Three seek High Point mayoral seat
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On July 18 it became official that High Point Mayor Bernita Sims would not run for re-election, due to a personal financial scandal in November 2013 when a Guilford County grand jury indicted her for writing a worthless check for $7,000. Three candidates saw the opportunity and filed for the Nov. 4 election. Bill Bencini, Jimmy Scott and Marcus Brandon all have roots in High Point and two have political experience either at the state or local level.
The election comes at a time when city leaders and citizens are discussing how to reinvigorate an economy that once thrived from furniture sales but has been struggling in recent years due to the global recession. Grassroots groups such as We Heart High Point and Ignite High Point have formed in response to a downtown area that sees few retailers or pedestrians. Citizens want to see change, and all three candidates are beginning to spread their messages.
BENCINI LOOKS AT ECONOMY
Guilford County Commissioner Bill Bencini is perhaps a more familiar face from a local perspective. Prior to joining the board of commissioners in 2010, Bencini served on the High Point City Council for 11 years. He said in that time he has had a chance to observe different types of leadership styles.
“The experience at both the municipal and county level deepens the level of understanding of how local government works “¦ internally at the department level, and externally where local government interfaces with the community,” he said.
Bencini said he thinks the greatest challenge facing the city is the unemployment gash that was left by the 2008 recession. “Since the earlier revision in the federal trade policies, we have a structural shift in the economy resulting in the disappearance of many manufacturing jobs in High Point,” he said.
Bencini said downtown’s problems originated from a move several retailers made to Westchester Mall when it opened in the 1970s.
“It is hard to predict when, if ever, those storefronts will be available for retail,” he said. “Doesn’t appear it will happen for some time. So, if High Point wants to have a lively city center, it will have to be created in areas outside the former downtown.”
Bencini said the climate for small business owners could be dramatically improved by eliminating some of the red tape they often run into such as long wait times for permit inspections and bad customer service.
“We will not get close to reaching our potential until we figure out how to make High Point more livable, particularly for young people,” he said.
Bencini has said before that he would consider proposals to diet Main Street down to fewer lanes in order to increase foot traffic downtown.
SCOTT WANTS BETTER COMMUNICATION
Jimmy Scott, a system analyst for New Breed Logistics, is a newcomer to the political scene but said he decided to enter the race when Sims announced she would not run again.
Scott has lived in High Point his entire life and said he has “been on the fringes for a number of years” having been the manager of a radio station where he dealt with politicians.
He said jobs and downtown revitalization are his main priorities and that if downtown ends up becoming vibrant, it might not be located in what is considered downtown today.
“I don’t think we’ll ever have the downtown that we had because I think the properties are no longer owned locally and those that are owned locally are committed to the furniture market, so what was traditionally downtown High Point may turn out to be further north or further south on Main Street,” he said.
Scott said he hopes to get the young and elderly populations to become more involved in civic life. He thinks one of the ways to accomplish this goal is better communication, and so far he said city leaders have relied too much on traditional news outlets.
“So far I think that city government has depended on print media exclusively for getting the messages out to the citizens,” he said. “I think that that’s not adequate anymore. You’ve got to use the technology that’s available to us to communicate with our citizens.”
BRANDON TOUTS BIPARTISANSHIP
Having served in the North Carolina House of Representatives for the past four years, State Rep. Marcus Brandon is no stranger to the political arena. He chose not to seek re-election this year and opted to run for the state’s 12th congressional district, only to be defeated by Rep. Alma Adams in the Democratic primary in May.
Brandon said he has seen partisan politics rear its ugly head in the General Assembly, and he hopes to take that element out of the High Point City Council if elected.
“Everybody knows my record and knows I’m very nonpartisan,” he said. “I want to get things done.”
Brandon feels the city has not taken advantage of the assets it has and revitalization of downtown is a key part of his plan.
“We are a top-10 city, and we have got to start acting like one,” he said.
Brandon said he thinks poverty is the greatest challenge facing High Point, which he thinks can be traced to strong divides between neighborhoods. One of his goals is to unite the 27260 and 27265 ZIP codes.
He said he does not think lowering property taxes are the way to go but supports public-private partnerships for businesses, just as Charlotte and many other cities around the state have used to attract business.
“We’ve got to make them feel welcome and make them feel like they can invest in our city,” he said.
Brandon said he has been encouraged by the rise of grassroots organizations such as We Heart High Point that have made a push for more business downtown and have hosted a number of events to champion their cause.
“All of the groups that came out share the same passion of trying to make their city better,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who I talk to, whether I’m talking to people from We Heart High Point or people on Washington Street or people on South Main. The thing I find is everybody says exactly the same thing, and so that’s been a leadership tactic for how you bring all of these groups together.” !