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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