New blood in D3

by Keith Barber

George Hartzman was eating lunch at PF Chang’s Chinese bistro at the Shops at Friendly Center when the manager stopped at his table.

“I’ve lost my mind,” the 42year-old Hartzman said. “I’m trying to invade an asylum.” The manager nodded knowingly even though the diner didn’t elaborate. A vice president for investments at Wells Fargo advisors who is running for Greensboro City Council in District 3, Hartzman recently acknowledged on a local blog: “I realize I write in riddles.”

By occupation, Hartzman had trod a path similar to the incumbent, Zack Matheny. At the time Matheny was first elected to represent the district two years ago, he was employed as a financial consultant with AG Edwards. That company was absorbed in 2007 by Wachovia Corp., which was acquired in turn by Wells Fargo the following year. The 36-year-old Matheny left Wachovia last year to work in investor relations for Bell Partners, a local real estate company. (Hartzman said he met Matheny only once, at a social mixer, when Wachovia Securities took over AG Edwards, but the offices remained separate.) A third candidate, 36-yearold Jay Ovittore, is also seeking the District 3 seat. Hartzman possesses a pessimistic outlook on government’s ability to provide for citizens, a deep streak of fiscal conservatism and sense of intellectual rigor tempered by philosophical playfulness.

“Here’s my beef with the current city council,” Hartzman said. “They authorized a 35-percent debt increase to be put on last November’s ballot. I asked, how do they justify that. The answer I got repeatedly is, ‘It’s up to the voters.’”

Hartzman considers the council’s primary role as being the city’s fiduciary. He likens the council’s action in authorizing a bond for referendum to two parents who know they can’t afford a vacation putting the matter to a family vote and being overruled by three children who favor taking the unaffordable vacation.

“I consider it political malpractice,” he said. Members of the current council, including Matheny, voted unanimously last year to authorize four municipal bonds valued at $205 million last year. Voters approved all but one. “When we come out of this recession, there are businesses across the country that are going to be making a lot of investments,” Hartzman said. “These businesses are going to be looking for a place to go to get away from high debt, high taxes and fiscal irresponsibility.

Municipalities with the lowest debt, the safest communities, the lowest taxes and infrastructure that’s prepared for it stand to do well.” Hartzman takes a positive view of Greensboro’s infrastructure, noting that the new FedEx sorting hub is ready to go online. He is opposed to the city borrowing money to pay for the completion of the northern section of the Urban Loop, noting that the southern section is underutilized. He indicated he does not view bicycling infrastructure, public transit and light rail as crucial investments. “They’re not frills,” Hartzman said. “They’re good ideas, but at this point they are reflective of a view of the economy that has ceased to exist.” Hartzman comes armed with sheaves of printouts from his campaign blog that counterbalance philosophical quotes with statistics. He passed one paper across the table questioning what might happen if the state government stops paying unemployment benefits to citizens who have been out of work for more than 52 weeks and then another paper noting that the NC Department of Health and Human Services has cut a host of programs benefiting the most vulnerable. The implication, he said, is that Greensboro, like other municipalities, is due for a spike in property crimes. “We’re going to have to channel more money into the police department,” he said, arguing that the city should summon a spirit of voluntarism instead of increasing the tax burden. “We might have to do community watch, and call on our citizens to step up. That includes retirement communities and religious communities.” In line with his fiscal conservative view, Hartzman favors reopening the White Street Landfill to household waste. On the city’s other racially charged issued — pending litigation against the city by black police officers alleging discrimination — Hartzman declined to take a stand. “That is a deeply political, racially tinged situation that is meaningless for me to learn about because I am paying attention to something more important — the city’s finances,” he said. He added that he wouldn’t research the issue during the campaign.

“If I win, I’ll deal with it, and I’ll do it correctly,” he said. “I’lldeal with it in a rational and ethical way.” Hartzman has said that hewill not take money from political action committees or accept campaigncontributions of more than $100. “I have every intention of winning,”he said. “If I were to tell you how I was going to do it, it might notwork.” Hartzman cracked a fortune cookie in half, and laid the slip ofpaper on the table. It read: “Love is a present that can begiven every single day you live.” He judged it an appropriate sentimentfor the campaign. “I’m running for the kids,” he said.