Field of candidates taking shape for Greensboro city council race

by Eric Ginsburg

With the Greensboro city council election filing beginning in a few months, old candidates are debating whether or not they want to run again. Of the sitting council members, it appears all plan to run for reelection except for Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Vaughan and at-large Councilman Robbie Perkins, who will run for mayor.

Perkins will be running against current mayor Bill Knight, former councilman Tom Phillips, and potentially newcomer Charles Cherry.

Cherry served with the Greensboro police department for 23 years in a variety of positions, most recently as a captain. Cherry drew public attention after helping officers file grievances against the department and then publicly decrying department practices last summer before he was terminated. At a recent public meeting he announced his intention to run for mayor, but has since realized he would need to move within city limits 30 days prior to filing in order to be eligible.

“It’s a big decision to change your residency,” he said, “and I don’t know if I’m willing to do that… but it would be an honor [to run for mayor].”

Filing is open from July 25 until August 12, giving Cherry a number of months to contemplate the decision.

Tom Phillips decided to run for mayor after contemplating a run at-large and deciding he didn’t want to serve under Knight or Perkins.

“I’m not happy with Mr. Knight,” Phillips said. “I am a fiscal conservative but I don’t like his style of leadership.”

Phillips said he is good friends with Perkins but feels he would be an ineffectual mayor because he has alienated himself from current council members. Phillips served on council for a total of 12 years, served as the assistant chair of the zoning commission and works at Merrill Lynch as a financial advisor. His main message for why he is running is the importance of increased communication.

Perkins and Vaughan will be leaving two at- large seats vacant, with the third currently held by Danny Thompson. YES! Weekly reported on Jan. 5 that former mayor Yvonne Johnson and former Guilford County Republican Party executive director Tony Wilkins plan to run at-large, but they will be met by an array of other challengers. Neither returned phone calls to comment for this story.

After announcing she would not seek reelection, Vaughan publicly encouraged Wilkins to run. Wilkins, who owns a furniture store, has received criticism from local conservatives for the support he has received from Vaughan and Democrats like NC Rep. Marcus Brandon.

Johnson served on council from 1993 to 2009 and was mayor for a single term during the last two years. She was narrowly defeated by conservative newcomer Bill Knight but has remained active in local politics and events since her last term ended in office. Along with former mayors Keith Holliday and Carolyn Allen, she has criticized plans to potentially reopen the White Street Landfill to solid household waste.

Former chair of the human relations commission Wayne Abraham will run at-large, but deferred questions to his website, which lists a number of his stances. Beyond stating opposition to opening the landfill and support for the police and fire departments, Abraham also says he wants to protect the city from “slum lords” and encourage recycling. He was one of the founders of Triad Health Project when he was still a graduate student at UNCG.

Cyndy Hayworth also plans to run at-large.

She is the president of Junior Achievement and vice-chair of the Greensboro zoning commission. Hayworth noted that she received the Athena Awards from the Greensboro Partnership in January.

“The reason I am running is to give the citizens of Greensboro a voice back at the table,” she said. “Most of the citizens I talk to feel like they’re not being heard. It’s all about you.”

Business owner Marikay Abuzuaiter is seriously considering another run at-large. She is the vice chair of the human relations commission and sits on the housing committee. Abuzuaiter is also on the management team for the League of Women Voters and co-chairs the city’s international advisory committee.

“I am involved in so many things that I truly enjoy that I was considering not running,” Abuzuaiter said. “I think I have a good pulse on the whole community.”

DJ Hardy, who was a newcomer to the race last cycle, intends to run but said he hasn’t decided whether to run at large or in District 1. He is a senior accountant at A&D Environmental Service, is on the board of the Old Asheboro Neighborhood and Neighbors United, and is the treasurer for the Greensboro Jaycees.

“[City council] just seems to be a fractured organization,” Hardy said. “They seem to listen to a few voices and make their decisions from there. I think people are tired of that.”

A number of last cycle’s district candidates are not planning to run again. Joel Landau narrowly lost to Mary Rakestraw in District 4, but as the general manager at Deep Roots Market, he said he has too much on his hands with a potential move downtown. District 3 challenger George Hartzman was routed by Zack Matheny and will not run again, nor will District 5 candidate Arthur Boyett. District 1 challenger Luther Falls Jr. has not made up his mind yet about running.

Gary Nixon and Nettie Coad, who respectively ran at-large and for District 2 in 2009, could not be reached for comment.