Posted November 2, 2018
By John Hammer, The Rhino Times
The 2017 City Council election is historic even before the votes are counted because, for the first time, the mayor and Greensboro city councilmembers will be elected for four-year terms. The next City Council election will be in 2021.
Early voting will continue until Saturday, Nov. 4 at 1 p.m., and the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 7 will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
If you want to vote in an election where your vote really counts, this is a good one because voter turnout in the primary was about 8 percent, and people who claim to know such things are predicting between 15 percent and 20 percent for the general election.
Each voter can vote for five candidates: one in their district, three at large and the mayor, who also runs at large.
In the mayor’s race and the district City Council races, the candidate with the most votes wins. In the at-large City Council race, candidates with the top three vote totals all win. So the candidate who finishes third in the at-large race wins and the candidate who finishes fourth loses.
Although you can vote for three in the at-large race, you don’t have to vote for three. If there is one candidate you like a lot more than the other five, you can vote for one and statistically it should improve that candidate’s chances of winning.
The Rhino Times is endorsing in every race and, for the first time in several years, we are not recommending that voters write-in the person of their choice in any races.
Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan has served on the City Council for a total of 12 years – four as a district councilmember, four as an at-large councilmember and four as mayor. She is asking the voters to elect her for four more years as mayor and says she doesn’t plan to run for reelection.
Vaughan is by far the best candidate in the race and the voters should give her four more years. This newspaper has been critical of Vaughan in the past two years, but overall she has done a good job as mayor. As she says, there are a lot of projects she would like to see completed, which means there are a lot of projects that she helped get started. One is the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts. Vaughan was instrumental in coming up with a financing plan for The Tanger that could get the support of the City Council. It is a project that will change the downtown.
Vaughan is also responsible for straightening out the mess that Downtown Greensboro Inc. (DGI) had become and turning it into an organization that is doing what it was always supposed to do – facilitate the development of the downtown. It used to be DGI talked about watering flowers and picking up trash, now the topics are new hotels, new parking decks and new office buildings.
Vaughan was instrumental in putting together a bond package that the voters would approve and now that money needs to be spent.
One of Vaughan’s biggest problems in the past two years has been allowing people to disrupt City Council meetings. But she listened to advice and started taking a firmer hand with people who had come to the meeting with the sole purpose of disrupting it.
Some people have complained about Vaughan joining a group and meeting with Nelson Johnson of the Beloved Community Center every week. Vaughan said she tried that because she thought it might help end some of the divisiveness, and after a year, when it appeared to her not to have had any effect, she stopped attending the meetings. That seems to make a lot of sense.
Vaughan’s opponent is first time candidate Diane Moffett.
Here’s what Moffett has going for her: She is well educated, a good speaker, quick on her feet and, by all accounts, an effective and popular pastor at Saint James Presbyterian Church.
But on the downside, she doesn’t live in Greensboro, although she does have a legal voting address in Greensboro and has spent at least one night at that address – a small apartment on North Elm Street.
But she also has a five-bedroom, four-bath house in Jamestown where she has lived for the past 12 years. When she moved to the area and got to choose where to purchase a house and live, she and her husband, who works at NC A&T State University, made the decision that it was worth the longer drive to live in Jamestown rather than in Greensboro.
Moffett changed her registration to Greensboro the same day she filed to run for mayor and, despite the fact that she is running for mayor, Moffett has not put her house in Jamestown up for sale, which indicates she doesn’t plan to stop living in Jamestown at least in the near future.
I can’t think of many things more embarrassing for Greensboro than to elect a mayor who only technically lives in Greensboro. Moffett doesn’t have a personal interest in the tax rate in Greensboro because her 3,700-square-foot house with a tax value of $396,000 isn’t in Greensboro.
Moffett, of course, has never voted in a Greensboro municipal election because until the day she filed to run for mayor she was not eligible to vote, but in the past two municipal elections in Jamestown, where she lived, she didn’t vote either.
One of the good points is that Moffett is quick on her feet, and she is, but she has demonstrated this by going to over 10 candidate forums and fielding questions about Greensboro and its government – topics that she knows very little about. She suggests things for Greensboro like targeting particular industries to recruit, something Greensboro has been doing for years.
But to her credit Moffett doesn’t make a lot of mistakes about issues because she is smart enough not to talk in specifics. Her answers are usually extremely general. She talks a lot about getting everyone around the table and the need for everyone to have a voice.
When asked how she would brand Greensboro at a forum, Moffett wisely suggested that she would get everyone around the table and let them decide how to brand Greensboro. It’s hard to brand a city you don’t know much about.
The Rhino endorsements in the at-large race are Councilmember Mike Barber, Councilmember Yvonne Johnson and Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter – the three incumbents.
The at-large race is confusing. It’s confusing for the voters and for the candidates. You have six candidates all running for three seats, so no two candidates are running against each other. In theory, each candidate is running against the other five.
In reality, the race this year is about Barber running against Michelle Kennedy for the third seat on the City Council.
City Councilmember Yvonne Johnson will no doubt once again finish first and City Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter appears to have second, just like they did in the primary and in the 2015 election.
The key to this election for Greensboro is to elect Barber to that third seat on the City Council.
The Greensboro-Randolph megasite is in the running for the Toyota-Mazda auto plant. Being in the running is a long way from getting the 4,000 jobs that the auto manufacturer would bring, and it will take some difficult negotiation to bring that home. It’s exactly the kind of situation where, without Barber on the City Council, Greensboro could lose a great opportunity.
There are some other companies giving Greensboro a hard look that would bring significant jobs here, and what Greensboro needs to attract those jobs is a business-friendly City Council; without Barber on the City Council what Greensboro will have is a City Council more focused on social issues and not on new business.
Barber is the dealmaker on the current council.
Former City Councilmember Jamal Fox tried a lot of initiatives before he left for Portland, and Fox, who was interested in getting things done rather than talking about them, learned pretty quickly that he usually needed Barber’s help to put together five votes.
At the other end of the political spectrum from Fox is Councilmember Tony Wilkins, who also goes to Barber when he doesn’t want to cast the one no vote, but wants five votes to get something done – like spending $10,000 to feed people rather than on a chess table.
One thing Barber has going for him is experience. He served on the City Council for four years, took a break, came back and was elected in 2013 and 2015.
Barber also served on the Guilford County Board of Commissioners for four years, including one year as chairman, and during that time he put the deal together that resulted in Guilford County getting a new social services building and Greensboro getting what is now First National Bank Field.
The baseball stadium has revitalized that portion of the downtown, with Carroll at Bellemeade, a $70 million hotel and apartment project being built across the street, a new office building planned on the corner next to the ball park and a parking deck and possibly another hotel across the street.
Although Barber is a Democrat, he is one of the more conservative members of the City Council.
Kennedy, by contrast, is making her first run for elected office and, if elected, would be the most liberal member of a liberal City Council.
She is the director of the Interactive Resource Center, which is the daytime shelter for the homeless, and she has said she wants to represent the homeless on the City Council. Certainly the homeless should not be ignored, but neither should the other 275,000 people in the city, many of whom are property owners paying the taxes to provide services to the homeless.
When candidates were asked to use three words to describe themselves at a recent forum, most candidates chose words like responsible, effective and committed; but one of the three words Kennedy chose was “gay.” The fact that Kennedy is gay had not been an issue in the campaign, but evidently Kennedy wants to make it one.
Kennedy places far more focus on social issues, which sounds good – who doesn’t want affordable housing for everyone? But they also cost a lot of money and Greensboro already has the highest tax rate of any comparable city in the state. To provide just some of the social welfare programs Kennedy endorses would send the tax rate soaring.
Barber has pledged not to raise the tax rate for four years.
While Barber works at bringing consensus to move projects along on the City Council, Kennedy is quick to go into attack mode when she disagrees with an idea.
Kennedy attacked one of Greensboro’s most successful developers, Marty Kotis, when he revealed plans to place a charter school in the old Dorothy Bardolph Building downtown. Kennedy said a charter school there would be a problem for the registered sex offenders who used her homeless shelter. She also objected to the city selling the building, which put an underutilized city owned building back on the tax rolls.
When the suggestion was made that it might make sense to have one location for homeless services in Greensboro rather than have services scattered around town, Kennedy not only attacked the idea, she attacked the longtime volunteer who had suggested it. At a forum Kennedy called the idea of moving homeless services to one location out of the downtown “morally bankrupt.”
At that forum, Abuzuaiter responded that having the related services in one location had worked well for the Family Justice Center and that the city had agreed to help fund the “Housing Hub” to put affordable housing services under one roof, so doing the same for the homeless seemed like an idea worth considering.
Kennedy also attacked the Replacements Ltd. PAC for not endorsing her.
The Greensboro City Council has plenty of divisiveness and has no problem spending money. It doesn’t need another member whose response to an idea they don’t like is to attack those they disagree with and appears to have no concern for the taxpayers.
Along with Barber, we are endorsing Johnson and Abuzuaiter.
It’s hard to imagine a City Council without Johnson. She has been on the City Council all but two years since 1993. Johnson was the first black candidate ever elected at large under the current system. She was the first black city councilmember to finish first in the at-large race and be named mayor pro tem, and she was Greensboro’s first black mayor. Johnson doesn’t spend a lot of time talking on the City Council, but when she speaks people listen.
Abuzuaiter is running for her fourth term and, although we have very different opinions on private property rights, overall Abuzuaiter has proven to be a conscientious and active city councilmember. She attends everything and is often the only city councilmember at an event. She has a pragmatic approach to decision making and does a lot of research on the issues.
Dave Wils, a social studies teacher at Grimsley High School, finished fifth in the primary, and while he has been campaigning it appears he has been left behind by Barber and Kennedy, who have each raised more money and have stolen the spotlight.
Wils seems like a natural politician. He presents himself well and knows the value of humor in boring candidates’ forums. I would be surprised if this is his last run for office.
However, Wils did pull a stunt in this campaign that damages his credibility: The Guilford County Association of Educators (GCAE) decided for the first time to endorse candidates in the City Council race and endorsed Wils, who happens to be on the GCAE board. On his campaign website Wils writes about the endorsement, but fails to mention that he is on the GCAE board. So much for transparency.
Guilford County Board of Education member Dianne Bellamy-Small finished sixth in the primary and has effectively dropped out of the race. She hasn’t raised any money and has been hard to find on the campaign trail.
District 1 City Councilmember Sharon Hightower talks way too much at meetings, asks the same question over and over again, and tries to pick verbal fights with other councilmembers. But she is the best candidate in the District 1 City Council race.
Hightower also has the ability to cut to the heart of an issue and say what everybody else on the City Council is thinking but won’t say out loud.
Hightower is fiercely protective of District 1, which she has represented for four years. Perhaps with a four-year term she will learn that working on having good relationships with other councilmembers is a good way to get what you want for your own district.
Paula Ritter-Lipscomb works for the Guilford County Schools and evidently has a lot of experience with schools and education, but as the multitude of forums have revealed, she doesn’t know much about how the City Council operates or exactly what it does. Almost all of her civic activity involves schools and education.
No doubt she could learn about the City Council after being elected, but it doesn’t seem too much to ask of a candidate that they know what they are getting into before they run.
I think District 1 will be better represented by Hightower, who knows the ropes, even if she sometimes ties them in knots.
In District 2 we are endorsing former City Councilmember Jim Kee who, during the campaign, changed his registration to Republican. In a district that is only 8 percent Republican and 68 percent Democrat, it’s hard to see that as a good campaign move, but Kee said that his support came from Republicans and his pro-business attitude aligned better with the Republican Party.
And it is that pro-business attitude that Greensboro needs. Kee is a developer and a businessman. He knows and understands what it will take to attract development to east Greensboro, which is a topic that is discussed constantly but nobody ever seems to do much about it.
If voters truly want to see more development in east Greensboro, it only makes sense to elect a councilmember who knows development.
Kee was the District 2 city councilmember from 2009 to 2013. The development of the Renaissance Shops finally got resolved during his watch.
District 2 City Councilmember Goldie Wells was appointed to finish out the term of Jamal Fox, who moved to Portland, Oregon. Wells served on the City Council from 2005 to 2009.
Wells is a community activist who led the fight against opening the White Street Landfill to municipal solid waste. She has experience and she knows how the City Council works. She said she decided to run because she didn’t like the slate of candidates lined up to replace Fox, which included Kee.
Wells has the advantage of being an incumbent and now also of being a Democrat. Wells is a great community organizer, but if you want development in District 2 then Kee is the far better choice.
District 3 City Councilmember Justin Outling has a great record of accomplishments on the City Council during his first elected term and deserves another term.
Outling was initially appointed to take Zack Matheny’s seat in the summer of 2015 and then he won the election in the fall of 2015.
Outling is thoughtful and considerate, and he provides some of the intellectual muscle that this City Council needs. He is now a partner with the law firm Brooks Pierce, and it’s good to have attorneys on the City Council that can go head to head with the city attorney.
Outling authored Greensboro’s policy for releasing police body cam videos, and then came the hard part – getting it passed. But Outling did that as well, making Greensboro the first city in the state to adopt such a policy. The state then passed a statute governing the release of police body cam videos that was more restrictive.
Outling also initiated legislation that made it possible for the city to repair rather than demolish dilapidated housing.
In addition, Outling was instrumental in the passage of an agreement by city councilmembers not to raise the tax rate this year.
In 2015, Outling was the first Democrat ever elected to represent District 3, so it is somewhat of a surprise that he is now facing a challenge from the left. Craig Martin is far to the left of Outling and of the current City Council.
He is an assistant public defender, which makes him a government employee, and at candidate forums he talks about Outling working for a law firm as if there were something wrong with working in the private sector.
Martin doesn’t have a history of civic involvement outside of his work as an attorney. One of the most troubling things about Martin is that he didn’t vote in the last municipal election. I believe that people should vote in elections even when they aren’t running themselves.
Martin’s issue with Outling seems to be that Outling voted on the UnitedHealthcare contract and Brooks Pierce has an unrelated contract with UnitedHealthcare. But according to the law, Outling cannot recuse himself; the City Council has to recuse him. If the City Council doesn’t recuse a member of the City Council, they have to vote. Also, the city attorney, Tom Carruthers, didn’t recommend that Outling be recused.
It seems like a pretty thin issue for a City Council campaign.
District 4 City Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann was first elected in 2011, hasn’t had much trouble getting reelected, and it doesn’t appear she will have much trouble this year.
Hoffmann is the best candidate for District 4 and the City of Greensboro.
Hoffmann has an extensive background in business, which this City Council needs. Unlike some of her fellow councilmembers, she doesn’t speak unless she has something to say. More of that on the City Council would be welcomed.
The Hobbs Road-Friendly Avenue rezoning was a tough call for Hoffmann because she lives nearby and some of her neighbors were so opposed that they are still mad about it.
However, Hoffmann didn’t take the easy way out, which would have been to vote with those vehemently opposed. Instead, she negotiated for a better deal and then voted to rezone the property – the vote that was best for Greensboro.
Proving once again that she is not afraid of making the hard choices, Hoffmann attended the Democracy Greensboro candidates’ forum and spoke about Democracy Greensboro being divisive and misleading. She was also critical of its attacks on the Police Department.
Gary Kenton, who is Hoffmann’s opponent, is one of the founders of Democracy Greensboro, which is yet another organization under the Nelson Johnson umbrella.
Kenton describes himself as an “advocate and an activist.” Hoffmann is a moderate and Kenton is far left. If only half of what Democracy Greensboro endorses were passed – which includes free food, housing for all, free or low cost daycare, requiring businesses that do business with the city to pay a minimum wage of $15 an hour, expanding the public transportation system and providing shelters at all bus stops – the taxes in Greensboro couldn’t be raised high enough to pay for it all.
It may sound good, but somebody has to pay for it and that would be the taxpayers of Greensboro.
District 5 appears that it will be one of the closest races in this election.
Tammi Thurm won the primary over District 5 City Councilmember Tony Wilkins by 80 votes. Both candidates have raised a lot more money than is usual for a district City Council race and there are sharp differences between the two.
Wilkins was appointed to finish the term of state Sen. Trudy Wade after she was elected. He won his first election in 2013 and was unopposed in 2015.
Wilkins is the lone Republican on the City Council and its most conservative voice. Wilkins has worked to get Greensboro to lower its tax rate; the result of that effort is not a lower rate but that the rate hasn’t been raised, which is not what Wilkins wanted but is better than a higher rate.
Wilkins has become skilled at asking good questions that have resulted in some remarkable information being revealed.
Wilkins simply asked for a copy of the contract between the city and the International Civil Rights Center and Museum that authorized the loan of $1.5 million to the museum. What he discovered was that the contract had never been signed.
The Greensboro-Randolph megasite is on the short list for a new Toyota-Mazda automobile manufacturing plant, which would bring 4,000 jobs to the area. To get those jobs will require significant participation by the state legislature. The only city councilmember who gets along well with the Republican legislature is Wilkins.
Greensboro may need to send Wilkins to Raleigh to try and mend some fences because it’s going to take more money than any incentive package ever approved by the state to attract an automobile manufacturing plant, and considering what some councilmembers have said about the state legislature, it might be best to keep them out of the picture.
Everybody talks about diversity, meaning racial diversity, but political diversity and diversity of thought are also important. It’s better for the City Council to have a voice advocating for a more conservative approach and Wilkins is often successful in moving the City Council to a more conservative stance, even if the final vote is still 8 to 1.
Thurm is a good candidate and has worked hard in her campaign. She has a lot of experience working for small businesses and currently works for a law firm.
Thurm does well at forums presenting moderate ideas, but at the Democracy Greensboro candidates’ forum, she was the only candidate that rated a perfect score. Democracy Greensboro is as far left as you can get and still be on the page. The Democracy Greensboro platform, which was used to judge the candidates, includes a host of social welfare give-away programs that would cost more than the city could afford.
But even if Thurm’s statements at the Democracy Greensboro forum were misinterpreted and she isn’t quite as far left as they think she is, Thurm will likely be one of the more liberal members of an already liberal City Council.
Greensboro needs more balance on the City Council and in this election Wilkins is the only candidate capable of providing that balance.