It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Voting Day…
Next week marks the second Tuesday in November and if you’re like us you can feel the excitement in the air. Well, maybe we don’t so much feel it as kind of sense it, or perhaps we will simply be thankful if anybody shows up to vote at all. After the Oct. 11 primary, an event that mobilized approximately 4 percent of the city’s 161,000 registered voters, we’d be happy if enough people to fill the coliseum turned out.
But as we’ve pointed out before, when so few people care to choose, each vote becomes significant and it’s theoretically possible that if you take a car full of people out to the polls on Tuesday you could influence the results.
And some of our endorsements could use the help.
Smart money says that about half of the candidates who earned the endorsement of YES! Weekly will not go on to serve on the Greensboro City Council. But it’s not about picking winners ‘— we dealt out endorsements based on our own election coverage, including the two-part questionnaires we devised, and also our individual estimations of the candidates and their causes. Our choices, and our reasons for them, are as follows.
For mayor: Keith Holliday
We would have certainly liked to see a contest for the city’s top position ‘— for which Keith Holliday is running unopposed ‘— because the battle of ideas sharpens our collective wits and strengthens our democracy. That said, it’s easy enough to endorse Holliday over none-of-the-above.
He hasn’t ridden herd on any major fiascos in his six years in office that we know about. So maybe it would be okay for Greensboro to coast through another two years with Holliday at the helm. And yet we sense a restive shift in the civic mood (or is it just listlessness?), so during this term we’d like to see a more dynamic leadership style ‘— that, or a changing of the guard in Election 2007.
Don’t get us wrong: Holliday’s style of civic boosterism and glad-handing was needed when he started his first term in 2000, with the city in a psychological slump over the hemorrhaging textile industry and other blows. Greensboro needed a confidence boost. But if we’re going to aspire to greatness we need a mayor willing to show some leadership by taking stands with which people might agree or disagree, someone who pushes the discourse forward instead of taking cues from the local foundations and neighborhood associations.
Despite his embrace of the concept of regional economic development, we still detect a troubling provincial streak in this likable mayor. His cold reception to the truth and reconciliation process suggests an aversion to self-examination that would seem to chart a course of continuing mediocrity for our city. Greatness requires setting the bar high, after all.
We’re looking for a bold flourish, Mr. Mayor. This business about gradually dyeing your hair to distract attention from the transition won’t work. It’s got to be all at once or nothing at all.
We suggest jet-black.
For at-large city council: Diane Davis, Yvonne Johnson and Joel Landau
We wholeheartedly endorse Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson for another term on city council. Though not an earth-shaker, the current mayor pro tem has served ably since she was first elected in 1993 and shows the best potential for bridging the chasms between black and white, poor and rich in Greensboro. A counselor by trade who heads the non-profit organization One Step Further, an alternative sentencing group that also facilitates mediation between criminal offenders and their victims, she knows something about reconciliation and constructive engagement. Greensboro can use both of those talents.
We’ve heard that Johnson is considered a strong contender for mayor once Keith Holliday steps aside and we have no desire to impede her progress towards that goal.
The mayor pro tem exhibits something of a religious streak, which can’t hurt in a city where churches practically constitute a network of shadow governments. From what we’ve observed, she generally sticks to her principles but respectfully listens to other viewpoints and tries to represent everyone without fear or favor. If that’s what her faith means to her then we guess the wall between church and state is safe enough.
For the remaining two at-large seats our nod goes to Diane Davis and Joel Landau.
An Elm Street small-business owner, Davis would give important representation to downtown ‘— a jewel that is currently one of the best things going for the Gate City. We also appreciate that as an inveterate pesterer who has attended plenty of city council meetings as a citizen-critic, she knows her way around the Melvin Municipal Building and city policy.
We appreciate that Davis calls ’em like she sees ’em and we tend to share her view. About the use of economic incentives to attract new businesses, she told us: ‘“The excuse for giving these bribes that ‘everybody is doing it’ sounds like a teenager’s argument.’” The fact that she lists Conway Twitty’s ‘“It’s Only Make Believe’” as one of her all-time favorite songs suggests she owns a wicked sense of humor. Or maybe she didn’t intend that as a political statement about the nature of elected government. If she just digs classic country, that’s okay too.
Joel Landau talks our talk. Like him, we want a city that’s more accommodating to walkers and cyclists, and as Landau says, ‘“this could be part of the permitting process.’” He says we should put bike lanes on all widened streets; we like that idea because it would make Greensboro healthier, more livable and more attractive to the coveted ‘“creative class’” of innovators and artists. Transparent government and programs for energy efficiency are also planks in Landau’s campaign platform that we applaud.
No, we’re not deterred by the fact that Landau received only 1,012 votes, the lowest of the six contenders who cleared the primary election. It’s important to say what you want, no matter how unrealistic or unreasonable, if you ever expect to get anything like satisfaction. Besides, the former manager of Deep Roots Market represents an important constituency. Landau, a health food entrepreneur and string band multi-instrumentalist, is nothing if not a hippie and Greensboro is a granola town if ever there was one.
That leaves out two incumbents, which we acknowledge is a glaring cut.
Like other local observers, we’re struggling to figure out what Don Vaughan has accomplished in his 14 years on city council. As for leadership, we note that he magically seems to choose a position right in the middle of wherever the discussion is headed, replicating a quality of Mayor Holliday’s that doesn’t exactly thrill us. Through his law practice and his service on boards, he rubs shoulders with both powerbrokers and the salt of the earth. That makes him an exemplary Greensboro citizen but not a great elected official.
Florence Gatten, the current District 4 representative, carries a few too many liabilities though we appreciate her knowledge of policy and her willingness to frankly state her positions on the issues. Unfortunately, with that frankness comes a nastiness of tone. Lecturing an A&T student on statistics in advance of city council’s vote on the truth and reconciliation process steps over the line. And her charge that supporters of the process were intimidating Greensboro residents by making them feel like racists if they wouldn’t lend their support ‘— that strikes us as both bizarre and thin-skinned. (We have a consolation prize, though; see our endorsement for District 4)
Our decision to not endorse Sandra Anderson also goes against the grain, considering that both the paper of record and the journal of conservative opposition in Greensboro have given their blessings. She also appears to be a favorite with the voters, winning third place in the primary. We believe Anderson’s concern as a housing developer for low-income folks to be genuine, but that alone doesn’t qualify her for the job. Aside from handling development issues on the Board of Adjustments she doesn’t appear to be well versed in city policy, and generally gives the impression of being more politically connected than engaged.
For District 1 city council: Luther T. Falls
Our endorsement for city councilman in Greensboro’s District 1 goes to Luther T. Falls, first-time candidate and established leader in the African-American business community.
The district occupies a slice in the southeast corner of the city, edging up to a portion of the downtown area and buttressed to the north and west by Lee Street and High Point Road. It is zoned primarily for single-family dwellings and also light and heavy industry. It is a section inhabited primarily by African Americans and other minorities, and it is also an area perceived by some to continually get the short end of the stick when it comes to development plans and business opportunities in the evolution of the city.
We choose Falls not because of his openness and accessibility to the press ‘— he failed to complete the second half of YES! Weekly’s candidate questionnaire and the first half he dictated to reporter Jordan Green at a booth in the McDonald’s on Summit Avenue.
We dare say we like the way he handles himself.
And we also appreciate his stature in the community. Falls, a product of Bluford Elementary School, owns New Horizons Marketing in Greensboro and is the secretary of Watchful Network, Inc., a networking group established for, but not limited to, African-American business owners. He’s in touch with the growing number of Greensboro’s black business leaders ‘— in fact he’s one of them ‘— but he’s on top of social issues that concern the residents of District 1 as well.
He’s a major proponent of the Civil Rights Museum (though to be fair we haven’t yet uncovered any Greensboro African Americans in leadership positions who are against it) and he’s a believer in the truth and reconciliation process, saying: ‘“I think the council should take a more active role in the truth process because it’s about the city of Greensboro as a whole, not just any one part of it.’”
He’s also aware of some of the specific needs of the residents of the community.
‘“Particularly in our part of the city sidewalks are badly needed,’” Falls dictated to his stenographer Jordan Green. ‘“A lot of young people and old people in the city like to walk.’”
And Falls himself may not walk into the District 1 seat. His platform, which includes small-business growth and development in the east, earned him 23 percent of the vote in the Oct. 11 primary against 64 percent for his opponent in the race, Dianne Bellamy-Small.
For District 2 city council: Ed Whitfield
Neighborhood activist Goldie Wells deserves credit for her work with Concerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro, which positions her as a strong advocate for District 2, but we don’t see her as having the same imagination and thoughtfulness of her opponent, Ed Whitfield.
Wells lead a successful fight to scale back the White Street Landfill. While that displays leadership, many of us at YES! Weekly believe the landfill could have been a successful energy generator and that it served as a responsible way to dispose of trash. She has also lobbied for a new grocery store in northeast Greensboro, which is sorely needed. But her call to city council in June to do whatever it takes to get a new Wal-Mart Superstore built at the site of the old Carolina Circle Mall strikes us as shortsighted.
Whitfield, who served on the city’s redevelopment commission for nine years, has some ideas about economic development for the neglected areas of east Greensboro. He’s advocated support for local entrepreneurs, as well as exploring cooperative business models. We’re all for it.
Whitfield has also been a strong proponent of the truth and reconciliation process, which he believes will be celebrated in the future. He supports the creation of a citizens police review board. Both initiatives, in their own ways, give citizens on the margins a seat at the table in authentic self-governance.
For District 3 city council: Tom Phillips
Because he’s the only horse in the race.
Our knock on Tom Phillips is not that he is the most conservative member of the City Council. Nor is it the fact that he has voted against every incentive package the city has ever offered, regardless of the number of jobs and increase to the tax base it might create. As a matter of fact, we’re not all that keen on handing over the keys to the city to corporate raiders, either, and, hey, some of our best friends are conservatives.
Neither is our problem with him his brusque, arrogant manner that borders on pomposity. He doesn’t mince words as he tells you how idiotic your idea is; at least you know where the guy stands.
We do have a problem with that same three-piece, blue, pinstriped suit that he insists on wearing to every city council meeting. We know where he lives, so he can’t plead poverty or even frugality. Only thing we can figure is that he’s simply too damn cheap to buy another suit.
Still, we could overlook that bit of niggardliness were it not for one other flaw. When we sent out a questionnaire to all the candidates, his response to ‘“what is your favorite song’” was ‘… ‘“Freebird.’”
‘“Freebird’”! We kid you not.
Ask any musician who ever climbed on a stage and strummed a G chord what the most abhorrent word in the English language is and, to a man, they’ll tell you: ‘“Freebird.’” The word has even made its way into the lexicon, meaning ‘“noun for loud, crude, obnoxious bar patron who thinks he’s being funny but is actually being made fun of.’”
There’s one in every crowd and, sadly, Tom Phillips is it. Even worse, since he’s running unopposed, there may be more of them out there than we think.
For District 4 city council: Florence Gatten
Florence Gatten honored her promise to step aside after two terms representing District 4 by abandoning the majority white, northwest district for an at-large run. It’s too bad ‘— neither newcomer Janet Wallace nor former County Commissioner Mike Barber inspire so much as an iota of enthusiasm in the YES! Weekly offices.
Because we cannot in good conscience endorse either candidate, and because we want to encourage voters in District 4 to go to the polls anyway we’re going with ‘— Florence Gatten. We know she is running at-large, but write her in anyway. For all of her negatives (see at-large endorsements), Gatten has a deep knowledge of city policies and states her positions clearly.
Newcomer Janet Wallace has several strikes against her, starting with inexperience. She has volunteered for a couple of boards and committees, but her service with the Reidsville Appearance Committee hardly qualifies her to sit on Greensboro’s governing body. In addition, her responses to questionnaires and at candidate forums have been pure conservative boilerplate.
Former County Commissioner Mike Barber was ousted after serving only one term, but he decided to pick himself up and run for city council less than nine months later. The lawyer has made deregulation of development a key plank in his campaign. We think the last thing sprawl-plagued Greensboro needs is another council member snugly in builders’ pockets, so we decline to endorse the probable shoo-in.
So District 4 residents, when you go to the polls on Nov. 8, reelect Florence Gatten. It may mean enduring her occasionally mean-spirited dispensation of opinion for two more years, but it also promises this district a representative who will think beyond the narrow boundaries of ideology or corporate interest.
For District 5 city council: Sandy Carmany
Sandy Carmany is a rare kind of politician, one who continues to fulfill her promises to constituents after more than a decade in office, and for that she earns the YES! Weekly endorsement for District 5.
Carmany has represented District 5 since 1991, which gives her one of the longest tenures among sitting council members. In addition to that, she posts regularly to her blog, Sandy’s Place (sandycarmany.blogspot.com), about city government and has chaired the Piedmont Area Regional Transportation board. Her work with PART has contributed to better transportation between the three major cities in the Piedmont Triad.
Bloggers have adopted Carmany as something of a hero for her exposure of the inner workings of Greensboro government. She has always campaigned for more openness in local government and simply used new technology to achieve this laudable goal.
Unlike some other council members, Carmany has defended the integrity of the Comprehensive Plan against developers seeking to amend its regulations. We can only hope that other council members might emulate her common-sense approach to planning and spending.
Despite her support for open dialogue, Carmany voted along with the other white members of the council not to support the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Her continued distrust of the process is the only major black mark against the candidate.
In addition to our general esteem for Councilwoman Carmany, we cannot find much to recommend her opponent, Angela Epps Carmichael. In fact, we cannot find much about Carmichael at all. The political enigma declined to return any of our questionnaires, did not appear at several forums and did not respond to the News & Record questions.
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