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Long-shot candidate labors to convey his idea

by Amy Kingsley

The title of Joel Landau’s CD, Listen, could be considered a suggestion to potential customers but is also an apt summary of what the small-business owner, musician and aspiring politician is offering to Greensboro voters.

Landau spoke reclined on his porch next to a shrink-wrapped copy of his CD, with a picture of the Joel’s Natural Foods storefront pinned to the corner of his Cornell University diploma. He wore a comfortable collared shirt and explained his positions deliberately.

Landau has made transparent city government the foundation of his run for an at-large seat on the Greensboro City Council. A natural foods store owner with no prior political experience, Landau finished sixth in a field of eight candidates vying for at-large seats in the Oct. 11 primary with almost 6 percent of the vote. He will face incumbents Don Vaughan, Yvonne Johnson, District 4 Representative Florence Gatten and challengers Diane Davis and Sandra Anderson in the Nov. 8 general election.

The issue of transparency, and low voter turnout in the municipal primary, brought Landau to a city council meeting Oct. 18. He suggested to council members that consent agenda items involving loans and grants have details posted on the website so citizens can find out how tax money is spent. To remedy low voter turnout during the primary, which didn’t reach 5 percent this year, he recommended sending postcards as a reminder.

‘“Nobody really expressed any interest in those ideas,’” he said. ‘“When you have people who have been in a system for a long time, sometimes they are not as critical as newcomers.’”

Landau is not the only newcomer in the field of at-large candidates, but he has the longest shot at landing a seat earned by the top three finishers. He earned only 1,012 votes in the primary, compared to third-place contender Sandra Anderson’s 3,569. But because his campaign got off to a late start, his electioneering only began in earnest after the primary.

In addition to open government, Landau also emphasizes energy policy and transportation issues as key planks in his platform. The city must lead by example in energy-efficient buildings and vehicles and also assure that citizens know their transportation options, he said. He supports putting bike lanes on all widened streets and would like the city to support options such as car-pooling.

Landau developed his skills in leadership and communication through years of managing and owning natural foods stores. After arriving in Greensboro in 1981, he secured a job as a manager at Deep Roots Market. Later he opened Joel’s Natural Foods near Guilford College, which he ran for seven years before selling it to A & S.

‘“Natural foods is a very customer-intensive business,’” he said. ‘“I had to be very good at listening to people, which is a big part of the council’s job. Another part is having excellent business skills ‘— how to budget and manage finances ‘— things I have a natural proclivity for.’”

Landau touted making city buildings and vehicles more energy efficient as a proposal that is both environmentally and economically friendly. The savings in annual energy bills would pay for most bonds used to retrofit or redesign buildings for maximum efficiency, he said. Expanding the city’s biodiesel and hybrid vehicle programs would also save money and improve public health, he said.

When he managed Deep Roots Market, Landau wrote columns in a monthly newsletter that informed members about transportation options, and he would like to see the city do the same. Although not a bicycle rider himself, he supports it as a transportation option and maintains there are steps drivers can take to reduce pollution. His own 1992 sedan bought new more than a decade ago has fewer than 100,000 miles.

A resident of northwest Greensboro, Landau wants to expand programs to encourage growth across town.

‘“There is no one simple answer but there are a bunch of things we can do,’” Landau said about solving east Greensboro’s development woes. ‘“One is using the Comprehensive Plan as a guide.’”

The Comprehensive Plan already focuses on increasing development in the area, but Landau said the city should be more proactive in identifying available land, making sure the infrastructure exists on those properties and possibly even buying property. Another key to economic development is public transportation, which should be streamlined to provide better service to residents of the east side, he said.

In addition, he supports building stronger ties between the city and higher education institutions on the east side. Students from NC A&T and Bennett College could work as interns to lure businesses and augment their education. Even though he supports economic development, Landau would prefer businesses that pollute less, like the new Elon Law School going up downtown. It was this notion of working for a business that positively contributes that attracted him to natural foods.

‘“It has always been important for me to do something ethical and good for the community,’” he said. He has taken that concern for the community and the environment to shine a spotlight on issues like energy policy that do not often take center stage in Greensboro city politics.

‘“I have heard some other candidates talk about being a fresh face, but I haven’t heard any new ideas from them,’” he said. ‘“As a small-business owner I am used to seeing if things aren’t working and looking for ways to improve them.’”

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com

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