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Davis runs on ‘no bull’ platform

by Amy Kingsley

Diane Davis leaned her elbows on a table near the glass storefront of the Green Bean, shifting weight onto a leg too short for the slanted floor and nearly upsetting a cup of tea.

‘“I guess old buildings are like old women,’” she said. ‘“Both of them have a few wrinkles.’” Then she carefully replaced her elbows on the table and in her slow Savannah drawl started in on what she has earned a reputation for in the past several years: pointing out Greensboro’s wrinkles.

Davis has lived in Greensboro since 1971 and has volunteered for at least 20 boards and organizations in the last 34 years. A downtown booster, she opened Davis Design art supply store in 1981 and moved it to Elm Street in 1997. The mother of five retired last year and left the business to a couple of her children.

This year, Davis is running for one of three at-large seats on the Greensboro City Council. She finished fifth in the primary with 1,241 of the 7,469 ballots cast. Only the top finishers among incumbents Yvonne Johnson, Don Vaughan, District 4 representative Florence Gatten, challengers Sandra Anderson, Joel Landau and Davis will win at-large seats.

‘“You don’t know what kind of job someone will do until you give them a chance,’” said Davis. ‘“And I haven’t been given my chance yet.’”

Davis campaigned in 2001 and 2003 to represent District 3 against incumbent Robbie Perkins, who has served on the council since 1993. In the first election she failed to earn enough votes to make it through the primaries, but fared well in 2003 with about 40 percent of the vote against the 10-year veteran. She decided to run at-large this year at the urging of friends who could not vote for her in previous elections.

On local issues, Davis is as well versed as a sitting council member. She appears weekly as Downtown Diane on the Dusty Dunn radio show and regularly updates her city government blog, Greensboro Peer Pressure. Davis has offered her two cents on everything from a filthy bus stop outside City Hall to economic development strategy at the council meetings she routinely attends.

‘“I was a Girl Scout from the time I was 7 years old,’” she said when asked about the beginning of her public involvement. ‘“I get involved in things when I want to help.’”

Despite her innocuous intentions, Davis minces few words in her assessments of city council initiatives like the Comprehensive Plan. The syrup-voiced grandmother is one of the bluntest critics of what she perceives as a wasteful city government plagued by uninspired ideas.

‘“The Comprehensive Plan is a joke,’” she said. ‘“Last election that was the big thing. All the incumbents kept saying, ‘we passed the Comprehensive Plan’ which was supposed to be this great guide for development in Greensboro. Now they change it at every single city council meeting.’”

A sometime bus rider, Davis lampooned the council for spending thousands of dollars on a team of out-of-state consultants to evaluate the city’s public transportation system. Among the recommendations were the implementation of more crosstown routes, increased frequency of stops and the implementation of a downtown circulator service.

‘“I could have told them the same thing for about $20,’” she said.

Davis has complained for several years about stops like the one at the corner of Cornwallis Drive and Battleground Avenue, where the bus drops passengers in the grass at a busy intersection with no walk signals. But the city council has not responded, she said.

Some of the most common topics featured in her blog are waste reduction and landfill alternatives. The council blundered in its decision to close the White Street Landfill and ship trash out of the city before contemplating options like Waste to Energy, she said.

She also strongly advocates plans to make Greensboro friendlier for pedestrians and bicyclists, but is skeptical of recent conversations about greenways. If the city leaders seriously wanted to improve accessibility for bicyclists, they would have added bike lanes when planning to widen Friendly Avenue, she said.

‘“I think the greenways are a pipe dream,’” she said. ‘“What we really need are bike lanes on through streets.’”

Although she is critical of many of the plans implemented by the council, she sees her campaign as a chance for positive change. Davis laughed at allegations that her campaign is too negative, saying the fact that she is running is proof that she believes the city could do better.

‘“Greensboro is right near the top of the list of cities unsafe for pedestrians,’” she said. ‘“And Guilford County is right at the top in the list of the most urban sprawl, so we have a lot to work on.’”

But in her blog, she states that she thinks the citizens are capable of reversing all of Greensboro’s negatives. She presents a plan for improvement that starts with an unflinching evaluation of all the city’s shortcomings as opposed to lofty proposals that fail in implementation. It is a rare personality trait that Davis, above all else, says she offers to the council.

‘“I think it was Ms. Burroughs-White who said once that the problem with common sense is that it’s not that common,’” Davis said.

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

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