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Greensboro City Council Endorsements

by YES! Staff

The 2009 Greensboro City Council election was about backlash against racial issues with our police department and the country’s first black president, fueled by a tsunami of conservativism in this state that would eventually work up enough steam to take over both houses of our General Assembly for the first time since the 19th century.

In the ebb of 2011, we got a lot of what we wanted from the council election: a new, dynamic mayor; a swing to the left in the at-large seats; a new centrist rep in District 4; and, eventually, a more rational conservative in District 5 in Tony Wilkins, who took over when NC Sen. Trudy Wade won her seat in Raleigh.

There’s a lot to like about the current council from where we’re sitting, but we’ve taken issue with a number of decisions that have come down this term. This year’s endorsements are a fine-tuning of our 2011 choices, with an eye on smart growth, responsible and equitable spending, and consideration for some corners of the city and its people that seem to have been pushed to the margins in the last two years.

Mayor — Nancy Vaughan Mayor Robbie Perkins is a fast thinker, a problem solver, a dynamic go-machine who can talk for three hours straight if he needs to in order to generate enthusiasm for whatever idea it is he happens to be selling. He sees the big picture, does his homework and knows the guys with the big bucks who can get behind him. The guy gets things done, puts asses in the seats, walks the walk… call it what you want. Bottom line: Robbie was a good mayor, and generations will use the downtown performing arts center he ushered in.

But in a tough call, we’re giving the nod to at-large Councilwoman Nancy Vaughan this time.

Like Perkins, Vaughan is a relentless researcher, but she draws information from a wider circle than Perkins, who doesn’t venture too far from his professional circle. She’s a reasoned lawmaker with an encyclopedic knowledge of the workings of city government. And while Perkins seems to know all too well the concerns of the people he plays golf with, Vaughan just seems to know a lot more kinds of people and have a desire to include

them in the workings of the city.

In the end it comes down to this:

Nancy listens.

And we’ll say that it is a genuine shame that one of these people won’t be on council next year. The city is better for their service.

At-Large — Yvonne Johnson, Mike Barber This is a tough race, but one decision at least came easily.

Yvonne Johnson is a legend in this town, with political roots that go back to her days at Bennett College, when things were really jumping around here. She holds in her memory all the recent history of the city, and can bring color and context to every action, every decision. Hers is wise and sage counsel, and she’s a valuable member of the team. And we applaud her decision to eventually bow out gracefully — “I think this is my last one,” she told us — though we recognize that the door is still very much open for another campaign.

Mike Barber is a bit more problematic in that it was he who brought up the White Street Landfill issue five years ago, and he who built the Trojan Horse that became the Greensboro Aquatic Center. But he learned some lessons from the White Street fiasco — he really, really doesn’t want to talk about it. And as for the natatorium… well, the place is a resounding success. Barber knows the issues and he knows how to get things done. His time abroad has softened him some, perhaps made him more introspective and open. He’ll be a solid addition to council, and if he holds true in pursuing a technological solution to city public records requests as he mentioned during our interview, he’ll rise even further in our estimation.

And now we stall out. We’ve long supported Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter in her votes, associations and community involvement. Our trust in her was shattered when we found e-mails from the Greensboro Police Department naming her as a confidential informant.

The revelation has had little effect on her ability to get votes — she beat Chris Lawyer for the third seat in the primary by 1,000 votes — and it’s a safe bet that she’ll be re-elected and will continue a voting record that emphasizes equality, social justice and small business. We could certainly do worse, but on this we take a principled stand and withhold our endorsment.

We can’t give the nod to Chris Lawyer either. He’s got ambition, that’s for sure, and strong political backing. But at this time he just doesn’t know enough about the powers and limitations of city government to hold a seat. If he spends the next two years getting in touch with his wonky side, he could be formidable in 2015.

We endorsed Ben Holder in the primary, recognizing his years of civic involvement, proven successes and genuine passion for the city. We had but a single caveat: “the need to adapt his strategy from a stone thrower to a city leader.” Since clearing the primary, Holder’s upped his game some and shown that he has what it takes to sit on the dais. But Holder’s still throwing stones at his competitors, incumbent district reps and city staff. On Tony Wilkins’ Facebook page this weekend he made a “deez nutz” joke directed at City Attorney Mujeeb Shah-Kahn.

Dude. There’s not much else to choose from. So in the at-large race, we’re sticking to two. Use your third vote as you will.

District 1 — Dianne Bellamy-Small Dianne Bellamy-Small, the city’s longest continually serving member of council, is a juggernaut, winning all of her races and a 2007 recall election handily without raising more than $1,000.

You can’t beat her with money, so you better come armed with facts and figures and big plans for the district. This year’s challenger to Bellamy- Small’s seat, Sharon Hightower, has her bona fides in order — she’s been to most every council meeting going back the last several years, and she’s plugged into the community enough to gauge wants and needs. But she doesn’t measure up to the standard set by the incumbent. Her campaign issues all seem to be reactive to Bellamy-Small’s actions — Hightower was against the Florida Street extension, which both we and Bellamy-Small supported, and though her jibes at the councilwoman’s accessibility are valid, we’ve noticed Bellamy-Small returning more phone calls — to us, anyway — over the years.

Had she run at large, Hightower would likely have gotten our endorsement, but we appreciate the role Bellamy-Small’s carved out for herself

amid no small degree of pushback from other districts and councilmembers. She’s fought for her seat, and this year she deserves to keep it.

District 2 — Jamal Fox We’ve been solid supporters of incumbent District 2 Councilman Jim Kee in the past. He’s a developer, which dovetailed neatly with the needs of the district. D2 needed an economic boost; we thought Kee could bring it to our most diverse neighborhoods.

And he did, to a degree — leveraging his vote on other issues to move the Renaissance Center project forward and finally bring a co-op grocery store to the food desert in his district.

But somewhere along the line, the process became corrupted by special interests. We’re still waiting on the co-op. Much of the blame for this falls on Kee.

Were he not facing a less formidable opponent, he might have gotten our endorsement. Unfortunately for Kee, challenger Jamal Fox is as solid as it gets.

The 25-year-old worked on city staff for three years. He knows the role of a district rep and the mechanisms for getting things done. He’s got allies on city staff and in the neighborhoods, and at NC A&T University, where he teaches political science. He understands the issues as well as Kee, but comes at them from a community perspective and assesses need in a way that is more in line with our own. During our interview, Fox brought up the issue of sidewalks on Yanceyville Street — one of our pet concerns — before we did.

Fox also brings a much-needed youthful presence to council. If we’re actually trying to retain the area’s college grads and not just give lip service, we need the input of people from that cohort.

Though Fox is not your typical 25-year-old. He told us he saved up $6,000 this year just so he could afford to run for city council.

District 3 — Zack Matheny We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Zack Matheny has never looked better in District 3. True, we have plenty of things on which we disagree, but endorsements are not about casting a council in our own image. We think about the nature of the districts, the qualities of the candidates, the way votes will fall.

We’ve disagreed with Matheny many times since he came on in 2007 — most vigorously about the downtown noise and curfew ordinances.

But in most every instance, Matheny has done his homework and makes arguments from legitimate places.

He’s come a long way since he was first elected, and he works hard for his city and his district.

DISTRICT 4 — NANCY HOFFMANN

When District 4 Councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann first ran in 2011, we saw in her an urbane, successful realist who could bring a more sophisticated and forward-thinking voice than her predecessor Mary Rakestraw, who was part of a divisive faction on council for four years.

Now Hoffmann faces former Mayor Bill Knight in one of the districts that helped him win that election. We marked this as one to watch from the beginning. Hoffmann pulled good primary numbers, besting Knight by about 500 votes, but this one is far from over.

Knight is a strong candidate, resonating with some of the older and more conservative members of the district. He’s got experience on council, but he used his time as mayor to pursue divisive and extreme issues like the reopening of the White Street Landfill. He says he’d never go down that road again, but his allegiance to bedrock conservative positions we feel has sometimes superseded the public good. We applaud him for using his clout to push the Carolina Field of Honor project and recognize his abilities as a number cruncher — and for coming in to the YES! Weekly offices for an interview even though he knew he probably wouldn’t get our endorsement. But we can’t support Knight’s bid.

We do have differences with Hoffmann, particularly as it pertains to downtown and the use of the term “young professional.” But she’s a thinker who can ably defend every single position she’s taken. And with the purchase of some downtown buildings she’s rehabbing, she has skin in the game. We’re looking forward to the wine bar/bookstore on South Elm Street, and to another term with Hoffmann in D4.

DISTRICT 5 — TONY WILKINS

It may not be entirely accurate to say that incumbent District 5 Councilman Tony Wilkins owes his entire political career to us — he ran for Guilford County Commission in 2010 and served for years with the county GOP organization. But we did endorse him as a write-in candidate in the district in 2011, and by the end of 2012 he was sitting on council. That’s all we’re saying.

We liked him then and we like him now. Wilkins represents all the things we like about conservative policy: fiscal responsibility, fair play, free markets. He’s big on transparency, and has shown an open mind and a zeal for finding out how things work since taking his seat. We endorse him with no reservations, save for the suggestion that he continue in this vein, and that he appoint a former competitor, Alex Seymour, to a committee.

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