Greensboro District 3 race draws challenger

by Eric Ginsburg


When Wendell Roth and his wife Cindy moved to Greensboro, they made a deal: If they weren’t happy in exactly a year they would move, no matter the cost. They were taking a risk moving south from the greater New York City area — Wendell would be taking a job turning around a company in Danville and Cindy working as a Guilford County Schools teacher — but when the year was up, there was no going back.

Cindy, who is from New Jersey, told him this was the farthest north they’d ever live again, he said. Wendell, who has lived in Austria, graduated from Georgia Tech, lived on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and is from Monroe, NY, said Greensboro is the best place he’s ever lived.

Roth, who is running against Zack Matheny for District 3 on Greensboro City Council, said they fell for the people they met, the kindness, Southern hospitality, quality of life and the climate.

That was a decade ago, and since then a lot has changed for the Roth family. As the vice president of sales and marketing for a contract manufacturing company, Roth weathered a 10-month labor strike, riding a forklift before an agreement was reached. Cindy gave birth to three kids, now 4, 6 and almost 8. Her mother moved to join them in Greensboro, taking over their condo as they moved to a home nearby. And Wendell founded Waterra, a company focused on waste reduction, health and clean water.

Roth, 47, is a newcomer to politics.

That doesn’t mean he isn’t informed about the issues or come strapped with ideas. He has some public service under his belt — such as being on the Greensboro Transit Authority’s board and the mayor’s committee for persons with disabilities — and has a mantra that he said he is bringing to the race: “In God we trust. Everybody else bring data.”

Roth and his wife are Roman Catholic and attend church in town, but the candidate noted that, “Quite frankly, religion and politics don’t mix very well,” and said he said it wasn’t worth going into other than to note that he has a higher calling and considers himself “pretty moderate.”

The motto doesn’t just sound good on paper — it sums up his approach to various local issues like the proposed downtown performing arts center, the noise ordinance, transportation, taxes and the budget, he said. Roth’s campaign slogan, “Back to basics,” emphasizes his belief that city government needs to refocus on its essential roles and consider innovative problemsolving approaches.

Roth, who worked for Dow Chemical after graduating from college, doesn’t have to look too far back to find an example of what he characterizes as the city straying from the basics: the city’s initial vote to loan Black Network Television $300,000 last month.

“[If I] look at the way some of the money that has been allotted recently, I think I may take a more conservative fiscal view on some decisions made,” he said. “When did we get into the banking business, making loans to people? We’ve got to get away from being a bank.”

As for the noise ordinance, Roth said Greene Street closing its rooftop was good solution. Still, he said it was difficult to understand how council initially revised the ordinance last year by raising the decibel threshold. The candidate said he is glad to see vitality returning to downtown, but in a way the growing pains were self-inflicted.

“We kind of created this as a city; we collectively did this,” he said. “I can see both sides of that conversation. We put a man on the moon [so] we can solve this problem.”

Roth said he generally agrees with the council’s recent passage of a teen curfew downtown, but said a longerterm solution looking at the root challenges is necessary.

“Let’s not shut the teenagers out,” he said. “We want them to come downtown, but maybe just not all at one time?” By continuing to hold programming events like Saturday Night Lights around town, the city may be able to spread out teens and avoid large crowds massing downtown, he said.

Lauding the recent success of the Greensboro Science Center — which he said was “a step below a petting zoo” when he moved here but is now “a jewel” — Roth said that every city function except for police and fire should at least explore the possibility of a public-private partnership. He said he can see it potentially working for the transit department by subcontracting services to save money without reducing services or increasing fees and potentially other departments too. The city already contracts with Veolia Transportation to operate the Greensboro Transit Authority.

Some of the “forward thinking” Roth would like to see is already taking place, like plans for a joint-university campus downtown.

“I think we’ve kind of gotten into a routine now of how the city runs,” he said. “Durham is on its way up and they could quickly overtake us.”

Roth said he is motivated to run because of a lack of fiscal responsibility on council, likening some of his budgetary positions to the stances District 5 Councilman Tony Wilkins takes, as well as the city’s high unemployment rate. Plus, he notes, his only real estate interests are his family home, his mother-in-law’s condo here and two time-shares in Florida.

“I think the real-estate sector is very well represented on our city council,” he said, referring to the council as a whole. Matheny, the only other person currently running for District 3, is the president of White Oak Capital.

He has plenty of other ideas — like staggered four-year council terms and term limits and specific ways to increase communication with residents.

Roth even plans to enter the $1 million ‘big idea’ challenge for jumpstarting Greensboro’s economy. If he can’t pull together a proposal, between running his start-up company, a part-time consulting job and his family, Roth said he will share the ideas with the city if he’s elected anyway.

For now he’s keeping it a secret, but he did share another that he said is his ethos in business, politics and life: be honest, be ethical and be yourself.