, come up with viable solutions on how we can specifically address those needs.”
Wagner said he was glad he had injected the issue into the campaign by asking for a study into the idea. “All of the kids in the public schools here in High Point, they’re our kids,” he said. “And I want to make sure that those kids are getting the best education that they can get, that they can get it in a school building that is well built and well maintained, that they can get it in a school building that is safe, where they do not have to fear for their life when they go to school, that they can do it with qualified teachers who are well paid, and that they are equipped for life when they get out. And the perception of the schools in High Point is that maybe that’s not true.
“And so, what I called for in July was a study, an assessment, that we have to take ownership of our schools in High Point,” Wagner continued. “Even though they’re run by nine people in Greensboro, we own our schools in High Point. We have to take ownership of those kids and make sure they’re getting that education. And the idea of separating from the school system is one option of many. I don’t know what the end result will be. But we’ve got to look into it, and we’ve got to do better.”
Foster also said as mayor she would establish a Minority Women Business Enterprise office with a coordinator to ensure that businesses owned by people of color and women have a fair shot at government contracts, equivalent to the programs in the neighboring cities of Greensboro and Winston-Salem. The initiative was championed by Bruce Davis, a third mayoral candidate who was eliminated in the primary. Responding to the same question about what the city should do to support small business, Wagner said that High Point once boasted a yacht-building operation as an example of the city’s entrepreneurial heritage.
“If you go to the farmer’s market on a Saturday morning you will see people who — they have tabletop businesses, they have garage businesses,” he said. “And we also have people in this city who know how to create businesses and to sell their products worldwide. “We have to continue to reconsider our roots as an entrepreneurial city,” Wagner added. “And the city government under my leadership will support that.”
The two mayoral candidates both said they support three bond referenda on the ballot, including $22 million for streets and sidewalks, $21.5 million for parks and recreation, and $6.5 million for housing. Candidates for the two at-large seats and six ward seats also unanimously expressed support for the bonds.
The four at-large candidates all projected different emphases, even while there are few major issues that divide them. Mason Garner, an unaffiliated candidate who has received the backing of outgoing at-large council member Don Scarborough, said she was inspired to run after helping with her father, Coy Williard’s unsuccessful mayoral campaign in 2012.
“I learned how the city worked, and at that point I was hooked,” Garner recalled. “I said, ‘One day, I want to help make those decisions to make our city a better place.’… I have the passion for our city. I have the ear to listen to what needs to be done for our whole city.”
Tyrone Johnson, a Democrat, said he wants to establish a police substation in an area with a high rate of gun violence. “Also, extending public transportation and hours, and the routes,” he said. “We need to be able to get High Pointers to the jobs.” Johnson also said he would support the creation of a Minority/Women-Owned Enterprise office.
Patrick Harman, an unaffiliated candidate, said his vision for High Point is a city “where people lean on each other, learn from each other and empower each other.” Harman cited the accomplishments his foundation, Hayden-Harman, has made over the past 10 years through partnerships with the city and civil society groups, including opening a park on Washington Street, establishing an after-school program, launching a business association that hosts an annual street festival, assisting with the John Coltrane Jazz & Blues Festival, growing communities gardens and establishing a “micro-food hub.”
Britt Moore, a Republican candidate and the sole incumbent in the race, emphasized economic growth as the top priority for the city. “I’ve always been a big advocate of private-sector growth,” he said. “I think it leads to opportunities that fall over into the other concerns we have, which are safety, jobs, transportation. And they all feed back into a vibrant, inclusive economy that is growing.”
Although all four candidates highlighted violence as a matter of concern, the approaches to addressing the problem articulated by Moore and Harman presented the starkest contrast. Moore called on parents to take more personal responsibility for children with behavioral challenges.
“There’s been a change,” Moore said. “We’ve got a lot of younger people raising younger people. We have the challenges of single-parent families, fathers not active in the family. So, we need to team with our churches, our schools, all those organizations, and early-childhood education, to redirect the narrative and get the kids out on a better path early.”
Harman argued for “a systematic approach.” “One of the things our foundation has started a conversation around is adverse childhood experiences with toxic stress and how that affects children and families,” he said. “It’s an effort of about 10 nonprofit organizations working together to try to figure out how to build a resilient High Point to connect people with resources. Families are going through difficult times and they need a little bit extra, so they can tap into these resources so they can thrive rather than just survive day to day.”
The candidates for the six ward seats agreed on many points, including addressing violence through mentorship programs, drug treatment, support for the police and backing an agency called High Point Community Against Violence to reduce recidivism. Various candidates talked about their involvement in the Greater High Point Food Alliance to reduce food insecurity. And many expressed enthusiasm for the Catalyst Project — the name given to the public investment in a downtown stadium to spur private investment.
Running for the Ward 1 seat vacated by Jeff Golden are Willie H. Davis and Cyril Jefferson, both Democrats. Running for the Ward 2 seat are incumbent Chris Williams and challenger Jerry Mingo, both Democrats. Running for the Ward 3 seat are incumbent Monica Peters, unaffiliated, and Arshad Khan, a Democrat. Running for the Ward 4 seat are incumbent Wesley Hudson, a Democrat, and challenger Jim Bronnert, a Republican. Running for the Ward 5 seat are incumbent Vic Jones and challenger Leah Price, both Republicans. And running for Ward 6 are incumbent Jason Ewing, a Republican, and challenger Michael Holmes, a Democrat.
Election Day is Nov. 5, but early voting is open across Guilford County through Nov. 1.
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