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by Keith Barber

TEN best

THINGS ABOUT THE ELECTION OF DERWIN MONTGOMERY TO WINSTON-SALEM CITY COUNCIL

FRESH IDEAS

Montgomery, a 21-year-old Winston-Salem State University senior, said he will stand up for his East Ward constituents by advocating for jobs and increased economic development in an area long neglected by city leaders. The Deans Scholar from Hopkins, SC believes the city should offer economic incentives to business both large and small that choose to locate in the East Ward. But first, the issue of crime must be addressed. It’s a safe bet that Montgomery will hold Police Chief Scott Cunningham’s feet to the fire regarding crime rates in the ward. With each passing moment, it becomes more and more evident that Montgomery is the fresh face of a wave of change in area politics.

PROOF THAT THE AMERICAN DREAM IS ALIVE AND WELL

Montgomery boasts an impressive résumé and a list of accolades that reflect the life of a young man who’s worked hard for everything he’s achieved in life. It took a tremendous amount of courage to run for elected office. Ultimately, Montgomery saw a great divide between the concerns of East Ward residents and the priorities of the ward’s four-time Democratic incumbent, Joycelyn Johnson. It is poetic that Montgomery was named one of the inaugural recipients of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Young Dreamers Award by the city earlier this year.

THE OBAMA EFFECT

Montgomery cites President Barack Obama as one of the people he most admires and says he drew inspiration from the Obama campaign’s strategy to focus on early and one-stop voting to register new voters and get young people involved in the political process. Montgomery managed to get 420 Winston-Salem State students to vote for him during the three-week early voting period that ended on Sept. 12. That impressive showing at the polls was more than enough to defeat Johnson.

IDEALISM ON THE CITY COUNCIL

Pragmatism is all well and good but look what it’s gotten us in Winston-Salem: a city council that’s invested nearly $28 million taxpayer dollars in a downtown ballpark with barely any collateral to ensure the loan will be repaid by Winston- Salem Dash owner and ballpark developer Billy Prim. There’s no substitute for experience but when an aging city council makes such poor financial decisions and takes no action on the Silk Plant Forest Citizens Review Committee’s final report — a committee it created — it’s time for new blood on the council.

YOUTHFUL EXUBERANCE TO MOVE THE CITY FORWARD

The gleam in Montgomery’s eye the moment he realized he had won the East Ward council seat on Sept. 15 reflected the young man’s boundless energy and passion for public service. Montgomery will undoubtedly inject optimism and exuberance into a city council who’s youngest member before the primary was 54-year-old Dan Besse. Montgomery truly wants to make a positive difference. His idealism has not yet been crushed by the weight of the way things are.

Hopefully, it never will be.

A RESPONSIVE LEADER

One of the biggest criticisms of East Ward residents regarding Joycelyn Johnson’s leadership on the council was her lack of responsiveness to her constituents’ concerns. If you spend five minutes with Montgomery, his commitment to improving the lives of all those in the community becomes crystal clear. Montgomery’s age works to his advantage with respect to his ability to listen and empathize with others.

THE BEGINNING OF A PROMISING POLITICAL CAREER

Montgomery is following in the footsteps of other young African American politicians like Newark, NJ mayor Cory Booker, and dare I say it, a former state Senator from Illinois.

ACCOUNTABLITY FOR THE SILK PLANT FOREST REPORT

Montgomery took a strong stand on the Silk Plant Forest Citizens Review Committee’s final report during his campaign. Montgomery called upon all current city council members to call upon the city attorney’s office to take whatever legal steps necessary to release the full report with appendices. Montgomery also called the council to file a “friend of the court” brief with the NC Court of Appeals to grant Kalvin Michael Smith a new trial. After recent revelations after the release of additional materials from the committee’s report last week, Montgomery’s position carries even greater weight.

A STRONG VOICE FOR CHANGE AND EQUALITY

Entrenched incumbency lends itself to complacency. As a first-term city councilman, Montgomery says he won’t forget about the people who elected him, how the system often denies his constituents economic opportunities and equal justice under the law.

HE EARNED IT

Derwin Montgomery won his seat on the city council the old fashioned way: He earned it. While most of his college classmates were enjoying their summer vacations, Montgomery was developing a strategy to upset a four-time incumbent. Ironically, Montgomery had lost two previous bids for student body president at WSSU. Larry Little, Montgomery’s professor and a former Winston-Salem Alderman, said he’s glad his pupil didn’t ask his advice before filing his candidacy. Little admits he would’ve discouraged Montgomery from running. But once Montgomery was out there campaigning, Little came on as an adviser. In the end, however, it was Montgomery’s indomitable, positive energy that kept him pounding the pavement and gave him the confidence to persuade more than 20 percent of the students on campus to vote early and vote for him.

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