Landfill causes realignment in Greensboro politics

by Jordan Green

The controversy over the proposed reopening of the White Street Landfill has already brought about a realignment in Greensboro politics three weeks before voters go to the polls for the municipal primary. The unyielding determination of a conservative mini-majority to push ahead with plans to dump household waste at White Street has pushed Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Vaughan, considered one of the few moderates on council, into an alliance with the progressive faction.

A court ruling last week affirmed Vaughan’s right to vote on the landfill. Her ability to vote on the landfill, after previously being recused because of her husband’s legal work for a vendor that was eliminated from consideration, is expected to deny the conservative faction its goal of reopening the landfill. (YES! Weekly goes to press before city council meets on Tuesday evening, when the decision is expected.)

Before she began to speak out about her opposition to the landfill and legal wrangling ensued over her participation, Vaughan decided to run for reelection after previously announcing that she would not seek another term. The mayor protem told YES! Weekly during an endorsement meeting that Councilman Robbie Perkins, who is running against incumbent Bill Knight for mayor, persuaded her to get back in the race by suggesting that a new council will have opportunities to make some accomplishments, and asking her if she wanted to be on the sidelines. Vaughan described Perkins’ pitch as an “easy sell.”

Vaughan added that she would prefer to serve with Perkins as mayor, over other contenders, including Knight, Tom Phillips, Chris Phillips and Bradford Cone.

Perkins can typically count on District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small and District 2 Councilman Jim Kee to vote with him, sometimes bringing in Vaughan and District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny to forge a majority. During a candidate forum at Presbyterian Church of the Cross on Sept. 17 (see article on facing page), Vaughan strengthened ties with Perkins’ faction by rising to Kee’s defense.

After 24-year-old challenger C. Bradley Hunt II suggested in his remarks that the incumbent has not provided strong leadership on the landfill, Vaughan took umbrage.

“When you were 10 years old, Mr. Kee was coming before the council relentlessly to close that landfill,” said Vaughan, who was serving on council at the time. “I don’t think there was a greater advocate for closing the landfill and organizing the concerned citizens of the northeast. I think that when it comes to the landfill the community really owes him a large debt for the work that he did 10 years ago and continues to do.”

Kee returned the favor the next day at his campaign kickoff.

“Nancy Vaughan has been a good friend to District 2,” Kee told his supporters. “We have been facing a 4-3 vote for about a year now. Once her husband’s company was not selected she took it upon herself to go to the city attorney to ask if she could vote again. She did not have to do that, and that was making a difference.”

Vaughan has not enjoyed particularly strong support in east Greensboro, which includes districts 1 and 2, in the past. Two years ago, she placed fourth out of six candidates in both districts 1 and 2, despite winning the most votes of any at-large candidate citywide and even outpolling Mayor Bill Knight. Vaughan may need votes from east Greensboro this year considering that she is experiencing a conservative backlash for her emerging position on the landfill, with conservative blogger Joe Guarino labeling her a “limousine liberal” and The Rhinoceros Times — a newspaper that endorsed her two years ago — providing critical coverage of her recusal saga.

Kee noted in an interview on Monday that a number of candidates, including some incumbents have taken a stand against reopening the landfill — the single most important issue for his constituents, closely followed by economic development.

“Of course, Robbie Perkins and Nancy Vaughan and Dianne Bellamy-Small have been supportive of keeping he landfill closed,” Kee said. “I believe Zack Matheny would not vote to open the landfill.”.

Perhaps no at-large candidates have been more outspoken in their opposition to the landfill than Johnson and Abuzuaiter. Campaign volunteers canvassed neighborhoods handing out campaign cards for the two candidates paper-clipped to a flier with information about candidate forums and voting opportunites over the weekend.

“It would help Jim,” Johnson told supporters at Kee’s campaign kickoff, “if you elected me and Marikay.”