Stadium boosters win big in High Point primary

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High Point mayoral candidates Bruce Davis (left) and Jim Davis (right) campaigned outside the Deep River Recreation Center Tuesday evening. (photo by Lauren Barber)

by Lauren Barber and Jordan Green

In a closely matched mayoral primary, High Point voters signaled support for an ambitious plan to jump-start downtown revitalization through a stadium by tossing out the project’s chief skeptic.

Jim Davis, a conservative Republican who voted as a council member to approve public dollars for the project but has expressed doubt about whether it would pay for itself, garnered only 27.5 percent of the vote.

Jim Davis’ elimination sets up a contest between Jay Wagner, a pro-revitalization Republican, and Bruce Davis, a Democrat, who are both enthusiastic proponents of the project. Wagner and Bruce Davis corralled 38.0 percent and 34.5 percent of the vote respectively.

“I’m glad I advanced to the top two and I’m looking forward to the November election,” said Wagner, who celebrated the end of the day at Brown Truck Brewing. “We’re going to keep doing our best. I’m happy we made it past the primary. It’s been a lot of hard work not only for me, but for my wife and our volunteers. It’s nice to get a good result when you work so hard.”

In the at-large race, where two seats are in play, candidates backed by the pro-stadium High Point Political Alliance, drew heavy support. Britt Moore, a former at-large council member, led the pack with 26.9 percent of the vote, while Don Scarborough, a retired senior vice president at High Point University and political newcomer, captured 23.4 percent. The top four vote-getters, which also included Cindy Davis and Mary Lou Andrews Blakeney, advance to the November general election. Candidates Daniel Gardner, Michael Holmes and Sarah Jane Otte distantly trailed with roughly 4 to 7 percent of the vote apiece, and found themselves eliminated.

The at-large results represent a setback for Cindy Davis, a populist conservative who has bitterly opposed the stadium project, contending that it should be built solely with private funds or at least put to a popular vote in a bond referendum. Davis, who was the top vote-getter in the 2014 election, will have to make up 359 votes in the upcoming general election to hold on to her seat.

Blakeney, the fourth-place finisher, is a veteran civil rights activist who served on city council from 2010 to 2012. While expressing support for the stadium, she has made services to senior citizens her signature campaign issue.

Sims Hinds, vice-chair of Forward High Point — the nonprofit responsible for developing the stadium plan — said the primary results show that the Guilford County Commission missed the mark by delaying approval of a financing plan requested by city council.

“I think the bigger story here is how poorly the county commission has judged the will of the people of High Point,” Hinds said.

The big surprise in the race was Bruce Davis’ strong showing. A former Guilford County commissioner and member of the city’s convention and visitors bureau, Davis has ardently declared his support for the stadium but argued he would be more effective at finessing relations with the county commission to get the project financed.

Bruce Davis got a late start at financing his campaign, but raised $11,510 in August and September, including $750 from Hinds. Bruce Davis’ opponents have received significant outside support, with the NC Association of Realtors spending $20,000 on mailers and Facebook ads to support Jim Davis, while the High Point Political Alliance — the political arm of the city’s chamber of commerce — raised $43,500 and gave its endorsement to Wagner, who is poised to receive its financial support in the general election.

Bruce Davis rallied support from voters across the city.

At the Montlieu Elementary polling place, traditionally a stronghold for African-American voters in east-central High Point, 65-year-old William Robinson voted for Davis and Scarborough.

“My votes mainly had to do with the new baseball park,” he said. “I’m for it and it’ll bring opportunities to the city in terms of the job market and because High Point is really dry. You’ve got to go to Greensboro or Winston-Salem to do anything. We’re only busy during the [furniture] market…. We’ve got sports bars and this and that but it’s really not the same as downtown Greensboro, where you’ve got your ice cream parlor, your pizza parlors.

“I’m in favor of progress and more opportunities, and that’s why I voted for the candidates I did,” Robinson added. “To me, this year, the biggest thing going is whether they’re for or against the ballpark. There’s not so much a candidate can do anyway in two or four years. Bruce has been around a long time in other positions, and I think with all the history and experience he has he should make a good mayor.”

At the suburban Deep River Recreation Center polling place in the city’s northern tier, Hope Goeghegan said, “I voted for Bruce Davis because he’s a big proponent for veterans. I’m a veteran so it’s a big issue for me since I don’t think there’s that much out there for veterans.”

The Emerywood Baptist Church polling place in the genteel Emerywood neighborhood saw brisk turnout, with voters favoring Wagner for mayor, and Scarborough and Moore at large.

“I voted for them because I think they’re the best candidates for moving our city forward,” 68-year-old David Horny said.

In Ward 4, Wesley Hudson, an ally of Wagner, led with 49.7 percent of the vote, while Jim Bronnert squeaked past Jody W. Kearns by a margin of 11 votes to win a spot on the general election ballot. Both Hudson and Bronnert support the stadium project.

In Ward 5, Chris Whitley, a former member of city council, led balloting with 47.8 percent of the vote. He will advance to the general election with Vic Jones, a Marine Corps veteran and limousine company operator, who came away with 33.5 percent. Deric D. Stubbs was eliminated from the race after finishing third. Hinds said he views the results in Ward 5 as favorable to the stadium: The ward is currently represented by Jim Davis, whose loss in the mayoral race will likely pressure the candidates to get behind the project.

Due to the fact that only two candidates each filed in the elections for Wards 1, 2 and 3, there was no need for a primary. The six candidates automatically advance to the general election.

In Ward 1, incumbent Jeff Golden faces challenger Willie H. Davis. In Ward 2, incumbent Chris Williams faces challenger David M. Bagley. In Ward 3, where Alyce Hill is retiring, Monica Peters, who founded We Heart High Point and the EbFest Music Festival & Makers Fair, contends with Megan Longstreet, who is active with Indivisible High Point and backed by the Guilford County Democratic Party.