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Incumbents get affirmation in Winston-Salem primary

by Alex Ashe, Brian Clarey & Jordan Green

BY JORDAN GREEN, BRIAN CLAREY, AND ALEX ASHE jordan@yesweekly.com, editor@ yesweekly, alexa@yesweekly.com

Incumbents on Winston-Salem City Council swept through their primaries on Tuesday night, led by Mayor Allen Joines who trounced challenger Gardenia Henley, 88.5 percent to 11.5 percent.

All incumbents, including four Democrats and one Republican, won resounding victories, with none claiming less than 53 percent of the vote — far beyond the 40 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.

Voters affirmed the current direction of the city under the leadership of Joines, who has promoted economic development, downtown investment and the arts over the course of three terms in office.

Joines entered his mayoral reelection campaign headquarters on Liberty Street triumphant within a half hour of the polls closing, with early voting reports showing a 70 percent advantage over challenger Gardenia Henley. It only got better from there.

The popular three-term mayor said he didn’t take anything for granted.

“I tried to circle back to community leaders to make sure I still had support,” he said, citing the political proverb imparted by former US Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, who famously related the story of how he asked a constituent why he hadn’t received his vote and received the rejoinder: “Because you didn’t ask me.”

Joines attributed his resounding victory to a clear message and apparent support for the city’s current course of economic development.

In light of a report calling for the creation of a Downtown Theatre District on the primary election, Joines said, “What the new council and I have to do is look at the capital needs of the city. We’ve got a lot of pent-up demand for capital projects, and we’ll have to look at bonds and other forms of financing.”

Joines heads toward a November general election against Republican challenger James Lee Knox. A tow-truck operator who contracts with the city, Knox announced that he was withdrawing from the race last month, but took no official action to remove his name from the ballot. Knox entered the race knowing he did not have the backing of the local Republican Party and announced his withdrawal amidst reported controversy over his use of a racial slur in describing a black elections worker during the 2012 election.

Mike Horn, a consultant for the Joines campaign, said the mayor’s re-election effort focused on African-American precincts and strategically took advantage of Democratic primaries, but didn’t neglect the West Ward, where the only other race was a Republican contest. The Joines campaign undertook a get-out-the-vote effort in the Republican-leaning ward, and shook loose some Democratic votes.

Among them was Sam Owen, a former information systems director for the city during the period when Joines worked in administration.

“He represents the city well,” Owen said. “When I see him up there I have confidence. We’re going in the right direction. Good things are happening.”

The primary drew just 6.4 percent of registered voters in Winston-Salem. Although abysmal, this percentage represents an improvement over the 3.8-percent turnout in the 2009 primary.

CORRECTION

An article in the Sept. 4 issue of YES! Weekly, “Popular cafe closes in Winston-Salem federal building,” incorrectly reported that Michael Caldwell, a US General Services Administration property manager, provided a statement to YES! Weekly detailing the agency’s history with the cafe. In fact, the statement was obtained by YES! Weekly from a third party, but was not provided by Caldwell.

Amidst the good news for incumbents, one political newcomer was also celebrating. Jeff MacIntosh corralled 65.4 percent of the vote against two other contenders in the Democratic primary, Noah Reynolds and Laura Elliott. MacIntosh, a commercial real estate broker who earned an endorsement from the ward’s current representative, Wanda Merschel, heads into a general election with Republican Lida Hayes-Calvert. A painting contractor, Hayes-Calvert is a well-funded contender who has reserved the professional services of a former aide to US Rep. Virginia Foxx in a ward where voter registration numbers give Republicans their best odds to pick up an additional seat.

MacIntosh cited his work in the community over the past 30 years and said he went door to door asking for votes.

“We didn’t put this together in the last couple months,” he said. “This is something we’ve been working on for a long time.”

MacIntosh celebrated his win with friends at the Twin City Diner. The victorious candidate stepped out on the patio to take a call from Reynolds. When he returned to the dining room and announced that Reynolds had conceded, his supporters roared their approval.

In the East Ward, incumbent Derwin Montgomery fended off a challenge from Joycelyn Johnson, a former councilwoman whom he himself unseated four years ago. Despite a strong record of public service, Johnson only polled 27.2 percent. A third candidate, Phil Carter, won 9 percent of the vote. Montgomery’s early-vote lead of about 70 percent was eventually whittled down to 63.8 percent as all precincts reported.

Montgomery watched the returns at a private party hosted by his political mentor, Larry Little, a Winston-Salem State University professor, former councilman and former Black Panther.

“She thought she was gonna whup you the old-fashioned way?” Little quipped. “Out to the woodshed?” Once the returns came in showing that Montgomery had carried the precinct at the Winston Lake YMCA, Little called the party to attention.

“It’s over now,” he said. “The community has spoken. Forward, not one step back.”

With no Republican candidates on the ballot in the East Ward, Montgomery’s victory in the Democratic primary secures his seat on the council, barring the unlikely possibility of a successful write-in candidacy.

In the Northeast Ward, despite a strong challenge from retired banker Brenda Diggs, incumbent Vivian Burke won a 10 th term on city council by locking up 53.8 percent of the vote. Diggs, who was supported by former Mayor Martha Wood, came away with 37.9 percent of the vote. A third candidate, Jemmise Bowen, garnered 8.3 percent.

A weary looking Burke conferred with supporters outside the Mazie Woodruff Center as the polls closed.

“God is good,” she said. Diggs watched the returns with supporters at Galilee Missionary Baptist Church.

“However it comes out, I’ll be satisfied because we ran a good, clean campaign,” she said before conceding.

Burke faces Republican Michael Owen in the general election for the heavily Democratic Northeast Ward.

Molly Leight, a two-term incumbent in the South Ward, handily won her Democratic primary against Carolyn Highsmith, a neighborhood leader from the Konnoak Hills area, who polled only 28 percent against Leight’s 72 percent. Leight heads into the general election against Republican Nathan Jones.

Nathan Jones.

In the Southeast Ward, incumbent James Taylor Jr. handily fended off a challenge from Bill Tatum in the Democratic primary, with balloting breaking down 88.1 percent to 11.9 percent.

Taylor, who is completing his first term, goes on to face Republican challenger Mike Hunger in a ward where voter registration heavily favors Democrats.

Robert Clark fended off two Republican challengers, Howard Hudson and Andrew Johnson, to win re-election in the West Ward. With no Democratic candidates on the ballot, Clark automatically wins the election, barring a successful write-in campaign.

Perennial candidate Donald T. Shaw prevailed over Robert Bultman, a candidate who has been scarce at candidate forums and declined to respond to YES! Weekly’s questionnaire, in the Repub- lican primary for the Southwest Ward seat. Shaw meets three-term Democratic incumbent Dan Besse in the general election.

Democratic incumbent Denise D. Adams squares off against Republican challenger Patricia Kleinmaier for the North Ward seat in the general election in November.

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