Advocacy for redevelopment makes candidate familiar face at council meetings

by Jordan Green

Nettie Coad was standing in her dining room discussing her campaign kickoff on the phone with Guilford County Commission Chairman Skip Alston as campaign manager Quentin L. Richardson and a handful of other volunteers sat around the table. (Richardson is a photography intern with YES! Weekly.) With upwards of three decades of community activism under her belt, the 73year-old Coad later discussed what it’s like to run for office for the first time in her life. “All these organizations are sending me questionnaires trying to find out what I think about this or that issue,” she said. “It really is getting under my skin. It’s not the institutions I need to satisfy. What do the people want?”

As a longtime foe of blight in her neighborhood of Ole Asheboro and as a person deeply involved in interpersonal work to combat racism, Coad has pursued change mostly the outside of government. In doing so, she has become something of an institution herself. After the chi-chi townhouses slide past a driver’s vision going south on Martin Luther King Drive over Lee Street, one of the first sites on the left is the Nettie Coad Apartments, a brick multi-family residence. As a goad for public investment in ailing neighborhoods, she has found herself the chairwoman of the Greensboro Redevelopment Commission. Coad is running for the open District 2 seat currently held by Goldie Wells. Her corner of the district is south of downtown in a toe that dips into District 1. She is running against Jim Kee, a developer who has the support of Mayor Yvonne Johnson, and against two relatively unknown candidates named Dan Fischer and Gordon M. Hester. In April, Coad came before city council and requested that the city invest federal stimulus funds in an economic development project in Ole Asheboro. Among those lined up behind her to promote the initiative were fellow redevelopment commission member Bob Mays and future at-large city council candidate DJ Hardy. “I was thinking as I was reflecting Sunday afternoon how many years I’ve appeared before council,” Coad told the council members. “I’m grateful I still have the energy to do what I do. I’m very tired though. I’ve been singing this song….” She rattled off a litany of mayor’s names, going back to Carson Bain, who was first elected to the seat in 1967. Coad and her allies asked council to match local bonds with federal stimulus money to rehabilitate housing, including the Nettie Coad Apartments, and provide subsidies to first-time homebuyers willing to invest in the neighborhood. “I think about Southside just sitting across the bridge,” Coad continued. “Living here all this time, and just riding by what looks so good. We had a part in it. We’re the ones who helped people when you had to go down to the Grove and deal with that. From every direction we’ve borne so many burdens. We’ve stood steadfast and kept coming and kept trying to use dollars to address issues. What we’re going to do tonight is to ask you look at this, and let’s bring some closure to this. I’ve had so many people to tell us: ‘Oh, you’re neighborhood looks so much better.’ Mary Rakestraw: You’ve come over to visit with us. Many of you — you know what we’ve done. Now, let’s see what you can do.” Bob Mays, Coad’s fellow redevelopment commissioner, called his colleague “probably the premier advocate for redevelopment in the city.” Mayor Pro Tem Sandra Anderson Groat thanked Coad, remarked that they had first met in 1989, and enthused, “We really were a team, and we had fun with it.” At-large Councilman Robbie Perkins went one better. “I’ve known you long enough to know you mean business when you come on down here,” he said. “What I want to do is drill down on why you’re here, and look at alternatives, and direct staff, as opposed to just saying, ‘Thank you for being here.’ What I’d like to do is gain for council a historical perspective.” Perkins recalled that council had considered widening Martin Luther King Drive to five lanes in the early 1990s. To which Coad replied, “And we wouldn’t let you.” “And I think it would be wise — and [various staff members] have been around long enough to give us the historical perspective as to the progress that has been made on the street and in the neighborhood,” Perkins continued. “And I think we need that to use as a basis for moving forward, with alternate sources of funding and a timeline that we can be held responsible to get this finished. Because this has dragged on and on and on.” Perkins’ motion passed unanimously. Coad has developed extensive political relationships over the years. In a recent interview, she first mentioned the council’s two most conservative members, District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade and Mary Rakestraw, who is running for reelection in District 4, as past and potentially future collaborators. “Trudy and I worked on the welfareto-work program,” Coad recalled. “Mary Rakestraw came to me when she first started campaigning. Our mayor is someone I’ve worked with for years.” In conversation, Coad constantly returns to themes of poverty, blight, crime and inequality. “I’ve been out doing the work, advocating for people,” she said. “I’ve served on enough boards. I’ve seen money change hands. Some things work sometimes. Most times, they don’t work well when it comes to addressing poverty.”