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Continuity and new ideas vie in District 2 race

by Jordan Green

Two years ago, when she announced her candidacy for Greensboro City Council, Goldie Wells was the chairwoman of Concerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro, and as such one was of the most visible champions of retail development in District 2. After receiving the endorsement of retiring Councilwoman Claudette Burroughs-White, who died on Friday, Wells sailed to victory over a handful of less organized rivals.

“I do know we’ve seen a lot of progress,” Wells said recently. “A lot of the groundwork was laid by Claudette in her eleven years on council and I just happened to be here when it came to fruition.”

A new Wal-Mart Supercenter at the site of the former Carolina Circle Mall and a new Lowe’s home improvement store are two of the predominantly African-American district’s most notable successes. But on that and another important front, public safety, Wells acknowledges that the battle is only partly won.

“Some things that I was talking about two years ago are still the issue,” she said. “We’ve seen some progress. Lowe’s just opened last week. Public safety is still the main concern. We need more police.”

Wells, a retired school principal, has cemented a strong alliance with mayoral candidate Yvonne Johnson in her two years on council. She has maintained a mostly collegial relationship with other council members, although two of her signature goals have been frustrated by her colleagues.

In her efforts to get council to embrace the truth and reconciliation process, Wells has found common cause only with her two fellow African-American council members, Johnson and District 1 representative Dianne Bellamy-Small. And Wells and District 5 Councilwoman Sandy Carmany were unable to persuade their tax-averse colleagues to fund 32 additional police officers when the city budget was passed in June.

“The statistics for crime in my district are dismal,” Wells said. “I don’t like them.”

Her prescription for damping down crime and bringing economic development are intertwined and relatively straightforward: Put more police on the street – even if it means raising taxes to do it – so retail and other businesses feel more comfortable coming to District 2. Recruit new employers through economic incentives to put people to work who would otherwise be tempted into lives of criminality. New tax revenue, in turn, will help pay for expanded basic services such as policing, Wells said. She added that she recognizes that raising taxes can impose a hardship on elderly, low-income homeowners, but city budget decisions present tough choices.

This time around, Wells faces an energetic challenger in Lance Jones, a 43-year-old correctional officer, commercial mortgage broker and online travel agency owner. Jones has highlighted his law enforcement background to seize on the recent public pressure for the city to address the problem of gang violence.

Following her campaign kickoff in July, Wells said she was “laying back” until the primary election in early October narrows the field in the at-large pool and in district races with more than two candidates. In the meantime, Jones has been compensating for his lack of name recognition by waging an aggressive campaign. Stacks of his glossy campaign cards have turned up in cafés and stores around the city. He has held a voter registration campaign at Jabs, a High Point Road nightclub. And Jones served as rap producer Russell Simmons’ personal bodyguard during the recent “Get Your Money Right” seminar at NC A&T University, in the process securing endorsements from Hip Hop Summit Action Network President and CEO Benjamin Chavis Muhammad, Nation of Islam leader Dennis Muhammad and rapper Mike Jones.

Rather than challenge Wells on the issues, Jones has tried to co-opt her major policy planks, arguing that efforts to improve economic development and public safety need to undertaken with more zeal and through more creative approaches.

“I propose forming a United Nations of Neighborhoods – of ‘Hoods, if you will,” Jones said. “It would be a group of former gang members who could really mediate the issues. So instead of hearing ‘Bloods’ and ‘Crips’ and ‘MS-13,’ for those young men who have found brotherhood in gangs, we would say, ‘We applaud them for that. It’s the activity that we have a problem with.’ I have asked [the Triad Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition] and the various developers if they would allow young people in the summer to get job skills through summer jobs.”

A former vice president of the North State Law Enforcement Officers Association, a group of black officers, Jones said he believes the police should have additional officers to support a gang unit, but believes increased enforcement can only accomplish so much on its own.

“Gangs may be a part of the future,” he said. “What we do with them is up to us. Do you want to lock them all up? We have two million people in prison right now. We don’t have enough prisons to house them all.”

Jones, like Wells, supports the use of economic incentives to recruit new businesses.

“District two has the potential to be a great residential and retail district,” he said. “A&T could feed the knowledge base of science and administration for new businesses. Let us create the incentives to make it happen.”

And Jones, like the current representative of District 2, is an enthusiastic supporter of the truth and reconciliation process – a community effort to examine the causes and consequences of the 1979 Klan-Nazi shootings. Five communist labor activists were killed in the streets of Morningside Homes in an incident in which the Greensboro police were conspicuously absent.

“I think the city council and mayor really missed the ball when it comes to the truth and reconciliation process,” Jones said. “That was one project that should have been embraced, marketed and really taken advantage of. It was a golden opportunity to embrace our diversity and to go through the process of atonement, acknowledging wrong, doing something in expiation, and healing together.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com.

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