by Jordan Green
Two challengers run against one-term incumbent in the Ward 1 city council race, where parochial concerns trump a big-picture debate about the future direction of the city.
Jeff Golden, who is serving his freshman term as the Ward 1 representative on High Point City Council, faces two challengers in this year’s municipal election: Willie Davis and Jo Williams.
In a crucial and potentially historic election that presents voters with competing visions between a business-progressive agenda to attempt significant transformation in the core city and a low-tax conservative approach, the outcome of the Ward 1 race is unlikely to tip the balance either way. The three candidates in the majority African-American ward are largely concerned with services and resources within their ward, which generally flanks Lexington Avenue/Greensboro Road to the east of Centennial Street.
Golden, a 51-year-old nurse who works at the Providence Place nursing home, voted with the majority on council to reassign City Project leader Wendy Fuscoe. The move shifts her to a broader portfolio of responsibilities for core-city revitalization in contrast to her previous focus on the business district along North Main Street. Golden also takes a skeptical view of the proposal to reduce traffic lanes on North Main Street to make it more pedestrian friendly. Commonly known as “road dieting,” the initiative is a central plank of the revitalization plan developed under Fuscoe’s leadership.
“There is that sentiment that that’s for someone else,” Golden said. “And some people don’t believe dieting will work.”
Golden said he still has questions about how dieting would affect side streets and whether the anticipated return on investment justifies the expenditure of public funds to implement the project.
Willie Davis, a 54-year-old trucking company employee who lost to Golden in the Ward 1 election two years ago, finds no fault with his opponent’s handling of City Project. He applauded Golden for his vote to reassign Fuscoe, saying her efforts should be geared towards “the whole city, not just one area,” adding, “The taxpayer money needs to be well distributed.”
Davis, who lives on North Hamilton Street a couple blocks away from the area proposed for revitalization, echoed Golden’s skepticism towards the road-dieting project, expressing concern that lane reduction would cause “gridlock,” and arguing that business development should come before walkability.
“We need to make sure we have the businesses for our citizens to walk to before we start dieting,” he said.
Jo Williams, a 67-year-old resident of the Legacy at the Point community behind the former Evergreen nursing home, said she doesn’t know enough about road dieting to have a position, but would be open to considering it and prides herself on listening to people in the community.
“You’ve got young ideas and old, establishment ideas,” she said. “You’ve got to come to a common ground to get solutions. You don’t ever know anything unless you give it a chance.
“High Point’s got a AAA rating,” Williams continued. “We’re paying our bills and we’ve been good financial stewards. I don’t think we’ve been good stewards of affecting change.”
A former employee of the state Department of Commerce under Gov. Jim Martin, Williams has worked in the nonprofit sphere, operating food pantries for the past 25 years.
“I have a lot of seniors behind me,” she said. “As a senior and a person with a disability, I can tell you people with disabilities aren’t treated too kindly. We need better housing and medicine.”
Williams said as a member of city council she would focus on helping constituents access services, and listening to people to determine their needs.
“I think we need more brainstorming sessions with people from different walks of life,” she said. “I talked to this one man who rides his bike. He said the thing that he fears most is dogs. We’ve got people walking around with rottweilers and pit bulls. Why can’t we put a muzzle on them in case they get loose and try to bite someone?”
She also said the city needs to make itself attractive to young people who are interested in starting families and businesses.
“There’s a lot we can do with downtown so young people can go to little chic restaurants and boutiques,” Williams said. “We’ve got to think outside of the box.”
In addition to supporting the incumbent’s handling of City Project, Davis also gives Golden and his fellow council members credit for their fiscal management of the city. He said he was “very proud of the way they eliminated a lot of the [city employee procurement] cards, and came together to ask questions about spending.”
Davis said he sees room for improvement in that the city council could be more deliberative in its decision-making and more responsive to citizens’ concerns.
“A lot of time people come to council with [concerns about] the response time by our police department,” he said, adding that citizens are also worried about gang activity. “It was very inadequate. Council had a deaf ear.”
Golden said despite “some distractions,” such as Fuscoe’s reassignment and a racially divided vote on a resolution calling on two black city council members to resign, he’s proud of the work he’s done on council. Golden adding that he brought almost $2 million back to Ward 1, including funds for new sidewalks on Cedrow Drive and for a landscaping project that will soon get underway on Washington Street.
Both Golden and Davis are interested in establishing a program to rehabilitate dilapidated housing by placing it in receivership and then putting it back on the market. Mayor Bernita Sims, who is not seeking reelection, championed the idea during her campaign in 2012, but efforts to obtain enabling legislation stalled in the Republican-controlled state General Assembly the following year.
“It may be that we could create some kind of buyback program for citizens who could buy the land,” Davis said. “If a person owns a house, they’re more equipped to maintain it.”
Golden said his biggest priority for the next two years is to address abandoned housing in wards 1 and 2, which cover the predominantly African-American east side of the city. He said he has a plan to create a receivership program so that dilapidated properties can be fixed up to accommodate people who need affordable housing.
“It will require an investment from the city, but I’ve built into it a way to recoup the funds,” he said.
When asked to explain how the program would work, Golden indicated that he’s reluctant to give his opponents any ideas.
“I’m not going to get into the details,” he said. “Just know that I have a plan.”