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Hot politics at National Night Out

by Jordan Green

Climbing the stairs to the second floor of the Beloved Community Center last week I happened to mention to community organizer Wesley Morris that filing for Greensboro City Council candidates was scheduled to close on Aug. 12.

“Let me tell Joe,” Morris said.

“He’s still got time.”

I pulled out my notebook and prepared to barrage Joe Frierson, another community organizer, with questions. He laughed, and they told me that, in fact, he had no plans to file. Then Tim Gwyn, another staffer, turned the question on me.

“Not this year,” I said. “See, he’s leaving it open,” Gwyn rejoined. Seriously, I do suffer from a kind of candidate envy; it’s almost certainly a detriment to the quality of my journalism to identify too closely with the very people whom I’m supposed to be holding accountable.

Yet I love election season and I love campaigns, even though I am frequently disappointed with the outcome. I like witnessing the unfolding narrative of dozens of competing aspirations, some ultimately dashed to the ground, others elevated to the thankless reward of public service. Most of all, I love getting out and talking to people.

That’s where the work becomes its own campaign, only the goal is to attract readers’ eyeballs and ultimately to improve on the last election’s turnout numbers instead of getting a particular candidate elected.

This year, I decided to run off quarter-page fliers for Triad Elections ’11 — housed at www.triadpolitics.info, it’s a repository of information about city council candidates — and hand them out at National Night Out events across the city on Aug. 2. For anyone with future political aspirations, probably in any US city and most certainly in Greensboro, National Night Out is the prime opportunity for retail campaigning. Not only are there large numbers of people gathered in their neighborhoods, but they’re the kind of people who sign up for community watches and call their council members to request speed bumps. In short, they vote.

The neighborhoods that registered to participate this year numbered at 110. With a three-hour window, I started in Adams Farm and traveled east across districts 5 and 1, managing to make seven stops before the light gave, the hotdogs were put away and chairs folded up. I ended up in the College Forest neighborhood near the East Lee Street exit off of Interstate 40.

I don’t doubt that a pro can cover as many as 20 stops.

I bumped into Councilwoman Trudy Wade and campaign volunteer Tony Wilkins coming out of Lamrocton neighborhood leader Tico Wallace’s home. When I pulled into a church parking lot in the Four Seasons neighborhood, I was apparently only a half-hour behind the DJ Hardy campaign. Facebook pictures later in the evening would give evidence of at-large Councilman Robbie Perkins and District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny’s National Night Out activities.

Luckily, there seemed to be a market for my particular sales pitch; I’m not sure if initial skepticism could be chalked up to an assumption that I was running for office myself or the fact that I looked like an earnest, young white man with a stack of fliers.

At one southwest Greensboro location, I found a multi-racial and somewhat aged group of residents seated in a circle in a pocket park holding a community watch meeting. The meeting facilitator graciously introduced me and I explained that I wanted to leave some fliers to publicize the election website.

Hands shot up around the circle and the residents eagerly received the information.

Many people were happy to talk about their concerns. I heard an expression of dismay at the deterioration of civility on council, disappointment that there weren’t more candidates to choose from and an emphatic cry for more jobs. Two people told me with no prompting that they were upset about plans to reopen the White Street Landfill and wanted to know where the candidate’s stood on the issue. They said they would be voting accordingly.

It should come as absolutely no surprise that a frequent topic of speculation across the city was Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small’s mayoral candidacy.

I have yet to find anyone with whom she has confided the rationale for her decision.

The person who was the most surprised may be Perkins, who announced plans to run for mayor a year ago.

“I have not spoken with her yet,” he told me last Friday. “She told me I could call her tomorrow morning between 8 and 9. And I intend to do that.”

The best theory I’ve heard — volunteered by someone I met during First Friday activities — is that Bellamy-Small is tired of serving on council and expects to lose the mayoral race, but wants to be seen as someone who goes down fighting instead of as a quitter.

Maybe we should make this into a contest and give out prizes.

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