Yvonne Johnson (i)
The longest serving of the at-large members of council also — briefly — held the title of mayor. When Yvonne Johnson lost her reelection bid after one term as mayor in 2011, it came as a shock to her supporters, but most election observers would be even more surprised if Johnson didn’t run away with this year’s race.
There are three at-large seats, with the top vote getter named as mayor pro tem. It’s a title Johnson has held in the past, does currently and likely will after the election.
Johnson is a tireless advocate for more parity in the city’s contracting, pushing for minority and women-owned businesses to receive their fair share. Her community-based approach shows through in most of her stances, whether it’s pushing for participatory budgeting, supporting a wage increase, talking about food insecurity or extolling the benefits of additional job training programs.
“I supported the Renaissance [Shopping] Center with all my heart,” she said at a recent candidate forum. And who would disagree?
She also said the city could do more to incentivize developers to build affordable housing and create green spaces as a way to encourage infill development. She held up her move as mayor to create the International Advisory Committee.
Mike Barber (i)
When Mike Barber returned to city politics after a jaunt in Spain, running again for city council in 2013, he promised not to bring up the divisive issue of reopening White Street Landfill. Back before his sabbatical, Barber raised the idea while on council, but it was eventually defeated. True to his word, we haven’t heard a peep from him on the subject since winning in 2013, and he was reluctant to even talk about it during that last campaign.
Since then, the joke is that Barber doesn’t really show up. Like, misses council work sessions altogether with some regularity. City council implemented a new committee structure last month, and even though Barber vocally supported the idea from the jump, he doesn’t serve as a chair on any of the four committees, though he sits on the general government and public safety committees.
Barber said he would support the mayor’s idea for a bond to improve the city’s affordable housing stock, suggested the civil rights museum allow people to eat at the historic sit-in counter and suggested relaxing regulations on public consumption of alcohol to allow for more frequent festivals downtown.
Marikay Abuzuaiter (i)
After a few unsuccessful runs for city council, Marikay Abuzuaiter made it aboard in 2011, and won reelection in 2013. This year, her stances sound the same as every other time around: concern for the poor, a progressive impulse, a focus on sustainability and diversity, and so on. This time around, she may be most proud of the city’s move to increase wages of its lowest-paid employees and to support the opening of the Family Justice Center in partnership with Guilford County.
A strong supporter of grassroots causes like the Renaissance Community Co-op grocery store and participatory budgeting, Abuzuaiter has occasionally aligned with more conservative members of council on financial issues. She opposed city funding for the downtown performing arts center, arguing that more of the money should be raised privately. She has said that while she supports the arts, she held that the city should focus on more core needs to avoid cutting funding for things like the homeless.
In a recent candidate forum, Abuzuaiter said she wants the city’s parks and recreation department to look into gardening in some of the city’s parks, adding that she wants to address vacant lots too as part of a strategy to alleviate food insecurity. In general, things are moving in the right direction, she has repeatedly said, complimenting how well the current council works together while pointing to areas where more can be done.
Greensboro native and UNCG grad Sylvine Hill wants to bring more modern, technical and environmental jobs to the city, in part because it would help Greensboro become less of a transitional place for young people like herself.
During a candidate forum held by the League of Women Voters, Hill frequently complimented the current city council’s approach to issues and concurred with statements from the incumbents. Hers is not a campaign based on dissatisfaction, it appears, but of trying to bring more ideas to the table.
She proposed a partnership with college students to research vacant, rundown homes to help improve the city’s housing stock, argued that the civil rights museum should do more to advertise itself and could stand to collaborate with the city’s historical museum, said the city should explore alternative energy sources such as solar and produce more media about recycling and create more educational programs in general.
Hill aligned her comments most closely with incumbents Marikay Abuzuaiter and Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson, suggesting she is likely the most progressive challenger in the field.
Winston-Salem native Brian Hoss, who is 31 and still works in the Camel City, wants to see downtown Greensboro grow and thrive like in Winston. He would be the first openly gay member of city council if elected, and at the beginning of the campaign season a focal point of his GOTV campaign involved having a booth at a downtown Pride event.
During a recent candidate forum held by the League of Women Voters, Hoss appeared to be ill informed about the mechanisms of city government and to lack concrete ideas for how to actually go about making some of his big-picture ideas happen. That was most apparent as he repeatedly answered that he would pursue federal funding for different projects, an abstract notion that in many cases is either already happening or not applicable.
Hoss would like to make Greensboro a safer place for LGBT residents, and suggested the creation of a center/safe zone in the city. He also suggested that coordination between downtown events and the civil rights museum could help boost the museum’s profile — not a bad idea for a partnership between entities, especially given that the museum was apparently closed during the massive National Folk Festival surrounding it a month ago.
Retired from the Greensboro Police Department after 29 years, Marc Ridgill has more public service credentials than any of the other at-large challengers this election. And during a recent forum, he appeared to be the most informed about city government issues among the other newcomers, too.
The lifelong Guilford County resident says he is “one step right of center” but he is registered unaffiliated. He made remarks during a League of Women Voters forum last month that he doesn’t support the city shipping its garbage so far away and doubts a mega-site landfill will work, alluding to his potential openness of reconsidering the controversial White Street Landfill. Ridgill also said the city needs more housing inspectors to force landlords to comply with housing code, a stance in line with what community advocates would likely propose.
During the forum, he emphasized that the election is not a foregone conclusion — with the incumbents sweeping to victory — and claimed that he has spoken to more people in the city than all the other at-large and mayoral candidates combined.
We’ll see on Nov. 3.