Conservatives scramble in wake of progressive tsunami

by Jordan Green

Residents in east Greensboro turned out in force, delivering mayoral challenger Robbie but said she plans to step up her efforts, including raising money to boost her profile.

Perkins nearly 3,000 votes over Knight. In districts 1 and 2, residents in a handful of Johnson, who served on council from 1993 to 2009, with two years as mayor, and Vaughan, precincts overwhelmingly supported Perkins, most handily in two of the easternmost who served on council from 1997 to 2001 before returning in 2009, are expected to capture two precincts G06 and G74 by nearly 300 votes in each. of the at-large seats by virtue of their unmatched name recognition among voters.

Perkins also won upwards of 85 percent of the vote in three precincts that lie along the Phillips Avenue corridor near the White Street Landfill. In the two districts closest to the landfill, turnout far exceeded the 11 percent average across the city. In G06, which includes the landfill, 24.3 percent of registered voters turned out, while nearby G05 saw 18.7 percent turnout.

Perkins also dominated a cluster of precincts in southeast Greensboro. G69, at Reid Memorial CME Church, where he carried 87.4 percent of the vote was typical. Less than an hour before the polls closed on Oct. 11, six Bennett College students arrived in a minivan. One pulled out a bullhorn and led a chant: “Bennett belles are… voting belles!” Robert Moore, a 71-year-old volunteer wearing campaign buttons for Perkins and at-large contenders Yvonne Johnson and Marikay Abuzuaiter, stood out in the rain throughout the day talking up his candidates.

“We want a major change; we want a better change for Greensboro,” he said. “When I say, ‘Greensboro,’ I mean everyone. We’re fighting hard because we want Robbie Perkins to win. Robbie looks at things truthfully.”

Voter turnout increased in almost every precinct across the city compared to the 2009 primary — no surprise considering that there was not a mayoral primary two years ago. Yet the differences were striking. In G74, a bellwether precinct whose polling place is Bluford Elementary in southeast Greensboro where Perkins, Johnson and Abuzuaiter pulled out hundreds of votes apiece, turnout nearly tripled, leaping from 6.4 percent to 18.0 percent. Meanwhile, in G32 at Claxton Elementary, a conservative stronghold where Knight performed well, along with at-large candidates Danny Thompson and Chris Lawyer, turnout didn’t quite double, increasing from 14.9 percent to 24.7 percent.

Challenger Chris Phillips, a black Republican with ties to the local tea party, won more votes than Knight in a number of east Greensboro precincts as well. All of the precincts where Phillips performed the best also favored Perkins. The candidate sought to appeal to black voters’ sense of racial solidarity by placing yard signs showing his face around east Greensboro.

Tom Phillips, who was eliminated from the race with his third-place finish, garnered 2,168 total votes. After the primary he endorsed Perkins, suggesting many of his supporters would move into the challenger’s camp. Perkins will likely also pick up votes that initially went to left-leaning Bradford Cone, who came in last with 689 but wasn’t far behind Chris Phillips.

Former mayor Yvonne Johnson dominated the electoral landscape in the at-large race, carrying all precincts in east and south Greensboro except for two, along with the downtown area. Her first-place finish, with 22.7 percent of the vote reflects both intense loyalty among voters in east Greensboro and strong support throughout the city.

Nancy Vaughan, who currently serves as mayor pro tem, carried a block of established neighborhoods stretching from Irving Park to Starmount and Challenger Chris Lawyer and incumbent Danny Thompson, both conservatives, carved up the Cardinal, and Thompson carried the Grandover. A first-time candidate, Lawyer placed fourth, outpolling incumbent Thompson. The two candidates, who share a base of conservative voters in northwest Greensboro, are vying for the third at-large seat. Thompson’s name recognition as an incumbent should boost his prospects in the general election, when turnout typically increases. But Lawyer appears to be better liked by voters, some of whom have faulted Thompson for his campaign finance reporting.

“We started right away on October 12 in full campaign mode, meeting with as many people as we can can,” Lawyer said. “We are hitting the ground, trying to go into every area of Greensboro possible.”

Both Thompson and Lawyer are looking to overtake Marikay Abuzuaiter, who finished with a 1.5 percentage spread over Lawyer. Abuzuaiter is campaigning in tandem with Johnson, and performed well in many of the same precincts, especially where voters are mobilized against the landfill.

“Do I look like I have a bulls-eye on my back?” Abuzuaiter asked rhetorically. “I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing because I was able to place third solely by the vote of confidence of the voters. I’m going to do a little more outreach, and highlight my community involvement.”

Wayne Abraham carried one precinct by virtue of earning eight votes in G45, which covers UNCG, his alma mater. He finished sixth, almost three percentage points behind Thompson. As such, Abraham has the most ground to make up, with the added challenge that he appeals to the same voters who favor Abuzuaiter, Johnson and, to a lesser extent, Vaughan.

Both Abraham and Abuzuaiter have aligned themselves with Occupy Greensboro, with Abraham highlighting the movement in a Facebook post and Abuzuaiter serving as a parade marshal and participating since the first meeting. Abuzuaiter holds advantages over Abraham in that she has been on the ballot in previous elections. And while she hasn’t raised much money, Abuzuaiter’s involvement in the anti-landfill campaign makes her a beneficiary of that group’s intense get-out-the-vote efforts.

“I think folks who are more progressive will lean towards me, probably also Marikay,” Abraham said. “I’m the only one who has offered participatory budgeting, which is unique for our city. When you explain it to people, they are very interested in having it occur.”

Abraham has proven to be a prolific fundraiser, and said he plans to maintain an aggressive schedule of appearances and keep sending out mailers to introduce himself to voters.

This year’s election is shaping up as a partisan contest although Greensboro City Council elections are nominally nonpartisan, with no indication of candidates’ party affiliation on the ballot.

No contest is more partisan — or more evenly matched — than the one in District 4.

Hoffmann, a registered Democrat, performed most strongly in Precinct G48, which includes Lindley Park, a Democratic stronghold that Rakestraw attempted to eject from the district during a disastrous redistricting attempt. Hoffmann dominated a corridor between West Market Street and Spring Garden Street, including high-turnout G14, whose polling place is St. Andrews Episcopal Church. Hoffmann also enjoyed strong margins in a column of affluent, high-performing precincts west of Holden Road.

Rakestraw, a registered Republican, drew her largest pool of votes out of G32, whose polling place is located at Claxton Elementary. Turnout in the Republican-leaning precinct slightly exceeded that in G14, and gave Rakestraw more than 10 percent of her total vote. Rakestraw also carried a number of Democratic-leaning precincts, including G50, a poorer, more racially diverse precinct with traditionally low turnout.

Tony Collins, another challenger, was eliminated in the primary, finishing a distant third.

Collins enjoyed his strongest support in Republican-leaning precincts clustered in the district’s northern tier that also delivered strong numbers for Rakestraw. A moderate Republican, Collins placed second overall. Vaughan ran a contrasted himself with Rakestraw more on tone than policy.

“Those people were voting against Mary Rakestraw,” Hoffmann said of Collins’ voters. “They low-key campaign were voting for a change in leadership. Whether they were Democrats, Republicans or unaffili up to the primary, ated, they sent a message that they wanted a different city council member.”