Like other large cities in North Carolina, Winston-Salem operates under a council-manager form of government. The city council is in charge of hiring a city attorney and a city manager. 

The city council determines city policies, and the city manager is tasked with putting those policies into action and overseeing the day-to-day operations of the city. All other city employees are hired by the city manager, so among other tasks like developing the budget, city managers also shape the city as an organization. 

Some city departments report directly to the city manager while others are placed under the supervision of assistant city managers, who oversee various departments such as transportation, planning and development services, fleet services and marketing and communications. Those departments have respective department directors who shape the quality of the city services delivered to citizens.

The city attorney oversees the city legal staff in advising the city on bond financing, federal and state regulations, drafting ordinances and legislation, negotiating and reviewing contracts and representing the city in state and federal courts. Angela Carmon has been the city attorney since 2008.

Who’s in charge of the mayor and city council?

Perched at the very top of the city’s organization chart are the citizens of Winston-Salem — those who elect these city officials.

Per the 2020 census, Winston-Salem is a city of 249,545 people. According to 2020 state election data, 202,149 people voted in the general election in Forsyth County.

The city is split up into eight wards, with the city’s population evenly distributed among the wards. The city recently updated its ward lines to reflect 2020 census data.

Winston-Salem ward realignment map (as of July 1, 2023)

Here’s who currently represents the wards:

  • Mayor: Allen Joines*
  • North Ward: Denise D. Adams
  • Northeast Ward: Barbara Hanes Burke
  • East Ward: Annette Scippio
  • Southeast Ward: James Taylor, Jr.
  • South Ward: John Larson*
  • Southwest Ward: Kevin Mundy
  • West Ward: Robert Clark
  • Northwest Ward: Jeff MacIntosh*

*Joines and Larson have announced their bids for re-election. MacIntosh will not seek re-election in 2024.

Winston-Salem’s elections are partisan and all seats are on the table in the upcoming election next year. 

In the city’s 2020 mayoral election, 119,510 votes were counted, 85,705 for Mayor Allen Joines. Joines has been in office since 2001 after unseating Republican Jack Cavanagh, Jr. with 78 percent of the vote. He ran unopposed in the 2005, 2009 and 2016 general elections. In 2013, Joines swept 84 percent of the vote compared to Republican James Lee Knox’s 15 percent, and in 2020 he gathered 71 percent of the vote as opposed to Republican Kris McCann’s 27 percent. The mayor does not vote on city council items unless a tiebreaking vote is required.

The South Ward’s 2020 general election drew 12,504 voters. In the North Ward, represented by Mayor Pro Tempore Denise D. Adams, 10,409 people voted. In the West Ward’s election, which ultimately selected Robert Clark, 14,187 votes were cast. Clark ran unopposed. 

So did South Ward council member John Larson and Adams.

In fact, all the current council members ran unopposed in the last general election except for the Southeast Ward’s council member James Taylor, Jr, who was challenged by Libertarian Wesley Longsdorf.

Low numbers during primaries

Looking back further, the March 2020 primary elections drew few souls to the polls. 

Incumbent Allen Joines faced JoAnne Allen in the mayoral Democratic primary, receiving 26,955 votes to Allen’s 11,974. The Republican primary was canceled.

All wards canceled their Republican primaries except the West Ward, which canceled their Democratic primary. The Northwest Ward’s Democratic primary was canceled because no one opposed Democratic incumbent Jeff MacIntosh. The Southeast Ward’s Democratic primary was canceled as well — Democratic incumbent Taylor advanced to the general election. 

Here’s how many residents voted in the Democratic primaries for Winston-Salem’s wards:

  • North Ward: 4,097 votes. Mayor Pro Tempore Denise D. Adams received 3,093 votes.
  • Northeast Ward: 4,572 votes. Council member Barbara Hanes Burke received 2,615 votes.
  • East Ward: 3,789 votes. Council member Annette Scippio received 1,518 votes.
  • South Ward: 5,097 votes. Council member John Larson received 2,417 votes.
  • Southwest Ward: 4,717 votes. Council member Kevin Mundy received 2,985 votes.

Here’s how many residents voted in the Republican primaries for Winston-Salem’s wards:

  • West Ward: 3,103 votes. Council member Robert Clark received 2,608 votes.

By the numbers, 25,375 residents voted in the ward primary elections altogether — a fraction of the voters that showed up in the general election. When the general election came around, primary winners were practically a shoo-in, only facing write-in votes. This low voter turnout in the primaries is a trend across previous years as well.

The candidate filing period for the statewide 2024 primary elections begins at noon on Monday, Dec. 4, and ends at noon Friday, Dec. 15. Candidates must file at the appropriate county board of elections office or State Board, depending upon the contest. Beginning with the 2023 municipal elections, North Carolina voters will be asked to show photo ID when they check in to vote. Learn more at Voter ID and find your polling place here.

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