A political revolution

by Editorial

“There is a new wind blowing through our city,” said at-large Councilwoman Florence Gatten on May 1, announcing that she will not seek reelection or run for mayor. “It is the wind of change and opportunity.”

There are municipal elections scheduled for November, in case you were too distracted by the media obsession with Obama vs. Hillary (with North Carolina’s John Edwards considered a third-ranked contender) for the Democratic nomination. And the presidential election isn’t even happening for another 18 months.

In a strange parallel, the balance of forces appears to have shifted simultaneously at the national and local levels. Nationally, Bush’s war in Iraq has been thoroughly discredited and a Democrat in the White House come January 2009 is all but a foregone conclusion. In Greensboro, an authoritarian police chief who froze out dissenting members of his command staff and reputedly meted comparatively harsh punishments to blacks and others outside his favored circle has been deposed. A new African-American chief with a low-key personality has announced a focus on community policing, while de-emphasizing anti-gang programs, federal law enforcement partnerships and other aggressive initiatives.

The image-conscious banker Keith Holliday has announced he will not run for mayor again. Yvonne Johnson, a professional mediator with a decidedly liberal track record who is a 13-year veteran of the council and currently one of three at-large members, is the only declared candidate. The local punditry struggles to think of a credible contender, although downtown developer Milton Kern – a political neophyte who has never held political office – perhaps comes the closest.

The mayor sets the tone for the city. Being that Johnson is an unabashed proponent of the truth process and a politician who has privately offered her support to the Greensboro Minimum Wage Campaign, her triumph would mark an indisputable departure.

Of course, the mayor’s is only one vote on a nine-member board. So the question becomes whether the esteemed council is tilting left. It’s hard to say for sure, but the departure of Gatten, whose call for Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small’s resignation smacked of classic Greensboro racial paternalism, is one indicator. The third council member who has publicly stepped aside is its conservative conscience, Tom Phillips. That said, we still have an avid free marketer in District 4 Councilman Mike Barber and a cautious centrist in District 5 Councilwoman Sandy Carmany.

As we struggle to discern the meaning of this tide of events, we’ll take one unequivocal stand. An election without choices would perpetuate a withered and sickly democracy. We need a vigorous debate and whatever we think of Johnson’s style and substance, we strongly urge serious candidates to step forward to challenge her.

It is also an open question as to how things shake out on the fronts of human relations, environmental sustainability, economic justice and the domination of real estate interests over Greensboro’s civic soul. Appearances in politics can be deceiving. We have many miles yet to go.