Greensboro City Council primary endorsements

by the YES! Weekly Staff

Frankly, we’re not thrilled with our options in the Greensboro City Council primary this year. We would ideally like to see strong candidates in every race, reliable and viable choices for representation on the Greensboro City Council. There are a few major exceptions — we’ll get to that later.

We wish that some of the people running in districts 1 and 5 were running at large. If Sharon Hightower (District 1) and Alex Seymour (District 5) were running citywide, we’d likely throw our endorsement to one or both of them. If neither of them wins the general election, we hope that they will stay involved and run again — these are two strong candidates for our city.

For any significant improvements to come to fruition, the city needs to preserve the gains made in the 2011 election, when the results roughly aligned with our endorsements. The previous council was akin to a beached —or maybe a sinking — ship. We’re not exactly thrilled about every direction council has taken in the last two years, which is why we’re supporting some changes, but we also don’t see the need for a similar shakeup.


We know that Robbie Perkins and Nancy Vaughan make excellent atlarge council members — we’ve seen them in action — and we lament the fact that one of them won’t be on council this upcoming term. We appreciate challenger George Hartzman’s role — bringing up issues that would otherwise go unnoticed or swept under the rug — but his extravagant development ideas and predisposition to see the bogeyman of corruption make it difficult for us to take him entirely seriously as a candidate.

Perkins and Vaughan each have their share of missteps and plenty of areas where they are similar, but there are significant distinctions between them. We expect both to easily clear the primary, and we’re going to take more time with each of them before the general election to parse out those distinctions. We endorse Robbie Perkins or Nancy Vaughan for mayor.


Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy- Small may be our favorite incumbent candidate. Nobody on council better represents a district, and her leadership abilities showed clearly as she reached out to teenagers over the last few months and was cast the lone vote against the rushed teencurfew decision.

That being said, Sharon Hightower is the most-qualified first-time candidate out there. She has a long record of public service and we would trust her to stand up for the district. In many ways, she is Bellamy-Small’s protégé, which certainly makes things interesting. A vote for either of these two contenders in the primary is a vote well spent, and we’ll make our official call before the general election.


There are only two contenders in east Greensboro’s District 2 — incumbent Jim Kee and Jamal Fox — so there’s no primary election.


In District 3, Zack Matheny has never looked better. We frequently disagree with Matheny, the incumbent, but it is clear to us that he “does the reading” and is growing into the role of a district leader. As Matheny attests, he’s a different person than he was during his initial run.

Plus, his challengers haven’t done much to convince us they’d do a better job — in some cases, quite the opposite As the strongest contender, Wendell Roth’s attempt to emphasize his economic-development vision next to Matheny’s zeal for the subject only helps Matheny get the nod. We’re hoping that with the newly formed council subcommittee on economic development, Matheny will keep bringing innovative ideas to the table instead of holding up shovel-ready sites as a silver bullet. We endorse Zack Matheny for District 3.


This is an easy call for us. Former mayor Bill Knight is a symbol of the fractious, train-wreck city council of 2009-11, and while he may have moved on from some of the contentious issues, he’s still entrenched in the waning movement. In his candidate interview he brought up race and the 1979 Greensboro Massacre as well as speakers from the floor at council meetings — two subjects he’s bungled before. We were impressed to hear that he’s been working to create job-training opportunities for the unemployed since leaving council, and we hope he continues in this work. Just not from the council dais.

Nancy Hoffmann doesn’t just receive our endorsement because of a lack of alternative (which we don’t find in challenger John Alexander Underwood either, though if he can somehow pull off his idea of bringing a Major League Baseball team here, we’re certainly open to reconsidering). Hoffmann is a strong public servant, who takes a reasoned approach and knows what she’s talking about.

That’s exactly why her handling of the noise ordinance surprised us — she did a poor job explaining it despite championing revisions that ultimately needed to be quickly reworked because they were ill-advised and unenforceable.

We don’t see a sinister, grand conspiracy in her purchase of downtown property, but our endorsement comes with the expectation that she will continue to make better choices for the people of her district. We endorse Nancy Hoffmann for District 4.


District 5 is a toss-up. We take some credit for the appointment of Tony Wilkins to fill Trudy Wade’s vacancy when she left for the state Senate because we endorsed him last time around as a write-in candidate. The same reasons for our Hail Mary then stand now: He’s a budget hawk and reasonable conservative who served on the War Memorial Commission and has a history of civic engagement. This is the most conservative district in the city, and Wilkins has already implemented a team touching every precinct to provide consistent feedback on issues. We wish all district representatives dug in that deeply.

Yet we really like Alex Seymour.

In some ways an inexperienced, political newcomer, Seymour can give voice to a segment of the city that is vastly underrepresented on council and makes up a significant portion of District 5. He’s an outsider but he’s reasonable, with a workingclass background and a concern for transparency and personal liberties. Council needs that, and Seymour’s fiscal conservatism could still meet residents’ desires. We endorse Tony Wilkins or Alex Seymour for District 5.


Here’s where it gets messy. The at-large race is a jumble of nine candidates, six of whom will make it to the primary, and nobody jumped off the list as an obvious call to our entire editorial team. There are three at-large seats and each resident gets three votes, so we’ve picked the three people we trust the most to keep our city moving in a positive direction.

We’re endorsing incumbent Yvonne Johnson, returnee Mike Barber and — we can’t believe we’re doing this, but — Ben “The Troublemaker” Holder.

We’ll start with Barber. First, we have to admit we’ve been wrong about him before. YES! Weekly took an editorial stance against the Greensboro Aquatic Center, Barber’s baby, way back when. We may not like how it happened, but Barber had a vision and accomplished it to all of our benefit.

At the same time, this is not the same Barber who initially brought up the White Street Landfill. Barber says made a mistake, much like we did on the aquatic center, and he’s adult enough to admit it. He wasn’t on council later when that debate spiraled out of control, and we’re willing to look past his error. Barber is a strong leader, and with a totally transformed council around him, we think he’ll do great things.

Yvonne Johnson is wildly popular with her constituents, and there’s a reason for it. She’s a dedicated public servant and we can trust her to make the right call on most major issues. Johnson isn’t ideological but can be counted on to take on things like the tree ordinance or post-RUCO committee, and council needs that. We hesitantly endorse her, however, because we’d like to see more proactive leadership from Johnson.

Ben Holder. He can’t believe he’s reading these words right now, and maybe many other readers can’t either, so let us remind you of a few things. This guy is committed to getting things — the right things — done. He’s led the charge around quality housing in Glenwood, repeatedly taking on the city and UNCG. Holder’s been an advocate for cleaning up his community — from crack houses to illegal massage parlors — and he would bring that dedication to the city overall. He’ll need to grow into the role — there’s a different standard for a council member than a community activist — and remember that often the problem is a slow-moving bureaucracy rather than conspiring cabal. We think he can rise to the challenge, remaining an outspoken trailblazer but knowing when it’s time to try and build consensus. Holder would bring an element of professional wrestling to council, but we’re counting on his ability to recognize the need to adapt his strategy from a stone thrower to a city leader.

We want to see informed, engaged younger candidates running for (and ending up on) council, but we can’t count on Katei Cranford. She didn’t call us back for a candidate interview. Cranford cared deeply about the noise ordinance and would’ve been a strong counter-balance to Hoffmann or “generationally-challenged” Perkins, but follow through is essential.

We are not endorsing incumbent Marikay Abuzuaiter, even though we side with her on most of her major votes and supported her last time around. Abuzuaiter is an experienced civil servant despite just one term on council, but her obfuscations and dishonesty about her communications with the police department’s surveillance officers is more than troubling. For now, it cost her our primary endorsement. If she makes it through the primary, and changes her tack on the informant issue, we’ll revisit her case.

In fact, we’ll revisit all of them.

There is another month before the general election, and there are lots of factors to consider.

Read more about all of the candidates at