Behind-scenes operative comes out as candidate

by Jordan Green

Behind-scenes operative comes out as candidate

Julie Lapham traces her interest in politics back to when she was an 11-year-old girl witnessing her father’s campaign for city council in England. She stood up and addressed a question to the candidate. “I said, ‘We have an incredible swimming pool downtown, but we don’t have a swimming club. What can we do about that?’ His response to me was, ‘Why don’t you go organize a swimming club?’ It took me about a year and a half, but I did it. That learning catapulted me to working every single campaign wherever I’ve lived. I consider it my civic duty.” Lapham managed Yvonne Johnson’s historic campaign for mayor in 2007, and served as the Guilford County chair of Women for Perdue, helping to elect Beverly Perdue as the state’s first female governor last year. In the past, Lapham said she has played more of a behind-the-scenes role in strategizing and mobilizing voters to the polls, but she knocked on enough doors and talked to enough voters to also feel natural in the role of candidate. “We need open, ethical and inclusive government,” Lapham said during a recent interview about her candidacy for an at-large seat on the Greensboro City Council that took place in a lounge on the ground floor of the high-rise condominium. Lapham lives near downtown, a few blocks south of Moses Cone hospital. In discussions of her vision for Greensboro’s future, she returned time and again to three major themes: forward-thinking leadership to prepare for population growth and a rapidly changing job market, the merits of inclusion and diversity, and restoring trust through transparency and public-spirited government.

“We have to think bigger regionally,” she said. “We also have to think smaller: community, backyards. If community building and critical thinking joined hands, we would have a successful future by attracting news jobs and attracting jobs that aren’t even on the drawing board today.” Lapham said the city needs a wider array of voices shaping policy, including more young people, more people of different nationalities and more people with expertise but without a vested interest in decisions. “We need to include the nonprofit world, the corporate world, youngsters, community foundations,” she said. “I looked at the membership of the aerotropolis board, and it’s the same-old, same-old — mayors and so forth. I know I’m going to get some static for this, but I asked, ‘Where are the nonprofits? Where are the critical thinkers? Where are the faculty members from our universities? Where are the people willing to ask the tough questions?’ In regionalism, the tough question is: What are you willing to contribute, and what do you want in return?” Lapham said the city needs more disclosure about the intertwined interests of developers and elected officials. “Conflicting interests is a big thing,” she said. “Disclosure is the only way we can get the information to the people. If the citizens don’t know who they’re voting for or what interests they represent, maybe that’s why they don’t vote.” Lapham opposes reopening the White Street Landfill to household waste, arguing that for all the money that might be saved the city would likely have to pay out as much defending itself against lawsuits. As an alternative, she favors exploring green technologies to harvest methane and bio-fuel from waste, along with pursuing regional solutions to waste disposal. “Greensboro residents are smart,” the candidate said. “Even those who are considered uneducated know precisely what’s going on in this city. I would encourage them to come out and participate in the process.”