Greensboro City Council campaigning begins as Mayor Holliday projects bright future for city

by Jordan Green and Amy Kingsley

Greensboro City Council races for three at-large seats, two open district seats and two seats held by popular incumbents get underway this month with a host of scheduled rallies, community group meetings, cookouts and candidate forums as a confident mayor and a conservative councilman run unopposed.

The elected leadership of the city is likely to look largely the same when the dust settles after the Nov. 8 non-partisan general election.

The three incumbents running for at-large seats, Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson, Florence Gatten and Don Vaughan, hold 30 years of experience on the council between them. Johnson, a 62-year-old non-profit director, represents the council’s liberal wing, while Vaughan, a 53-year-old lawyer in private practice, tends to join Mayor Keith Holliday as a center-positioned swing voter between the African-American minority bloc and the white pro-business bloc. Gatten, a 58-year-old political consultant, tends to be one of the more conservative members of the council.

Diane Davis is perhaps the most formidable of the at-large challengers, having developed some name recognition in unsuccessful campaigns for the District 3 seat in 2001 and 2003 and having recently launched a blog to engage voters. She said she believes the current council has not been proactive in dealing with issues like trash disposal and alternative energy sources.

‘“There are a lot of things that are needed in the future that we just don’t want to talk about,’” she said.

Another at-large challenger, Dave Howerton, ran for a seat on the Guilford County Commissioner in 1998. An economic development proponent who advocates cutting taxes in other areas, he considers himself an everyman-and-outsider candidate. Howerton works in the retail department of Goodwill Industries.

Other candidates include Joel Landau, a musician who sells natural healthcare products, Sandra Anderson and George Subasavage.

Running unopposed, Mayor Keith Holliday, who is 52, has not had to worry about campaigning. The three-term mayor and business banker at First National Bank who was first elected to city council in 1995 took the opportunity to outline his agenda for the next two years at the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce’s ‘State of the Community’ gathering at the Koury Convention Center on Aug. 31.

He told the audience Greensboro’s quality of life, its well-trained workforce and its high number of college students position the city for significant population growth, though not quite at the clip of its larger counterparts Charlotte and Raleigh. He expressed confidence in Police Chief David Wray, who has recently tangled with the police union. He noted that Greensboro, like Winston-Salem and High Point, should prepare to accommodate higher numbers of jobseekers from surrounding counties. And he urged the audience to consider using a November 2006 bond referendum to generate funding for War Memorial Auditorium, the ACC Hall of Champions and the International Civil Rights Museum.

He stressed the importance of image in Greensboro’s rebound.

‘“If I had to point to one specific attribute that is better than anything else that has been accomplished in the last one to two years, it would have to be Greensboro’s growing ‘PGA’ ‘— no, I’m not talking about the Professional Golf Association,’” he said. ‘“I’m talking about the ‘positive Greensboro attitude.’ Everywhere I go, I hear a buzz about a progressive future. Confidence levels are high for business, family and community matters.

Also running unopposed is Tom Phillips, an unapologetic conservative who has taken blunt positions against both economic incentives and the work of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Currently serving as an at-large councilman, he is running in District 3, a north-central wedge of the city that spans the area between the suburban lakes and the Westerwood neighborhood. District 3 is currently represented by Robbie Perkins, who decided not to run for reelection after serving on the council for 12 years.

A four-way race for the District 2 seat that becomes vacant when Councilwoman Claudette Burroughs-White steps down at the end of her current term could potentially become the most interesting. The district covers the northeast quadrant, which includes the old Carolina Circle Mall. A debate over whether the city should offer economic incentives to a developer working with Wal-Mart in June brought the issue of underdevelopment on the majority African-American east side into stark relief.

Goldie Wells, an early contender who is the spokeswoman for Concerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro, has won Burroughs-White’s endorsement. Wells developed a reputation as a strong neighborhood advocate when she and Concerned Citizens won a victory with the closure of the White Street Landfill. The group also advocates for better lighting and increased bus services. As a constituent, Wells has urged the City Council to support increasing retail development in northeast Greensboro.

Her opponents are also prominent community activists.

Ed Whitfield, an electronics technician at Lorillard Tobacco, has publicized his views on education, war and racial justice as a columnist for the Carolina Peacemaker and as a radio personality on WNAA FM. As a founding member of the Greensboro Peace Coalition, Whitfield has helped coordinate statewide organizing against the Iraq War. He also served on the city’s Redevelopment Commission for nine years.

Lewis Byers, who is also running for the District 2 seat, is the owner of Kut Kreations barbershop on Phillips Avenue, a popular neighborhood meeting place. As the host of numerous community cookouts where aspiring politicians have campaigned, Byers has developed an extensive network of contacts. Like Whitfield, he has stepped out as a supporter of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Byers said he would like to see improved relations between the police and young people in his neighborhood.

‘“I think the officers need to do more interacting with the youth,’” he said. ‘“I know it’s kind of hard to distinguish a kid who’s trying to do something positive with one that’s not because they all look the same’… I think the officers who patrol in certain neighborhoods should stop and get a snack, get their hair cut, become part of the community.’”

Similar to Wells, Toni Graves Henderson has earned a reputation as a neighborhood activist who has fought successfully against an unwanted intrusion. So far, Henderson has kept a drug treatment center from opening at the corner of Lee Street and Murrow Boulevard. She said she believes the treatment center would bring addicts and prostitutes into her neighborhood. In 2002 she started combating drug addicts by posting signs and giving verbal notice that they should stay out of the area. For her efforts, two bombs exploded in her house. She was guarded by a Nation of Islam security team for two months.

A 57-year-old independent nurse, Henderson said: ‘“One of the people I talked to said, ‘Even if they took my life I was determined to keep fighting them. I don’t want to die, but I’m willing to give everything I’ve got to make things better.’”

The District 4 contest for the privilege of representing the affluent and majority white northwestern quadrant of Greensboro became an open race when its current representative, Florence Gatten, decided to run for an at-large seat.

The candidate with the most name recognition is former Guilford County Commissioner Mike Barber, a 43-year-old lawyer who served on the commission for four years before narrowly losing his race for reelection in November 2004.

‘“Simply put, we have to create a more business-friendly environment in Greensboro,’” he said. ‘“We have to have a clear message and focus on it.’” In an interview with YES! Weekly he presented himself as not only pro-business, but as an advocate for education and smaller government. He said that as a county commissioner he drafted a waiver of commercial fees for businesses building in the county, and took credit for redirecting funding into public education by eliminating 116 county jobs.

Noting that District 4 constituents contribute more tax revenue to the city but utilize relatively less services, he suggested the city should study ways to eliminate redundancies by, for instance, combining the city police and county sheriffs departments, along with other city and county government functions.

One of Barber’s opponents is retired Greensboro firefighter Joseph Rahenkamp, who said he supports raising property taxes and using bond issues to create city revenue as ways to reduce residents’ water bills.

A newcomer to politics at 36 years old, Janet Wallace is younger than both her opponents in District 4. Loosening zoning restrictions and tightening the city’s purse strings top her list of priorities.

In the two other races, the incumbents have a strong edge over their opponents.

In District 1, which roughly correlates with the city’s southeastern quadrant, the incumbent is 52-year-old Dianne Bellamy-Small, who is completing her first term in office. With her law enforcement and education background, she has often been an outspoken advocate for equitable economic development and service delivery on the east side.

She is being challenged by Luther Falls Jr., the 50-year-old founder of the Financial Network Insurance Group. Falls said he believes he could leverage his business connections to enhance economic development in District 1. Falls is a partner in the Watchful Network, a minority small business organization, and volunteers as a tutor and mentor in Guilford County Schools.

A third candidate, Charles Dayton Coffey, who is also 50, works as the plant machinist at Industries of the Blind. A political neophyte, he said he is primarily concerned with crime and drug addiction.

‘“Most of these armed robberies are because of crack cocaine,’” he said. ‘“Now we have this methamphetamine and it’s supposed to be so much more addictive.’”

He said he advocates creating drug rehab services in downtown government buildings rather than in residential neighborhoods.

‘“There are good people out there that need a little help with this problem they have,’” he said. ‘“They would go in there and their employer wouldn’t see them. Their neighbors wouldn’t see them. It would be more discreet.’”

Two challengers face popular incumbent Sandy Carmany in District 5, which covers the southwestern quadrant of Greensboro. The 56-year-old Carmany, a vocal foe of the use of city funds as incentives for the Wal-Mart project, has developed a reputation for transparency with her active blog. With a devoted readership, she occasionally bypasses print reporters by disclosing information about government meetings and documents before they reach the pages of local newspapers.

One of her opponents is Todd Schmidt, a 29-year-old political science student who is completing coursework for UNCG. Schmidt, a self-described ‘“friend of the workingman’” said he believes the city should use more discretion in granting corporate incentives. For instance, since Dell will hire employees from both Greensboro and Winston-Salem he believes the two cities should have cooperated with each other instead of entering a bidding war.

Along with the community meetings and cookouts, at least two major candidate forums are planned. A group of bloggers organized under the umbrella of are sponsoring a forum at the Weatherspoon Art Museum on Sept. 27, and the League of Women Voters will host a forum the following day at the Congregational Church of Christ.

And they’re off!

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