by Eric Ginsburg
In a forum for Greensboro City Council candidates on Monday, two distinct new voices emerged, presenting their visions for the city.
The format of the Greensboro Neighborhood Congress candidate forum on Monday differed from others this election season, fitting more questions into its two-hour program by posing each to just a few candidates rather than the entire slate before moving on. That made it more difficult to directly contrast specific candidates’ positions but opened up space for more detailed answers, giving audience members a fuller sense of each candidate overall.
Portraits of two candidates in particular — newcomers Sylvine Hill and Marc Ridgill, who are both running for citywide office — with whom the public is less familiar came into sharper view.
The forum, held before a full audience at the Central Library downtown, attempted to cover the at-large, or citywide, race as well as the mayoral contest. But the absence of Devin King, who is challenging Mayor Nancy Vaughan, and fellow first-timer Brian Hoss who is running at-large made the discussion lopsided.
Though the mayor is in her first term, she’s a longtime figure on council. And all three at-large incumbents, especially former Mayor Yvonne Johnson, are well known political figures in the city. Even casual observers of city council in the last few years wouldn’t be surprised by the ground staked out by Vaughan, Johnson, or at-large incumbents Marikay Abuzuaiter and Mike Barber, all of whom have served multiple terms on council.
Hill and Ridgill, who each hope to push past an incumbent on Nov. 3, no doubt have networks of their own, but neither is a well-known political figure in Greensboro. Here’s a closer look at the ideas they articulated on Monday so that voters can make an informed decision. Early voting is already underway, and concludes Saturday at 1 p.m.
The 25-year-old Dudley High and UNCG grad talks about the need for more tech and green jobs to bring Greensboro into the 21st Century and keep young people like her in the area. She has previously complimented the current city council and did so again at points on Monday, even hugging a council member after the forum concluded, but she isn’t afraid to stake out her own positions.
“I really want a more progressive Greensboro,” she summarized in her opening statement.
The city is currently in a transitional phase, Hill said, but the council shouldn’t focus as much on downtown, but rather should expand its view to lift up small businesses across the city.
Hill, who is black, addressed a few race-related questions differently than her fellow newcomer Marc Ridgill, at times making remarks similar to populist Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson, the city’s first black mayor.
The city needs to do a better job in hiring diverse employees at the top, she said, especially considering the wide racial diversity of Greensboro that extends far beyond black and white. Hill said she supports the release of police body camera footage to the public in some cases — the release is currently illegal, according to the city — to build public trust and awareness. When asked about diverse hiring in the police department, which is 75 percent white despite white people being less than half of the city’s population, Hill said that many black people don’t want to be police officers in the first place because of a lack of trust, adding that the city’s complaint review committee should be strengthened.
Similarly, when asked how Greensboro could emulate something successful in Winston-Salem or Durham, Hill suggested that the city would benefit from more peaceful protest in line with Black Lives Matter demonstrations in other cities.
Ridgill, a 56-year-old retired police officer who finished his career as a school resource officer at Grimsley High School, said council would benefit from his unique background. He would like to see the city become more business friendly, he said in his opening statement, which he explained could include a less cumbersome city inspections and permitting process.
Ridgill said on Monday and at a previous League of Women Voters’ candidate forum that he would like to see the International Civil Rights Center & Museum pursue national historic landmark status, which he said would help the museum qualify for federal funds and would help “save and elevate it to the status it deserves.” He identified it as one of the most important things the city could prioritize.
The museum operates independently from the city, which runs the Greensboro Historical Museum, but has received considerable public funding, making it a common topic of discussion on council.
Ridgill said during his time as a police officer he worked closely with the neighborhood watch in Glenwood just south of UNCG, an experience he described as “invaluable” because it taught him to listen to residents concerns — tree branches blocking traffic signs, for example — to build trust and relationships before trying to address the city’s concerns, such as a high rate of home break-ins.
Greensboro used to be known for youth sports, he said in response to another question, and he would like to see a resurgence, saying that it has been deemphasized in the city’s marketing.
When it comes to diversity in the police department, Ridgill said the department has tried to attract diverse recruits for a long time, but is competing with others nationwide as well as private employers that offer better pay.
“Everybody is trying to search for minority candidates,” he said. “They are doing their best [in the police department].”
Ridgill also brought up policing when discussing economic development in east Greensboro, as he did at a previous candidate forum, saying that partnering with police to address vandalism and theft from stores will help business owners know that their investments are safe while helping residents by protecting nearby businesses.
He shared lighter moments with Johnson during the forum, though the two disagreed often, but both felt the police department could do more to provide sensitivity training to officers.
Ridgill relied on his professional experience as candidates discussed the idea of merging departments with the county to save money, saying that it was tried with first responders but proved to be complicated and not entirely successful.