by Jordan Green
Two first-term candidates in wards 5 and 6 face challengers, albeit with different ideas about the best direction for the city.
Jim Davis is running for a second term as the city council representative of Ward 5, but in the meantime he holds the extra responsibility of serving out Bernita Sims’ unfinished term as mayor.
After Sims abruptly resigned from office on Sept. 10 before entering a guilty plea to a felony, Davis assumed her official duties by virtue of being mayor pro tem. Five days later, his fellow council members voted to officially name him mayor.
“I went from a council member to mayor pro tem to mayor in 21 months,” said Davis, a homebuilder with conservative political views and an easygoing personality. “I’m so proud of my leadership.”
He said he’s enjoying serving as mayor, adding that “sometime in the future” he would consider running for city’s top elected position. In the meantime, if he’s re-elected to the Ward 5 seat, he’ll work with a new mayor when a council is seated in December.
Davis noted that in his two years on council the city has not raised taxes, and this year implemented a slight decrease, while cutting the overall budget and allocating an additional $400,000 for street repair.
“The fact that we can provide all these services with a tax decrease is my proudest accomplishment,” he said.
Davis’ challenger in this year’s nonpartisan municipal election is Roger Sims, an insurance agent who is promoting investment in High Point’s core, both to bind the northern tier comprised of wards 5 and 6 to the rest of the city and to boost property values.
“In wards 5 and 6 we’re not a separate entity, we’re not a separate municipality; we’re part of High Point,” Sims said during an interview at Panera Bread. “I live up here. Is it quicker for me to go to downtown Winston-Salem or Greensboro? No, I don’t think so. High Point’s a small town. The community spirit of this town would warrant a gathering place, a place where we can get together, encourage each other and spend dollars with each other.”
Taking his cues from urban planner Andrés Duany and City Project, Sims said he believes that “gathering place” is Uptowne. Sims said he also supports one of Duany’s specific recommendations for revitalizing Uptowne — reducing the number of lanes, or “dieting” North Main Street.
Davis antagonized many revitalization supporters when he voted with the majority of council to reassign City Project Executive Director Wendy Fuscoe to position with broader, less focused responsibilities coordinating with nonprofit leaders on a variety of initiatives within the Core City.
“Most people I’ve talked to are not opposed to dieting a street,” Davis said. “But they’re not sure this is the right street. I have come to believe that myself.” He added that Kivett Drive and English Road, two east-west thoroughfares that intersect Main Street just north of the railroad tracks, might be better candidates.
“We have a major announcement on our horizon,” he said. “This council has been working diligently on revitalization. There are things we can’t talk about because we’ve got to put together the deals. When you know what it is, English Road and Kivett Drive will make a lot more sense.”
Real estate broker Jason Ewing is also seeking his second term on council. Jim Corey, a retired political-science professor at High Point University, had served only one term in 2012, when Ewing wrested the seat from him in an election decided by only 305 votes.
Like Jim Davis, his fellow candidate in Ward 5, Ewing ran on a platform of fiscal restraint and efficient government, and capitalized on voter discontent over a 1.3-cent tax increase.
Seeking vindication, Corey has recast himself as a fiscal conservative. The candidate expressed skepticism about a proposal to “diet” North Main Street through the Uptowne area to make it more appealing to pedestrians.
“I get the impression it’s just for the furniture market,” he said. “I don’t know if you dieted Main Street how attractive it’s going to be year round. People’s habits have changed. Taking a stroll down Main Street is not something people do anymore.”
Corey’s resistance to the street-dieting proposal largely aligns him with his opponent, who voted against a traffic impact study on the basis that it didn’t look at the section of North Main Street closer to downtown where his office is located. Ewing has also said that any significant investment in a street-dieting plan that required a bond referendum would divide the city and likely go down in defeat.
Corey dismissed the idea that by investing in revitalization the city can increase its tax base over the long run and over time ease the tax burden on citizens.
“There’s nothing the city can do to prop up falling property values,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of spending on nice things. Spending is going to have to tighten up.”
He also batted away the notion that High Point needs to offer a quality of life that is competitive with Winston-Salem and Greensboro to attract and retain talent.
“We need to try to identify what quality of life people are expecting,” he said. “I think they would like to have a life free of crime. If they need help, they would like for an ambulance to show up at their door rather quickly. They want to be able to shop without getting mugged. I don’t think people go out to the movies that often anymore. They have cable TV and internet. That’s their quality of life.”
Ewing said if elected to a second term, he wants to continue to reduce property taxes, encourage more of “can-do attitude” in how the planning department handles permitting and inspections, get more affordable housing built across the city and align the city’s transportation system to the needs of businesses on the north end and workers in the core city.
Corey said he plans to hit Ewing with a mailer of his own that contrasts his education (he holds a doctorate) with Ewing’s (he attended college, but didn’t graduate). “If you want to buy or rent a house, Jason may be your man,” the mailer reads. “If you want to be represented in local government, Jim Corey is your choice.”
Ewing appeared unfazed by the slight. “Jim raised property taxes both years on the council,” he said. “I didn’t support a budget last year that did not decrease taxes but added a fee. This year we reduced taxes. Education level is only as good as how you apply your education.”