District 3 challenger runs as moderate

by Jordan Green

Jay Ovittore sat in the audience in mid-June as the Greensboro City Council deliberated over a recommendation by the human relations commission for the city to issue a statement of regret over the 1979 Klan-Nazi shootings. He leaned forward and whispered to a reporter: “If Zack votes against this, I might have to run for the District 3 seat.” Sure enough, District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny voted against the resolution, and true to his word, Ovittore filed to run for the District 3 seat in early July. “His reason was that he believed our generation — he’s 36 and I’m 36 — is past race relations,” Ovittore said recently. “I can wholeheartedly say we are not past race relations. It depends on which part of the city you live in whether you think you’re past race relations. I’ve lived in districts 4, 2 and 3. Some areas are more ethnically diverse than others. If you live in an area that’s not ethnically diverse, you think you’re past race relations because you don’t deal with people of other races. Race relations and human relations is a never ending battle.” Ovittore held some personal investment in the motion, which passed 5-4, as a member of the human relations commission subcommittee that drafted the motion. A housepainter by trade, Ovittore entered politics through blogging. He won election the presidency of the Guilford County Young Democrats in 2006. District 2 Councilwoman Goldie Wells appointed him to the human relations commission. In 2008, he launched a congressional race to unseat Rep. Howard Coble, but finished last in the Democratic primary. Mathenyis a registered Republican who has worked in real estate and finance.(Greensboro’s municipal elections are nonpartisan, meaning that the twotop two vote-getters, regardless of party registration, advance to thegeneral election.) Aside from their differing backgrounds and styles,Ovittore and Matheny share some striking similarities in theirpriorities and platforms. Matheny has generally votedfavorably on rezoning requests by developers. Ovittore said, “There’s alot of antideveloper sentiment out there. There’s a relationshipbetween developers and city growth. Without developers, our city wouldbe stagnant. There has to be a balance.” Ovittore’s agenda fordowntown Greensboro is virtually identical to Matheny’s. “There arethree things I keep hearing is a problem for downtown,” Ovittore said.“The number-one problem I hear about is loitering…. If weenforced our ordinance, we could take care of a lot of the problems.Number-two, there is no noise ordinance downtown. Raleigh has adowntown noise ordinance. They don’t allow outside music after 11:30. Theyrequire all clubs that have music to keep their doors closed after acertain hour…. Panhandling: The way to take care of panhandling is toset up a no-panhandling zone downtown. These are the three bigproblems I hear about from businesses, residents and developers.” Andlike Matheny, Ovittore supports a proposed bond to pay for theexpansion of the Natural Science Center. The District 3challenger has also embraced two ideas championed by District 5Councilwoman Trudy Wade, a Republican whom Ovittore once called “thebiggest embarrassment to Guilford County politics.” Ovittoresupports the idea of holding a “business summit” to build consensus onthe economic direction of the city and to grant tax incentives to smallbusinesses. Ovittore has promised to keep office hours at cityhall three days a week, proposed having the police patrol neighborhoodsin marked cars from 2 to 6 a.m. to reduce break-ins and suggesteddoubling the size of the police department. “I’m never a fan of raising taxes, but we may have to look at it,” he said.