Incumbents prosper in low-turnout Greensboro primary

by Jordan Green

Incumbents prosper in low-turnout Greensboro primary

The incumbents largely prevailed in Greensboro’s Oct. 6 primary contest despite rumblings of discontent with the current Greensboro City Council.

With 6 percent turnout, voter participation dropped below the level two years ago, and the surge of civic engagement that buoyed the city with the election of Barack Obama last year appears to have vanished.

With the exception of a couple precincts with low numbers of registered voters, hardly any precincts registered more than 20 percent turnout across the city, and few topped 10 percent in the predominantly African-American east side of the city.

Nancy Vaughan, a former council member who served from 1997 to 2001, led polling in the at-large race. A client of Republican consultant Bill Burckley, Vaughan outspent all comers and nailed down two influential and disparate endorsements — those of the conservative Rhinoceros Times newspaper and the pro-gay-rights Replacements Limited PAC. Vaughan polled strongly across the city, but especially in districts 3, 4 and 5. She goes into the final leg of the election leading up to the Nov. 3 general election with about $9,000 left to spend.

Incumbent Robbie Perkins, an ally of Mayor Yvonne Johnson, also received the Replacement Limited PAC’s endorsement. He spent a minimal amount of money on his campaign before the primary, and is only now undertaking serious fundraising efforts. Perkins led polling, along with fellow incumbent Sandra Anderson Groat in districts 1 and 2.

Groat, who built a base in east Greensboro through her now-defunct affordable housing business, broke with Perkins and the mayor when she switched sides and made the successful motion to fire former City Manager Mitchell Johnson. She participated in a closed-door meeting four days before the primary to discuss interim City Manager Bob Morgan’s decision to reinstate police Officer AJ Blake. One of the complaints against Blake was that during his suspension he appeared at a press conference with Latin King leader and city council candidate Jorge Cornell at the Rev. Nelson Johnson’s church. Groat also received the Replacement Limited PAC’s endorsement. She spent $4,000 with Fairway Outdoor Advertising on billboards before the primary, and placed third in the at-large polling. She goes into the final lap with about $700 in cash on hand.

The fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place finishers will be looking to make up ground between now and Nov. 3 to win one of the three at-large seats on council.

Danny Thompson, a resident of the recently annexed Cardinal who owns a homecare business, received The Rhinoceros Times’ endorsement and performed well with voters in districts 3, 4 and 5.

Gary Nixon, a retired engineering consultant who has pledged to run city government with more efficiency, also won The Rhinoceros Times’ endorsement, and polled strongly in northern and northwest Greensboro.

Marikay Abuzuaiter repeated her performance from a previous attempt, placing sixth in the at-large primary. In 2007, she placed fourth in the general election, falling just short of winning a seat. Abuzuaiter polled strongly in District 2, but trailed Perkins and Groat in many east Greensboro precincts. She spent $3,760 through late September and goes into the general election with about $400.

At-large candidate DJ Hardy, a southeast Greensboro resident who failed to clear the primary, outpolled Abuzuaiter in many District 1 precincts. As someone with an abiding interest in municipal politics, he could play kingmaker in the at-large contest by helping Abuzuaiter or another second-tier candidate make up ground, or helping one of the top finishers such as Perkins enhance his position in east Greensboro.

Despite running an active grassroots campaign, Latin Kings leader Jorge Cornell made only a modest impact at the polls. He carried the precinct surrounding NC A&T University with only 11 votes; voter participation there dropped down to less than 1 percent this year, compared to last year, when 1,727 voters cast ballots for Barack Obama. Cornell also tied for second, behind Perkins, in the precinct that covers the Glenwood neighborhood, and scored 39 votes in a precinct carried by District 4 candidate Mary Rakestraw thanks to early voting by Guilford College students.

District 1 incumbent Dianne Bellamy- Small led polling in District 1 by a margin of 26.5 percent against five challengers, after receiving the Replacements Limited PAC’s endorsement. The Simkins PAC, a committee that attempts to influence the black vote and that has a lukewarm history with Bellamy-Small, did not endorse in the primary. Guilford County Commission Chairman Skip Alston, a member of the PAC, requested the removal of some public-art benches that caused complaints among residents Warnersville neighborhood, and city staff did so soon afterwards. Bellamy- Small has opposed efforts to remove the benches in the past.

Luther T. Falls Jr. narrowly secured the second slot on the Nov. 3 ballot by beating Daron Sellars, a candidate supported by Simkins PAC member and NC House Rep. Earl Jones, by a mere three votes. Falls did not carry any precincts, including his own. Help from Sellars, who carried two precincts rich in registered voters, could help him make up much needed ground.

Jim Kee, a developer with ties to Concerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro, led polling in the open race to replace Goldie Wells, who is retiring as representative of District 2. Kee spent less than opponent Nettie Coad and received the endorsement of the Replacements Limited PAC. He goes into the final leg of the campaign with $3,000 in cash on hand.

Nettie Coad, a community activist and antiracism trainer, carried her own precinct in Ole Asheboro, a northern precinct near the intersection of North Church Street and Pisgah Church Road that juts into District 3 and, by a narrow margin, a precinct that straddles Summit Avenue south of Rankin Road. She goes into the general election with about $300 in cash on hand.

District 3 incumbent Zack Matheny spent $7,529 through the end of September, more than half of it for advertising in The Rhinoceros Times, whose endorsement he received. Like Groat, Matheny cast one of the deciding votes in the termination of former

City Manager MitchellJohnson and participated in a closed-door meeting to discuss theemployment of Officer AJ Blake days before the primary. Also likeGroat, he received the Replacement Limited PAC’s endorsement.

Mathenyled polling in District 3 by a healthy 22.2-percent margin overchallengers George Hartzman and Jay Ovittore. He goes into the finalleg of the campaign with about $10,000 in cash on hand.

Hartzmanspent a frugal $914 through the end of September. He distributed acampaign flier attached to thousands of copies of a voter guideproduced by the Guilford County Unity Effort (Disclosure: YES! Weekly donatedcontent to the voter guides, and I asked questions at two candidateforums hosted by the organization) to voters in District 3. The flieremphasized Greensboro’s high tax rate relative to other North Carolinamunicipalities, called for fiscal prudence and campaign finance reform,and conveyed a pledge that the candidate will not take money fromlobbyists and special interests. Hartzman carried a handful ofprecincts in the northern end of the district, where he lives.

MaryRakestraw, who currently serves at large, led polling in the District 4race, nailing down almost half of the vote. She carried most of theprecincts in the district, dominating northwestern neighborhoods.Rakestraw received the endorsement of The Rhinoceros Times andrequested the pre-primary meeting to discuss Officer Blake’sreinstatement on the police force. When she arrived at the Old CountyCourthouse on primary night after many other candidates had gone home,she received a congratulatory hug from Republican political consultantBill Burckley. Rakestraw goes into the general election with about$5,000 in cash on hand.

JoelLandau, a well-liked progressive, placed second in the District 4 race,ahead of two conservative candidates, but significantly behindRakestraw, who is a conservative brand in Guilford County politics. Acooperative grocery store manager, Landau carried precincts in theLindley Park neighborhood and other areas west of UNCG. After havingspent $2,421 through late September, he goes into the general electionwith about $3,750 in cash on hand.

Robbie Perkins (left) placed second in at-large polling, behind Nancy Vaughan (center). (photos by Jordan Green)

District 4 candidate Mary Rakestraw was congratulated by political consultant Bill Burckley on primary night.