Greensboro lacks a logical opposition

by Jeff Sykes

We’ve heard a lot since the end of the candidate-filing period about the lack of competitive races in this year’s Greensboro City Council election. The polls will close as we put this paper to bed this evening and in the morning it’s likely that nothing will have changed.

Conservative at-large challenger Marc Ridgill probably had the best chance at taking a seat from the status quo that runs the council with an 8-1 supermajority, and with low turnout and a commit- ted conservative base, Ridgill might just have pulled it off. I won’t know until late Tuesday night. I doubt it’s likely, however.

Kurt Collins came across as an earnest young man looking to make a difference in his community. A nail-biting primary against Republican colleague Michael Picarelli likely left rifts on the right and status quo-backed Justin Outling appeared to have the District 3 seat locked up from the day he was appointed to replace Zack Matheny, who’d served the district well for a decade before resigning his seat to take over as head of Downtown Greensboro Inc.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan faced a nominal challenge from political newcomer Devin King, who ran a spirited but disjointed campaign that mixed metaphors too often within the confines of our regular two-party paradigm.

Outside of District 3, the majority African American districts in East Greensboro likely had competitive races, each in its own unique way. In District 1, political veteran T. Dianne Bellamy- Small sought a rematch against first-term council member Sharon Hightower. Hightower beat TDBS by 12 votes in 2013, after TDBS ran afoul of several power players in Greensboro’s black political machine, including developer Skip Alston and pulpit forum leader Cardes Brown.

Hightower clings tight to the notion that she’s her own woman, and she’s proven it time and again in her two years on council, but TDBS really wanted that seat back and the two went toe to toe for votes.

The same was true in District 2, where Jamal Fox ousted Jim Kee back in 2013 on a platform of new vision and new leadership. Fox, 27, grew into the role, but critics say he became too establishment too quick. The black activist set lambasts him for not being on the streets in Black Lives Matter protests while the city’s typical rebel rousers attack him for developing relationships with Greensboro’s business elite. That’s a no-win position for a young man who seems committed to his district’s evolution as an engine for economic development.

Challenger Thessa Pickett exhibited leadership qualities, but the lack of a cohesive, point-by-point rebuttal of Fox’s pro-growth vision possibly limited her appeal. Her supporters littered social media with a stream of personal attacks against Fox’s character, something that likely emanated from the fringe of the city’s waning blogosphere.

All in all, a typical Greensboro council election, which comes every two years thanks to a mentality that views more frequent elections as an opportunity to choose as opposed to the realpolitik view: the two-year election cycle favors establishment candidates because they can raise needed cash very fast while grassroots challengers struggle to formulate a message.

There was a referendum question on the ballot last night to extend the terms to a more traditional four-year cycle. It’s hard to predict how that one will turn out. I heard more voices on social media express support for the current system, as I said earlier, based on the logic that more opportunity to choose is, well, more opportunity to choose. Never mind that the choice is false, a fake front of freedom thinly veiling the establishment machine in this finance, insurance and real estate town.

Greensboro lacks a logical political opposition. Within the Republican-Democratic paradigm, the Democrats win every time, but to what end? The progressive veneer gives just enough latitude and lip service to the city’s rampant social justice set to keep them mollified, while no substantive progress occurs on a litany of policy issues, including stubborn poverty, rising food insecurity and child hunger, homelessness and lack of job and wage growth. That there’s not a real revolution in Greensboro”” as the city’s teeming masses shake on the edge of economic uncertainty while the elite builds monuments to community trust funds””is the real sign that the city has no viable political opposition.

The status quo in Greensboro””those developers and titans of finance who built or inherited massive wealth”” co-opt the best of each new generation into the fold, effectively leaving the viable opposition leaderless. Into that void steps noise from nonsensical bloggers who spend more time right and left aligning their posts than they do constructing logical, yet digestible, arguments against the establishment’s continued grip on power.

True ideological revolutionaries””be they blogging poets or radicals fresh from student movement collectives””are thus easily dismissed or tolerated in the name of free speech, while yet again the needle fails to register one iota of change.

Political power stems from money and influence. Until the rhetorically rich student radicals find cash to finance their movement, or the more fiscally conservative and wealthy critics of the current council’s path find a way to express themselves more clearly, expect little to change in Greensboro.

We can always hope that the powers that be focus more on systemic change, but the focus is likely to remain on construction projects and developer reimbursements as far as the eye can see. !