Mayoral challengers jockey to survive primary


GSOnews.Forumby Eric Ginsburg

In a candidate forum organized by the League of Women Voters, three mayoral contenders, including incumbent Nancy Vaughan, outlined why they would be the best one for the job.

Nobody who is paying attention could confuse the three candidates to be the mayor of Greensboro.

Nancy Vaughan, the one-term incumbent with a long history of service on city council beginning in the ’90s, is emphasizing whenever she can how smoothly the current city council runs. Like other incumbent candidates this season, she talks regularly about how council addresses numerous important issues such as food insecurity rather than being bogged down in fruitless debates about minutia. Things that might have been controversial with previous city councils — such as the approval of a historical marker for the Greensboro Massacre — haven’t tripped them up, she said, and her leadership deserves some of the credit.

Sal Leone
Sal Leone

Sal Leone, a police officer who has run unsuccessfully for state House and Greensboro City Council in the past, repeatedly stated at a candidate forum organized by the League of Women Voters last week that he will offer something different.

Repeating the mantra, “Talk is cheap; it’s time for action,” Leone echoed past criticisms of the mayor and council that the city isn’t doing enough to support economic development in the eastern part of the city. The city is continuing a trend of focusing too much on downtown, he said, to the detriment of east Greensboro, which he suggested should have been selected as the site for a new performing arts center and a hotel.

At 27, political newcomer Devin King is the youngest candidate in the race. He didn’t take much time to introduce himself at the forum, instead diving into thanking God, military personnel and first responders before stating that he’s running because of the city’s poverty rate, taxes and the need for a mayor who doesn’t come to work late and leave early, though he didn’t attack Vaughan by name.

Devin King
Devin King

King put his name in to run during the final moments of filing this summer, and at the time he billed himself as a populist. The Cleveland native moved here from Michigan in 2010, he said, and he loves how much culture Greensboro boasts. But he and his wife are “everyday citizens” who are hardworking, on food stamps and who can’t afford daycare for their son.

“There are so many things we could do in a short amount of time to turn this city around,” King said at the time, explaining that he thinks the city could do much more to bring manufacturing jobs back, implement job-training programs and support existing small businesses.

In the forum, he provided few specific examples of how he would go about accomplishing such things, though he restated the need for simplified job-training programs. During a question about dealing with municipal solid waste, King said he’s already been in touch with a company that can burn trash and turn it into electricity. But he added that he wouldn’t share the name of the company because he doesn’t want to give away his idea.

King spent a significant portion of his time assailing the mayor directly and indirectly, at one point eliciting gasps from the crowd and at another, drawing the mayor into a brief back and forth about her position on food deserts. The crowd murmured most when he addressed an audience question about how to keep the International Civil Rights Center & Museum viable.

King proposed moving the contents of the museum to the existing city-run Greensboro Historical Museum several blocks away and using the former Woolworth’s building where the sit-in movement began for a more profitable enterprise. Something else there would “liven up the property,” he said, adding that only negatives have come from the city’s financial investment in the museum.

Leone took a different approach, saying that the city and press have been far too hard on the museum and arguing that there is a double standard for the museum and the city-run Greensboro Coliseum.

“The coliseum loses money every year and nobody talks about that,” Leone said, adding that “the museum needs private dollars” to survive.

Audience members frequently nodded to concur with Vaughan’s responses and expressed the most support when she talked about funding more green spaces and parks as a way to encourage infill development and stunt sprawl. In addition to singing the praises of council’s accomplishments during the current two-year term, Vaughan spelled out several ideas for the future such as additional green space and a bond referendum to support more affordable housing in the city.

Nancy Vaughan, right
Nancy Vaughan, right

It would be a shock to any experienced observer of Greensboro’s elections if Mayor Nancy Vaughan didn’t easily clear the Oct. 6 primary hurdle — the real question is whether Leone or King will prevail as her challenger for the November general election. Leone appears to be positioning himself as a tempered counter to Vaughan’s leadership, while at the forum, King’s rhetoric suggested he believes the dissatisfaction with the mayor and council runs much deeper.

But with a quieter election season than normal and low anticipated turnout, either challenger will need a huge surge of grassroots enthusiasm to make any kind of dent in the mayor’s name recognition and support.

Early voting begins Thursday and runs until Oct. 3. The Greensboro City Council primary election will be held on Oct. 6. All registered voters in Greensboro can choose between Nancy Vaughan, Sal Leone and Devin King for mayor. Voters who live in District 3 in the central-northern portion of the city will also vote in a district primary, choosing among Justin Outling, Kurt Collins and Michael Picarelli. In both races, the lowest polling candidate will be eliminated while the other two contenders advance to the Nov. 3 general election. The district races, the at-large contest and the mayor’s race will all appear on the Nov. 3 ballot.