Greensboro elections: wake me when it’s over

by Ogi Overman

My homepage,, has as its subtitle the phrase ‘“Democracy In Action.’” My hometown, Greensboro, North Carolina, should have as its subtitle the phrase ‘“Democracy In Inaction.’”

How else can you describe the dearth of candidates for city office in the upcoming election? Perusing the names ‘— or lack thereof ‘— on the ballot, this election season shapes up as one of the most inactive and uncompetitive in memory. It’s dull, depressing and dysfunctional ‘— and certainly no way to run a democracy. Regardless of the News & Record’s ‘half-empty, half-full’ view of things, I see a city run on apathy, nonchalance and indifference.

Is it any wonder that our city government is sometimes characterized as semi-functional, barely operational and marginally effective? When the populace is too apathetic to even bother to field a viable slate of candidates to challenge the status quo, something is seriously flawed with the community ‘— unless, of course, the council is doing such as whiz-bang job that it would be an insult to challenge them, and I think even the most ossified among us knows that’s never the case.

With two entrenched incumbents ‘— Robbie Perkins and Claudette Burroughs-White ‘— choosing not to run, and another ‘— Florence Gatten ‘— opting for reelection as an at-large rather than district candidate, this particular election should have produced one of the largest, strongest fields in recent memory. Yet, astoundingly, what we have are two incumbents ‘— Mayor Keith Holliday and District 3 Councilman Tom Phillips ‘— running unopposed. Plus, in what should have been a wide-open affair in the seat vacated by Gatten, it looks like former County Commissioner Mike Barber, who was unseated by Mike Winstead last year, will win by a landslide over perennial retread Joseph Rahenkamp and unknown Janet Wallace. I also see incumbents Sandy Carmany (District 5) and Dianne Bellamy-Small (District 1) winning handily over four candidates with minimal name recognition.

Moreover, with three incumbents vying for the three at-large seats, does anyone see any of the five challengers mounting a serious threat? I don’t, even though I’ll make it known here and now that two of my three at-large ballots will have an X beside the names of Joel Landau and Diane Davis. Even if I didn’t believe in them (which I do) I would lodge a protest vote against the two incumbents who voted to overrule the Zoning Commission and turn the woods in my backyard into a condo village. As the Confederate soldier on the license plate says, ‘“Hell no, I ain’t fergittin’!’”

And speaking of protest votes, where have all the gadflies gone? Where are the malcontents, the hell-raisers, the burrs under the saddle of city government? Where are the Terry Berrys and the Ben Matkinses and the Sol Jacobses. Hell, even my liberal fellow traveler Jim McNally, who makes me look like a moderate by comparison, decided to forego the folly this time around. Jim used to run against folks he had absolutely no chance of beating (like Billy Yow and Steve Arnold), just so the right-wing incumbent would not win by forfeit. Perhaps he is tilting at windmills of a different sort these days, but we still need his type, just to spice things up and keep the power brokers semi-honest.

There is one contest that might actually be a contest: District 2. With no incumbent, each of the four challengers looks interesting, but the best and brightest among them is community activist Ed Whitfield. However, one of his opponents, William Lewis Byers, asked a very pertinent question: ‘“Where are all the black, young leaders?’” I would expand that by asking, ‘“Where are all the leaders, period?’”

Just so you’ll know, I would’ve voted for Keith Holliday anyway, but that’s not the point. For the system to work, somebody ‘— anybody! ‘— must enter the political arena and offer an opposing viewpoint. Competition makes for a better product and the same holds for government. Incumbents need someone pushing them, holding their feet to the fire, making them accountable. A complacent community makes for complacent leaders, and if no one is willing to step up, we all get left by the wayside as more dynamic, progressive, visionary towns rise to the forefront. As we sit around whining and griping, other burgs eat our lunch.

Democracy only works if you work at it, if you practice it and polish it and try to make it better. Right here, right now, what we have is at best a dysfunctional democracy.

You get what you deserve and you deserve what you get. And right now, I feel shortchanged. I feel I deserve better.

Ogi can be reached at and heard each Tuesday from 9:30’–10 a.m. on WGOS 1070 AM.