Activist candidate reeemphasizes leftist credentials

by Jordan Green

Ben holder wasreviewing some of his greatest hits from the “speakers from the floor”segment of greensboro city council meetings. He dragged the cursor overa file on his computer and played the video from his opponent,incumbent District 1 councilwoman Dianne bellamy-small’s first term.this particular episode showed Holder describing the need for acoordinated community and police response to crack-cocaine-relatedhomicides, and former mayor Keith Holliday listening intently and thenresponding thoughtfully. A tattered map of District 1 laybefore the computer monitor in the study at the house Holder recentlymoved into in glenwood. agreensboro native and former winston-salemresident who calls himself the troublemaker, Holder’s back. He hopes tosnatch the championship belt from bellamysmall, a resilient incumbentwith strong grassroots support who survived a recall election and thenhandily defeated three opponents in 2007. “i’m going to be usingeverything i learned from watching professional wrestling,” he said.“i’m going to be talking shit and swallowing spit.”

Today,he was wearing a kaleidoscope-colored tie-dye that his 8-year old sonand 5- year-old daughter disdain and a wrestling-inspired red Fu manchuanchu moustache with white highlights. come early next month hepromised to organize his supporters into a formal campaign organizationand refine his appearance. the Fu manchu moustache will have to go. butisn’t that part of the wrestling strategy? “wrestling is all aboutmarketing,” Holder said. “You have to look the part.” He later added,“growing up watching wrestling, that was the only time you saw a whiteguy, a black guy and a Hispanic guy all cheering for the same person.” Thecampaign action has been mostly pillowstrikes so far, but Holder hasmade a modest gambit. on July 23, he used his blog to challenge a citypolicy holding that all information requested by candidates should beprovided to their opponents. “it all but eliminates the element ofsurprise,” Holder complained. “the art of blindsiding is a big part ofamerican politics and should not be taken away.”

As anyone who readsHolder’s blog knows, he spends a considerable amount of his timedriving around. A recent run took him on a circuitous route aroundGlenwood. At one corner he slowed his car and watched with interest asa woman knocked on the door of what appeared to be an unusedstorefront. The woman opened the door and stared balefully back inHolder’s direction before he eased the car around the corner. Then hedrove to a duplex on Union Street that has recently been condemned bythe city and whose door was standing wide open. Someone had taken aSharpie and wrote “crackhouse” on the doors of two houses around thecorner on Gregory Street. “The kids in this neighborhood don’tneed to see that,” Holder said. “This wouldn’t happen around theFriendly Center. It’s not fair, and it shouldn’t be this way.” Blightedproperties, the sale of drug paraphernalia, asbestos removal, illegalmassage parlors and police protection are a few of the issues Holderhas addressed through his activism. The through-line of these campaignshas been his conviction that the city’s powerful and privileged allowthese scourges to afflict the areas where poor blacks, whites andHispanics live, and that the same leaders would never stand for suchnuisances in exclusive neighborhoods such as Irving Park. Holder’srelationship with the Greensboro Police Department has been complex andconflicted. He said that in 2003 he began mapping thehomicides and correlating them to convenience stores where cheapflowers were sold in plastic tubes. Crack-cocaine users would throwaway the flowers and use the tubes to smoke their drugs. Holderpresented these drug stems to the vice-narcotics division, and thepolice soon sent undercover officers to make buys, with arrestsfollowing. Holder noted with relish that one of theconvenience stores implicated in the sweep was owned by Isa Abuzuaiter,the husband of at-large candidate Marikay Abuzuaiter. Subsequently, thestore stopped selling the cheap flowers enclosed in plastic tubes.Holder said he has maintained a friendly relationship with theAbuzuaiter family. Isa Abuzuaiter said one of his clerkspleaded no contest after selling one of the tubes, and that he as theowner of the store was found not guilty. “I don’t know whyhe’s talking about our store,” Abuzuaiter said. “I think he should gofind something else. I think he should leave the small business peoplealone and go after the drug dealers. We’re trying to make a living likeeveryone else.” For his part, Holder seemed eager to mend fences. “Isupport Marikay, and I’m planning on voting for her,” he said. “Ididn’t know he owned that store. The police chose that store; I didn’tbring it to their attention. In the at-large contest, I think NancyVaughan is going to be mayor pro tem, Robbie Perkins is going to comein second place, and it’s going to be a dogfight between Marikay andSandra Anderson Groat. I’m voting for Marikay,and I’m encouraging everyone else to, also.” Another time, in 2003,Holder wore a wire for the police during an interview with a nightcluboperator while purporting to gather information for a newspaper story.(Somewhat ironically, the location of the former nightclub, called theGame Time Lounge, now houses the Hive, an anarchist community andactivist center that is on the candidate’s list of places to visit.)Though at one time he acted as a police agent, Holder is hardly abooster of the department. He supports giving subpoena power to thecity’s complaint review committee, which investigates citizencomplaints about police abuse. Bellamy-Small, his opponent, rejectedthe idea in January. “I’ve always agreed with that,” Holdersaid. “I like to watch and instruct [the police]. I look at myself astheir supervisor. A complaint review committee without subpoena poweris just another way to pacify a community.”

Under a proposal by the human relations commission, the complaintreview committee would have the power to subpoena civilian witnesses.Why, Holder asks, should police officers worry about civilian witnessestestifying if they haven’t done anything wrong? And besides, he adds,police officers should welcome testimony from civilian witnessesbecause it could end up showing they comported themselvesprofessionally. Much of Holder’s recent notoriety has comefrom his prolific blogging on the subject of an ongoing policecontroversy revolving around former Chief David Wray’s resignation, thenumerous investigations of the special intelligence section andlawsuits by black officers alleging racial discrimination. Holder hasconsistently argued that the special intelligence section properlyinvestigated black officers because of credible allegations ofmisconduct, including improper associations with drug dealers. Thecandidate said he anticipates that the matter will come up during thecampaign, but he would be just as happy if it didn’t. Bellamy-Small hashinted that she has no plans to shrink from the subject, listing amongher accomplishments on her campaign website that she “advocated forfairness in [the] treatment of black officers involved in the policescandal.” District 1 has the heaviest representation ofAfrican Americans in the city, and many of those aligned with Holder onthe controversy live in the city’s three majority-white districts. Thecandidate is savvy enough to know this issue isn’t likely to weigh inhis favor. “I’ve always been on the left side with thehave-nots,” Holder said. “That David Wray thing was like a civil war.Brothers stopped talking. I had to look at the facts, and say, ‘Holdon.’ I made some sacrifices. I went to hang out with the white boys onthe right.” To black voters in District 1 who may not agreewith him, Holder has this to say: “How has Ron Rogers beendiscriminated against when he’s the assistant chief of police?” Hecontinued by asking whether they would want the police department toignore numerous allegations of corruption by black officers. Holdersaid he sees a city cursed by a split, with both sides lying to eachother. He may be a polarizing figure, but he does have some diversitycredentials as a widower and single father to two mixed-race children. “Weare a city that has gays, gay haters, blacks, racists, blacks who hatewhite people, Hispanics, Mexicans that hate black people — we got itall here,” he said. “We can continue to gather our belongings and buildfences around ourselves, or we can start working together to make abetter city for everyone. We can look out for our own needs in theshort term or we can prosper together in the long term.”