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A new face in W-S Northwest Ward Race

by Alex Ashe

 alexa@yesweekly.com

For the first time since 1997, a new face will fill the Northwest Ward seat on the Winston-Salem City Council. Democratic council member Wanda Merschel will not seek a fifth term, which opens up the seat to four prospective candidates, all of whom lack prior elective experience.

The Northwest Ward consists of 31.1 percent registered Republicans, 40.6 percent Democrats and 27.9 percent unaffiliated voters. With the secondmost registered Republican voters of the eight wards, the Northwest Ward could be the GOP’s best shot at gaining a seat.

The Northwest Ward race was the closest November council race in 2009, with Merschel receiving 53 percent of the vote to Republican challenger Peter Sorenson’s 47 percent. The race was decided by fewer than 200 votes.

Republican candidate Lida Hayes Calvert will compete for the seat in November, but in the meantime, she’ll await her opponent, which will be de termined in the Sept. 10 primary election between Democrats Laura Elliott, Jeff MacIntosh and Noah Reynolds.

MacIntosh, 55, works as a realtor with Leonard Ryden Burr. He was the first to express interest in the Northwest Ward seat, declaring on record that he would run if Merschel decided not to.

Like Merschel, he’s a moderate Democrat, a proponent of downtown revitalization through both economic development and historical preservation.

“The city should continue to ‘promote’ downtown in total, as it provides far more money to the budget than it gets back in services,” said MacIntosh, a resident of the city since 1976.

When discussing his qualifications for the seat, he cites his hands-on nature and variety of experience, which includes being appointed by Mayor Allen Joines to two of his committees: the Select Capital Needs Committee and the Select Development Review-Related Committee, which respectively involve prioritizing approved bond money and making development/planning recommendations to city staff.

Reynolds, 40, is self-employed in real estate management and development. He’s also the greatgrandson of tobacco tycoon RJ Reynolds.

Though he was born and raised in Winston-Salem, Reynolds spent time living in Charlotte, Raleigh, Atlanta and the northeast US before returning to the Camel City in 2004 to enroll in the MBA program at Wake Forest University.

His platform emphasizes the importance of transportation and connectivity, his knowledge of which he credits to his experience living in various cities. “I’ve seen the light rail go up in Charlotte, I’ve seen Atlanta with the MAR- TA, I’ve seen what a good transportation system looks like,” Reynolds said.

“I think I can bring the perspective of someone who was born and raised in W-S, went off to find himself, picked up this information and now I’m back to share it with the community.”

In regards to the candidates’ lack of elective experience, Reynolds believes city council will flourish with the addition of new blood.

“It’ll be a benefit to the council to have new ideas, fresh ideas,” he said. “I think that W-S is ready for some new ways to look at things.”

Elliott, 53, is an ordained minister, but also has experience in finance, having formerly worked for Wachovia. In between her time in finance and her current role as associate pastor at a local church, Elliott served on the board or volunteered for a plethora of non-profit organizations, including the United Way, Experiment in Self-Reliance and Habitat for Humanity.

It’s no surprise, then, that her platform accentuates a citizen’s personal well being. “We have to ensure needs are met in the community like employment, education and housing,” Elliott said.

It’ll be a benefit to the council to have new ideas, fresh ideas. I think that W-S is ready for some new ways to look at things.” Noah Reynolds

A Winston-Salem resident since 1989, Elliott reiterates the importance of a council member’s responsiveness to their constituents, as well as the city as a whole.

“I would like to be a representative who is strongly involved in reaching out, seeking out constituents and their input,” she said. “A city council member’s first responsibility is to their constituents in their own ward, but I also think it’s important that they recognize that they’re also serving the best interests of the entire city and community.”

The new Northwest representative will have large shoes to fill. The retiring Merschel also served as chairwoman of the council’s finance committee and as a member of its public safety committee. MacIntosh and Elliott worked on multiple campaigns for Merschel. All three candidates praised her service and accomplishments during her four council terms.

“I think Wanda did a very good job in the 16 years she was there,” MacIntosh said. “She’s handled some really difficult decisions.”

“She’s done a good job of beginning the work of moving Winston-Salem forward with the downtown arts district, and also with the revitalization of 4 th Street,” Reynolds said. “I think it’s time for the next generation of city council leaders to follow up on that work and move Winston into the next 100 years.”

“I would hope to continue positive things that she’s done, such as strengthening the city’s financial status,” Elliott said. “She’s been instrumental in that.”

MacIntosh, in his closing remarks as to why he’s the right candidate for the seat, referred to his prior work with the city and hard work ethic. “I think I have very good insight into some of the big picture issues involved with the city,” he said. “I’ve been working hard to get it, and have done two years of homework to prepare.”

Reynolds, who admits that references to the city’s centennial are his “calling card,” stresses “smart growth” and his ability to cultivate business partnerships. “To move Winston-Salem into the next 100 years, it’s going to take relationship building and a vision for the future,” he said. “I think I can do both — help provide the vision, help build the relationships — at a city council level, an economic development level and a community level.”

Elliott emphasizes that her work and service in such a variety of fields has prepared her to serve a wide a spectrum of constituents. “I would ask people who live in the Northwest Ward to take a very strong look at my background and what I have to offer the community going forward as a city council member,” she said.

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