Municipal primary elections have unfortunately low turnout. The last in 2015 had 7,000 voters, around 3% of the registered voters, out of a population of 280,000. Considering that these are the elections that matter most for your everyday life, such a low turnout is depressing. While finding information about the candidates can be difficult, there are several places to begin looking, including in-person events around the city. For example, Democracy Greensboro hosted a lively and well-attended forum this afternoon. I appreciate the great job the organizers did (shout out especially to Susan Farr) and the solid candidate turn out. While the forum was focused on Democracy GSO’s platform and all candidates were asked to address the platform, the event was open to the public and it was quite enlightening.
I usually get two or three questions about who I support in these elections, so instead of answering at the last minute, here are some guides for candidates as well as my impression from the forum. Make sure to check out News & Record’s candidate information and the Greensboro 2017 Voter Guide for answers to specific questions. My library guide also has links to information about registering to vote, early elections, and more.
Only two candidates came for mayor, Diane Moffett and Billy Jones, a write-in candidate. Moffett had interesting things to say and you could certainly see her pastor training in her remarks. Billy Jones started his campaign late and has a long way to catch up but I appreciate his passion for transparency.
My pick: I am voting for Nancy Vaughan in the general election. In my opinion, Vaughan has been a strong leader for Greensboro and I will continue to support her. If she wins, it will be her third and last term. I will probably vote for Moffett in the primary to ensure that Nancy has a good race. The other person in the race, John Brown, is completely opposite most of my beliefs and his only experience listed is working with Carolina Poodle rescue.
At-Large Candidates (vote for three)
Marikay Abuzuaiter (incumbent) – She was elected 2011 to an At-Large position. In response to the DG platform, she highlighted her work with the Family Justice Center and her work with GSO’s immigrant population, such as having all public safety brochures translated. While she supported some DG planks, she argued that some needed to be discussed. She was asked why there was a raise for the GSO police department and answered that the raise went to the fire and police departments and reflected the need to bring their salaries up to state and national levels.
Irving David Allen – He agrees 100% with the DG platform. He has been a community organizer, especially focused on ex-offender reintegration. He would focus on investing in communities of color. He would work to distribute resources to other parts of city beyond downtown, such as ensuring access to library resources.
M. A. Bakie – not attend
Michael L. (Mike) Barber (incumbent) – not attend
T. Dianne Bellamy-Small – She mentioned that the Greensboro City Council is somewhat limited in what it can do because of the lack of home rule. She referred to her past record on city council including fighting to keep the White Street Landfill closed. She was asked how she would hold GSO police accountable, and she said that the city needs more training on diffusing situations.
Jodi Bennett-Bradshaw – GSO has a cultural and racial divide that needs to be fixed. Her experience is in public health education. I honestly didn’t get a sense of her platform or what her experience might be from this forum.
Tijuana B. Hayes – She is retired school teacher who decided to become more active in city politics. She agrees with the DG platform, especially improved public transportation and community gardens. She was asked how she would ensure that education resources are more equitably distributed. She (correctly) noted that the city doesn’t have control over that distribution (it is mainly a county issue). She maintained that she would work on improving library access in various neighborhoods.
Sylvine Hill – She is a UNCG alumna. She focused on the need for change in eastern Greensboro and more transparency. She was asked if she would be willing to urge the council to challenge the state General Assembly. She said she recognized that the city can’t do some things, but she would work to put pressure on the state.
James Ingram – not attend
Dan Jackson – not attend
Yvonne J. Johnson (incumbent) – She has fought for $15 for city workers but not quite there yet. The city council has seen incremental increases if not all the demands. She supports the Renaissance Coop and has worked to eliminate food deserts. She is willing to build relationships. She started first Community Sustainability Council. She noted that federal and state laws prohibited action on some of the DG planks.
Michelle Kennedy – She is a GSO native and a community organizer. The DG platform is completely in line with her beliefs and her work as a homeless rights organizer. She argued for equitable development as opposed to economic development. She has experience on the Human Rights Commission. She was asked how she would create incentives to keep development local. She argued that there are current incentives for everywhere except east GSO and that we need development across the entire city. We also need a strategic plan for entire city.
Andy Nelson – He is a self-declared moderate with libertarian tendencies. From the platform, he supports small business and expanded bus routes. He supports housing codes and renovation of vacant buildings for the homeless. He also supports a demilitarized police department. Some planks he did not know as much about.
Lindy Perry-Garnette – She is the CEO of the GSO YWCA. She supports the DG platform completely. She supports economic justice primary before all the other sections. She was asked how she would deal with the state legislature and what her strategy would be for financing economic justice initiatives. She answered that not everything required money (for example, enforcing housing codes) and that we need to know when to give in and build relationships and when to hold fast.
Dave Wils – He is a teacher at Grimsley. In his job, he works hard to ensure that no students are marginalized, and would do the same for GSO residents. His focus is on small business, affordable housing, and food security. He has experience on the GSO Human Relations Commission and experience working with the city council. He was asked how he would help reintegration of ex-offenders in the city. He answered that he values second chances. He would focus on providing affordable housing, promote re-enfranchisement at state level, and increase resources for job training.
My picks: Dave Wils is a great candidate with a strong platform who has proven experience with city governance. I committed to his campaign a few weeks ago for three reasons: 1) He has priorities within a moderately progressive agenda, rather than trying to correct all ills at one time. He recognizes that the city council has limitations and is willing to work within those limitations; 2) He has a chance to push out an incumbent; and 3) He is the only candidate who has ever stopped by my house in-person and introduced himself. And the poor guy stopped by on the hottest day of year. I realize that not every candidate can be at everyone’s house in this large city. Nevertheless, I appreciate that he showed up in our little boring, apathetic neighborhood with historically low turnout. I’ve only ever received paper from my own district councilperson (see below).
For my other two choices I am still deciding, but I am probably going with non-incumbents, even though I really have a soft spot for Yvonne Johnson. I would like to see some new names on the general election ballot. Of the non-incumbents, Michelle Kennedy was quite articulate and I appreciate her comments on city development. Lindy Perry-Garnette gave nuanced answers about dealing with the NCGA. Finally, Irving David Allen has good energy and would bring a younger perspective to the council. I think she might need more experience, but Tijuana B. Hayes could be someone to look for in the future.
I only attend the District 4 forum. If you don’t know your district, you can look it up on the city council district map.
Nancy Hoffmann (incumbent) – She was quite critical of the DG platform, arguing that it was misleading and not match GSO needs. She maintained that out of the 31 points, the city had already addressed 24 points (but did not say which points). Moreover, the city has had three progressive city councils that have worked hard to ensure progress. Her focus is primarily economic development.
Gary Kenton – He is a former professor who has worked with closely with DG and helped to develop the platform. His focus is on tackling issues of poverty, race, and jobs. Foremost, he maintained that we need transparency in the city council. When asked which parts of the DG platform are most important, he said that his focus has been on environmental issues, arguing for a more active Community Sustainability Council and that a strong environment will create a strong economy. Moreover, he maintained that while the council is progressive, it is not progressive enough.
My pick: I am going with Kenton on this one. While Hoffmann is liberal enough for me, I was quite put out by her unwillingness to at least engage with the DG platform on a thoughtful level. I have a very low threshold for oversized sign to prove a point theatrics. Sure, yeah, the cartoon on the back of their brochure is a bit Workers of the World, Unite!, but it is just as political as a sign with Hoffmann and a bunch of kids hand-selected for diversity standing in front of a fake GSO skyline (Maybe the skyline is real? Does she really know those kids?).
Moreover, her primary focus is downtown Greensboro’s business development and she did not mention anything about environmental or transportation issues, two that are very important for me. She talks about recycling issues in some of her written Q&As, but recycling is hardly a difficult topic. It should just be a given that this city recycles. Plus, Hoffman has been in office for three terms (6 years), so why not give someone new a chance?
You can also read the Triad City Beat report on the Demo GSO Forum, although he apparently undercounted the numbers. There were actually over 200 according to my insider. 😉