Jim Kee, who is contending with Goldie Wells for the District 2 seat on Greensboro City Council in the Nov. 7 general election, has long touted his role as a developer as an asset to promoting economic development and bringing jobs to the predominantly African-American district, which is challenged by median incomes about 50 percent of their counterparts on the west side.
Kee secured 20.6 percent of the vote in the primary compared to the 54.0 percent garnered by Wells, a beloved community organizer. He has an uphill battle to win the seat.
Today, Kee changed his voter registration from Democrat to Republican. It’s not clear what if any strategic benefit he gains from the move: There are 3,273 registered Republicans in District 2, constituting only 7.9 percent of the electorate. Still, considering the district’s anemic turnout in recent elections there are more registered Republicans in the district than voters who supported Jamal Fox, the winning candidate in the past two elections. Kee could not be reached for this story.
Kee’s decision to change his registration is consistent with his support of a scheme proposed by Republican state Sen. Trudy Wade to restructure Greensboro elections, which would have created city council districts with a mayor that only voted to break ties. A federal judge overturned the plan earlier this year, finding that it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and the “one-person-one-vote” principle by packing registered Democrats into a few districts and maximizing Republican candidates’ prospects for success. Kee recently defended the plan, arguing that it provides racial equity by guaranteeing four seats to black candidates and four seats to white candidates. The city council currently has four black council members and four white council members, in addition to a mayor who is white.
Kee’s rhetoric on economic development, stressing reducing the cost of government, during the campaign has also resonated with Republican themes. During a candidate forum hosted by the Greensboro Neighborhood Congress on Monday, Kee said, “We’ve been trying to sustain this city on increased fees and taxation,” said Kee, who previously represented District 2 on city council from 2009 to 2013. “You can’t sustain a city like Greensboro on that methodology. When I was on city council I led the council to decrease your water bill and your property tax rate.”
He went on to argue that Greensboro, particularly the predominantly African-American east side, can’t compete with Alamance County, its neighbor to the east.
“For the last four years the water bill’s gone up and also taxes,” Kee said. “We have one of the highest property tax rates in the state of North Carolina. That’s a deterrent to investment in Greensboro. You look at Alamance County, Burlington: Over the last several years, they’ve been really eating our lunch. Sheetz Corporation built a distribution center in Burlington, creating thousands of jobs. Lidl — the new German grocery chain that’s coming to North Carolina — they’re building a distribution center in Mebane.
“Now, why are they not building in east Greensboro or in Greensboro?” he asked. “Because, first of all, an acre of commercial property in east Greensboro is $30,000. An acre of commercial property in west Greensboro is $130,000. So it costs too much to do business in Greensboro. We don’t have the infrastructure in place to do business in east Greensboro. So we have to put money into infrastructure instead of putting $39 million into the performing arts center of taxpayer money that should have gone to east Greensboro.”