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High Point council candidate recently moved into his ward

by Jordan Green

The question posed to five candidates for the Ward 2 High Point City Council seat (a sixth, Fitzgerald Waller was absent) at a forum at the International Home Furnishings Center might have seemed rigged to embarrass one of the contenders. The moderator asked what should be done about the boarded-up houses in the ward.

One of those houses, located a mere four blocks east of the International Home Furnishings Center, belongs to candidate Tony L. Davis, a 40-year-old former marine and team leader in the paint department of Thomas Built Buses whose older brother, Bruce, serves on the Guilford County Commission. During a recent visit to the house on Walnut Street, several windows were covered with particleboard, a pane of glass was busted from the front entrance and the back door stood wide open. Davis’ is one of five unoccupied houses on a block — less than two-thirds of the houses show evidence of habitation — where a pair of young men maintained a flinty gaze on the foot and vehicle traffic from perches on a front porch.

A couple months ago, one of Davis’ opponents challenged his candidacy after he filed using the address of the boarded-up house. The challenger, Pride Grimm Jr., is the only white candidate in the crowded race and, at 31, the only contender younger than Davis. Many residents of the poor and predominantly black ward would like to see the city act more aggressively with landlords who risk losing their properties to demolition if they fail to bring them up to code quickly enough. The moderator’s question might have struck some political aspirants with anxiety, but Davis tackled it with steady confidence.

“I look at the boarded-up homes in Ward 2 as an opportunity,” Davis said. “I’m going to lead by example. I’m going to take that house, roll up my sleeves and I’m going to do it. And the neighborhood will be improved if the city council gets the people in the community to take pride in their possessions.

“I believe I’m the only one that lives in that ward in an area that needs to be revamped, and is trying to do it on my own. I think that’s the key, is looking at it as an opportunity to get out there and work, do it yourself, let the people in the area know that it can be done. And I think that solves some of the problem. Won’t solve all the problem, but it will be a good start. And I’m one of the ones that will take the initiative to step out there first, and put in my labor, put in my sweat, and make that neighborhood a better neighborhood.”

Davis comes from bootstrapping stock, and justifiably claims roots in Ward 2. He grew up in the Carson Stout public housing community in Ward 2, but moved with his family to Ward Street in Ward 3 before he was 10. His parents opened a daycare center on East Green Street in Ward 2 in the mid-1980s and purchased the house on nearby Walnut Street as an investment property.

“They were buying up property to rent out,” he said. “They would buy anything nearby that was reasonably priced.”

Tony L. Davis followed his older brother into the Marine Corps, and is now making his first foray into politics. Earlier this year, Bruce Davis was defeated in a primary challenge against Katie Dorsett for her state Senate seat in District 28.

At the time Tony L. Davis decided to launch his bid for the open seat in Ward 2 vacated through the impending retirement of Councilman Ron Wilkins, he lived at an address on Bellemeade Street south of Business 40 in Ward 3, where incumbent Councilman Michael Pugh is running unopposed.

He had already let the lease expire on Bellemeade Street. Meanwhile, a contractor hired to remodel the Walnut Street house quit, and Davis decided to move in with his girlfriend on Park Street, also in Ward 2. That’s where he was staying when Grimm challenged his voter registration in August. The reason he listed the Walnut Street address on his voter registration and candidate filing, Davis said, is because that’s where he intended to live, and he knew he wouldn’t be staying at his girlfriend’s place on Park Street indefinitely.

“He indicated that he registered at his parents’ home and that he intended to fix it up,” Guilford County Director of Elections George Gilbert said. “His ability to get it fixed up fell behind. He admitted that he was not living there. We told him he should have registered where he lived.”

The county election board dismissed the complaint after Davis changed his registration to the Park Street address, Gilbert said. Davis later changed his registration yet again to an address on Maldon Way in the Broadstone Village Apartments, a gated complex of three-story apartment buildings off Kivett Drive in Ward 2. Anticipating another challenge, he moved into the apartment in the last week of September.

The state Supreme Court has ruled that political candidates must establish their primary residence in the district in which they seek office well before Election Day. Justices wrote in 1994 that a 30-day domicile rule was “designed to deter abuses of the election process, such as precinct shopping, and to ensure that elected officials sincerely represent the residents of a particular district.” North Carolina law states that a candidate whose qualification for office is challenged on the basis of residency must show an abandonment of his first domicile, coupled with an intent to not return to the first domicile, the acquisition of a new domicile, and the intent of making the new domicile a permanent home.

“My family has had business in Ward 2,” Davis said. “Everything I stand for is in Ward 2…. My heart is in Ward 2. That’s where I desire to serve.”

In a down-ballot race with a crowded field of six contenders, Davis said he recognizes any of the candidates could win with a relatively small number of votes. He’s been registering people to vote in the hopes that they’ll turn out on Election Day and remember him kindly when they cast their vote in the Ward 2 race. The ward suffers from a fair amount of political apathy.

“A lot of them express their feelings: They need someone to stand up and do the talking for them,” Davis said. “They’re more laidback, going to work every day. They really have no one to stand up and do the talking for them. One thing I am going to strongly address going forward is communication — going to them and talking to them, and not just before I get elected. I want to continue a relationship with people.”

The candidate said Ward 2 gets slighted when it comes to garbage pickup and other city services.

“Ward 2 is the most challenging ward,” Davis said. “Of course, we don’t have the luxury restaurants, the parks that the other wards have. Public transportation is an issue. Our people cannot get to places to work, to the malls, without this transportation being extended in hours. The houses there are boarded up, yes. We don’t have the two- and three-hundred thousand dollar homes, but we pay taxes like everybody else.”

The residency challenge from Grimm caught Davis off guard, but he said he’s tried to learn from it.

“This is a new experience, and I’m trying to come as clean as I can get,” he said. “I go to work every day. I’m a hardworking citizen, just like the regular person in Ward 2.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com.

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