2011 Year in Review

by YES! Staff

Robbie Perkins’ election as mayor in 2011 marked the return of a moderate consensus style in Greensboro politics. (photo by Quentin L. Richardson)

There is properly no history; only biography. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

If we are to take Emerson’s words to heart, 2011 represents a fascinating chapter in the biographies of scores of newsmakers in the Piedmont Triad.

Robbie Perkins, the newly elected mayor of Greensboro, bested incumbent Bill Knight by more than 5,000 votes during the Nov. 8 municipal elections — a result that could be viewed as a rebuke of the Greensboro City Council’s conservative faction that held sway since 2009.

“We’ve got an incredible opportunity to pull this community together, and we’re going to do it,” Perkins said on Election Night. “My responsibility is going to be to communicate with everyone on the council and creating a plan for council and the community.”

Election Night proved a tough night for the conservatives on the council, otherwise known as the Gang of Four. One member of the Gang of Four, at-large representative Danny Thompson, placed fifth in the at-large race garnering less than 14 percent of the vote. Thompson finished behind fellow conservative Chris Lawyer, who eventually fell to Marikay Abuzuaiter. After an unsuccessful run in 2009, Abuzuaiter reversed her fortunes in this year’s election, capturing more than 16 percent of the vote to join Yvonne Johnson and incumbent Nancy Vaughan as the city’s new at-large coalition.

Johnson scored more than 22,000 votes in the at-large race, more than either mayoral candidate, to become the next mayor pro tem.

District 4 incumbent Mary Rakestraw lost out in a horse race against challenger Nancy Hoffmann, who won by a mere 300 votes.

Just one member of the Gang of Four managed to hold on to her seat — Trudy Wade, who took District 5 with almost 80 percent of the vote against Jorge Cornell. In other results, Zack Matheny soundly defeated challenger Jay Ovittore, winning 78 percent of the vote. Dianne Bellamy-Small defeated DJ Hardy in the District 1 race, winning 72 percent of the vote, while Jim Kee handily defeated C. Bradley Hunt II in the District 2 race, winning 75 percent of the vote.

The Greensboro municipal elections had their share of drama and intrigue, including a series of possibly illegal robo-calls that began on Election Eve. African-American voters were told they were being forced to choose between two Republican candidates in the mayor’s race and their best course of action would be to write in a candidate. The tactic appeared to be designed to chip away at Perkins’ numbers, to the benefit of Knight, but Knight said he had nothing to do with it.

2011 will go down in the history books as the year of the Occupy movement was born. Inspired by Occupy Wall Street, citizens in Winston-Salem and Greensboro banded together this fall to form their own Occupy groups. On Oct. 15, several hundred demonstrators gathered at the government plaza in downtown Greensboro and marched to Festival Park. Greensboro city officials estimated the number of protestors to be between 700 and 750 people.

On Oct. 16, an estimated 100 to 150 people participating in Occupy Winston-Salem’s first direct-action event gathered outside the Bank of America branch at the corner of Knollwood Street and South Stratford Road.

Members of Occupy Winston-Salem said they targeted Bank of America because it was the second largest recipient of federal bailout money during the 2008 financial crisis. In 2009, the Charlotte-based bank paid its executives more than $1 billion in bonuses. Earlier this year, Bank of America announced it was planning to lay off more than 30,000 employees.

“We’re in agreement with all Occupy groups that we’re in this for the long haul,” Ashaya Hammond, a member of Occupy Winston-Salem, said. “Something really important about our group is we really want to bring a focus to more local issues, and really become involved in the community.”

Earlier this month, members of Occupy Winston-Salem ended negotiations with city officials about the location of a proposed campsite in the downtown area.

In October, the Year cont’d city’s public safety committee had approved a campsite near the intersection of 7th and Marshall streets, but Occupy members rejected the city’s proposal, expressing a number of concerns including the site’s proximity to a daycare facility.

In November, Occupy members Andrew Hobbs, Ethan Smith and Sally Hirsh met with Winston-Salem Assistant City Manager Greg Turner to propose seven potential locations for a campsite. Occupy members said they had proposed locating the campsite at either Corpening Plaza or the lawn in front of City Hall but met with resistance from city officials.

One of the biggest local stories of 2011 unfolded earlier this month as dozens of FBI agents and officers with the Greensboro Police Department and Guilford County Sheriff’s Office swarmed over a house at the corner of Florida Street and Lexington Avenue in Glenwood to arrest Jorge Cornell, AKA King Jay, and Charles Moore, both members of the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation, on racketeering charges.

The arrests were part of a coordinated raid that resulted in the detentions of six Greensboro Latin Kings. The indictment unsealed by the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of North Carolina against 13 individuals, including a number who have been stripped of their status in the organization, alleges that the North Carolina Latin Kings under Cornell’s leadership have conspired to commit murders, assaults, robberies, kidnappings and arson since 2005.

In addition to Cornell and Moore, the six Greensboro members arrested include Russell Kilfoil, Luis Alberto Rosa, Samuel Velasquez and Richard Lee Robinson. Wesley Williams, a former member who was stripped of his status after fleeing Greensboro in 2010, was arrested in Las Vegas. Arrest warrants have been issued for six others, including Randolph Kilfoil, who is currently serving a federal sentence for a felony weapons charge.

The economy and its slow recovery from the Great Recession proved to be another big local story in 2011. The state’s unemployment rate dropped ever so slightly throughout 2011 from its high-water mark of 11.4 percent in February 2010. Last month, the state’s unemployment rate stood at 10 percent, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In other economic news, Duke Energy Carolinas filed a “rate case” with the NC Utilities Commission earlier this year that would have increase residential rates an estimated 18.6 percent and business rates by 14 percent. Duke Energy also requested a 12-month rider to cover $3.7 million of costs associated with its abandoned Coastal Wind Turbine Project. Last month, the company scaled back its original request and asked for a more modest rate hike of 7.2 percent in November. The Public Staff of the NC Utilities Commission has endorsed the proposal.

In education news, the Republicancontrolled state legislature passed a budget that cut $350 million from the state’s public school system. The legislature overrode Gov. Bev Perdue’s historic veto of the $19.7 billion budget. The cuts in education led to the elimination of 1,800 teachers and teacher’s assistant positions, as well as the 4,300 classroom positions. During a town-hall meeting in High Point earlier this month, NC Speaker of the House Thom Tillis said state legislators will take a hard look at school systems that cut teacher positions and hold them accountable.

North Carolina public schools have lost 16,677 positions and laid off 6,096 people since the 2008-09 school year in response to state budget cuts, according to the NC Department of Public Instruction. During that same timeframe, North Carolina public school enrollment has grown. Teacher positions made up 35 percent of the positions lost and teacher assistants made up 33 percent of the overall positions cut since 2008.

In legal news, a jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts against Greensboro businessman Greg Harrison in a tax evasion case that wrapped up the Tuesday before Christmas in federal court in Winston-Salem.

Harrison was found guilty on 59 counts of willful failure to pay federal payroll taxes for 14 different companies over 12 quarterly periods, one count of corrupt endeavor to obstruct and impede internal revenue laws, and three counts of willful failure to pay individual income taxes.

US District Court Judge James A. Beaty agreed to a request by prosecutor Jeffrey McLellan to hold Harrison in detention as he awaits sentencing in April. McLellan argued that Harrison is a flight risk because he potentially faces a prison sentence of about 10 years, also noting testimony indicating the defendant was highly mobile through the frequent use of corporate jets and that his word was not to be trusted.