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Council candidates enter political fray

by Amy Kingsley

City council members and neighborhood residents often make their first acquaintance in less than ideal circumstances. The usual introduction goes something like this: Neighbors, rallied by the prospect of high-density or retail development encroaching on their residential idyll, lobby the council to protect their homes. Real estate lawyers respond with slide shows, a slick pitch and a promise to work with neighbors. The neighbors usually lose and are left with a wispy buffer of cypress saplings as consolation. This year, Greensboro’s Neighborhood Congress organized a candidate forum to make that first conversation a little more productive. Fourteen candidates in five districts parried questions about subjects like noise pollution, code enforcement, taxes and public safety from a moderator and representatives of neighborhood associations who were in the crowd. In District 3, three of six candidates running for the seat being vacated by Tom Phillips sparred about the influence of developers. Berkley Blanks, who ran for sheriff in the last two county elections, is the people’s anti-developer candidate. Lucky for him, all the questions aimed at the District 3 candidates dealt with development, and he handily distanced himself from Zack Matheny and Cyndy Hayworth, both of whom sit on the zoning commission. Blanks’ passion almost made up for his biggest factual blunder of the evening, when, in a response to a question about ethics rules, he urged the city to make developer contributions to politicians public – which they already are. Blanks’ challenge in the upcoming campaign will be to establish himself as something more than a single-issue candidate. The candidates in District 1 were surprisingly cordial. All agreed that more police and economic investment are key to improving the district. Dianne Bellamy-Small, who is facing a recall election on Aug. 21, was measured and consistent in her advocacy for the city’s less fortunate. Luther Falls, her challenger in 2005, promoted himself as an earnest believer in the power of entrepreneurship – he is the only candidate running on the premise that Greensboro’s economic salvation lies in the hands of its citizens, not in the expansion plans of multinational corporations. Tonya Clinkscale, a construction project manager, came across as a candidate of substance and polish, offering concrete answers to even the vague questions. Charles Coffey, a machinist at Industries for the Blind, hewed closest to the folksy type. When asked how he would address divisions in the community, he recommended race relations training before offering the following feel-good quip: “None of us are going anywhere,” Coffey said. “So let’s try to get along with one another.” For the first time in a while, Sandy Carmany will be facing legitimate competition come November. The 16-year incumbent established herself as a wonkish proponent of regional cooperation. But on questions about spending and the role of the city manager, veterinarian and challenger Trudy Wade got her licks in, charging the sitting council in general, and her opponent indirectly, with dereliction of fiscal duty. Her best response came after a question about whether the city should have a strong mayor system, when she positioned herself as favoring a strong council system. Wade said the city council has not had enough control of City Manager Mitchell Johnson, who in turn directs the staff. On the subject of city council’s supervision of city staff, Wade broached the 2005 resignation of police Chief David Wray. “Locking someone out of their office is not very right,” Wade said. “It is not very professional.” Angela Carmichael, a small business owner and District 5 contender, failed to distinguish herself in this first forum. She agreed too often with her opponents and offered little elaboration of her own. Districts 2 and 4 have only two candidates each, which means neither will have a primary. The candidates in District 2 – incumbent Goldie Wells and challenger Lance Jones – barely disagreed with each other. In District 4, attorney Mike Barber put on a bravura performance. He rose and addressed the entire room for each response, massaging his responses with masterful gesticulation and intonation. Policy wise, he cast himself as a slayer of sacred cows, and a teller of hard truths. Faced with a question about police staffing, the councilman, who voted against last year’s budget that put 32 new officers on the streets, recommended cutting the Women’s and Minority Business Enterprise program to fund a gang unit. Barber’s opponent, David Crawford, seemed nervous and shaky on some of the issues, but earned the goodwill of the crowd with his anecdotal, occasionally rambling responses. His suggestion that the city buy and burn down blighted property earned some laughs, but he offered few other concrete policy ideas.

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com.

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