by Jordan Green
While Mayor Bernita Sims’ intentions are unclear, Guilford County Commissioner Bill Bencini has announced plans to run for mayor. If Sims chooses not to run, state Rep. Marcus Brandon has said he might also be interested in the job.
With the filing date for High Point City Council elections looming in early July, Mayor Bernita Sims’ plans remain unclear, but one former council member has already announced that he would like the job.
Filing for the nonpartisan governing board opens on July 7. There’s no primary, and the candidates who earn the largest share of votes will automatically take their seats on council after the November election. That includes mayor, two at-large seats and six ward seats.
Since winning the election to become the city’s first African-American mayor with about a third of the vote, Sims’ first term has been beset by turmoil. Less than a year in she was indicted for allegedly writing a bad check to her sister as part of an estate settlement. The white majority on council asked her to resign in a racially split vote. An unsuccessful effort by black members of council to get a street renamed after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. also prompted a tense debate. The council was more united in a decision to remove the executive director of City Project, whose salary is paid by the city, and reassign her to a position with broader and more diffuse responsibilities. The move angered City Project supporters.
Sims did not return calls for this story.
Urged on by Councilman Jay Wagner after the vote to reassign City Project Executive Director Wendy Fuscoe, several supporters of the initiative vowed to take action at the ballot box during a discussion at High Point Theatre. But if challengers have any intention of overturning the current council’s decision, they aren’t broadcasting it.
Bill Bencini, a former member of High Point City Council who is retiring from the Guilford County Commission after four years to run for mayor, said he regrets that the conflict has developed.
“If I’m fortunate enough to be elected mayor and then regardless of where the City Project goes, I would hope we would go forward with a cooperative spirit,” he said. “I think quieting down the conversation so folks can actually talk about things without getting upset is important.”
Bencini said in an interview that he wants to unite the city behind a single vision.
“We need to look at our city not as disparate sections called ‘wards,’” he said. “We have wards to make sure that representation is geographically dispersed. At the end of the day our leadership has to look at their decisions not just based on feedback from the ward. We have one city not six cities. It starts with the leadership. The leadership needs to understand that we’re making decisions based on not just the interest of any one ward but the overall health and vitality of the entire city.”
State Rep. Marcus Brandon, who recently lost his bid for the 12th Congressional District seat, is considering running for mayor, but only if Sims does not seek reelection. He said that if he were to run, he would use the campaign as a platform to talk about poverty and unifying the city, adding that his status as a newcomer and experience as a state lawmaker would allow him to make a unique contribution.
‘It’s a disgrace what’s going on. There might be nine talented individuals on council, but they never formed as a group.’ — Latimer Alexander
Bruce Davis, also a county commissioner and a thwarted candidate for the 6th Congressional District, said he hasn’t ruled out a run for mayor, but hasn’t had adequate time to think about it.
Britt Moore, who has served two terms at large, said he is leaning towards running for reelection, but he needs to weigh some personal considerations.
Becky Smothers, a former mayor who is also currently serving at large, could not be reached for comment. But two former at-large candidates whose efforts fell short two years ago have announced plans to run for the seats.
Cynthia Davis, who chairs the planning & zoning commission, regularly attends city council meetings and closely followed the budget process this year.
“I would be in city hall 24 hours a day if the doors were open,” Davis said. “That’s how dedicated I am.”
Davis is an advocate for redevelopment of the Core City area, but takes a cautious stance on public investment, emphasizing the need to reduce the tax rate. In the past, she has found herself at odds with sitting council members, but has recently built relationships among the different factions.
“I’ve been available for springboarding ideas,” she said. “That relationship between me and council has been very friendly. I continue to be engaged. Many of them trust me. They seem to value my opinion and thoughts. I think I’ve proven my dedication.”
Edward Squires, who owns and operates a daycare center, said he also plans to run again for one of the at-large seats.
“I think I’m a person who can compromise,” Squires said. “I have a cool head on my shoulders. I see both sides of the issue. I have a good relationship with the current council. It’s about good relationships because you have to work with individuals.”
Squires said he cares about downtown, but isn’t taking a side in the recent dust-up over the city’s relationship with the City Project.
“I need to get more information,” he said. “My goal is to make downtown more vital. To look at the current council you’ve got a lot of council members who are divided against [the City Project].”
Jeff Golden, a first-term councilman who represents Ward 1, said he hasn’t decided whether to seek reelection. He said he’s discussing the decision with his family and trying to determine if he can adjust his work schedule.
“I want to make sure I have time to commit to give it the time that it really deserves,” he said.
Council members Judy Mendenhall, Jim Davis and Jason Ewing all said they intend to seek reelection.
The current disarray on council has prompted Latimer Alexander, a former council member, to consider a bid to reclaim his old at-large seat.
“It’s a disgrace what’s going on,” he said. “There might be nine talented individuals on council, but they never formed as a group. They never recognized that any individual accomplishment in government is done as a group, and they seem splintered in key decisions. While I have no idea what is going on, when I read accounts in the newspaper it looks as if they don’t have good communication and trust skills among each other. When you are a body of nine you have to work with everybody there. Issues can never be personal. This council has allowed them to get real personal.”
While Alexander said he was not familiar with the particulars of the plan drawn up by City Project to revitalize downtown High Point, he said he disagreed with the current council’s vote to reassign Wendy Fuscoe, the organization’s executive director.
“To me, it seems like they are attacking Ms. Fuscoe,” Alexander said. “Ms. Fuscoe as an individual, she doesn’t work for them. She works for the manager. If you want a change, you tell the manager you want a change and the manager changes staff’s objectives. This is completely outside of their authority.”