The October Surprise

by YES! Staff

The advent of early voting somewhat ruined the specter of the October Surprise, that longstanding tradition of “breaking” a story on the cusp of Election Day with an eye towards tilting the vote towards — or, more usually, against — one candidate.

But a lot of people have already voted before the first Tuesday in November, a percentage that increases with every election.

Still, this year in Greensboro, we are witness to not one but two October Surprises, further proof that we are just a few steps behind most of the rest of the country when it comes to inevitable national trends. Thank God for Mississippi.

The latest concerns political donations by real estate interests into the campaigns of Mayor Robbie Perkins and District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny. The News & Record reported this week that the NC Homeowners Alliance, a group of real estate sluggers concentrated in the state’s big cities, spent $9,100 on mailers for Matheny’s campaign, and an astonishing $38,400 on mailer cards for Perkins.

The numbers, though large and unprecedented in Greens boro political spending, make a sort of sense: Perkins is running citywide, while Matheny’s race is limited to one of five districts. But one must speculate as to why a real estate cabal wants those two specific councilmembers to retain their seats, and how Matheny was able  to finagle an outsize share of the group’s money even though Perkins is in a much tighter race.


More troubling news comes from District 2, where challenger Jamal Fox is at the center of accusations of impropriety from incumbent Councilman Jim Kee.

There are two charges: One is that Fox, a political Science professor at NC A&T University, was giving out grades to students who voted for him. This is based on something Kee heard was said at the Guilford County Courthouse during early voting and on a homework assignment e-mailed by Fox that gave 20 points on a paper for every student who affixed an “I voted” sticker to their work. Like Fox, Kee is an A&T alumni, and also a former member of the school’s Board of Visitors.

The other charge is that Fox, as an employee of A&T, is not supposed to be running without permission from a supervisor. Fox was suspended by the university on Tuesday, though it’s nearly impossible to believe that A&T, which is in District 2, was unaware of Fox’s candidacy until two weeks before the election. Fox announced his run back in April, filed in June and has been actively running for office since the summer, appearing at forums, getting quoted in newspapers and appearing on television. On Oct. 2, the A&T Register ran an article on him with the hed, “Professor runs for city council” in which his supervisor, James Mayes, interim chair of Fox’s department. And Fox has a campaign billboard near the A&T campus.

University Provost Joe B. Whitehead Jr. told the N&R on Tuesday that he did not realize Fox was running for office until Kee brought it to his attention. And now Fox is suspended with pay, putting even more weight on this election. People like to go with a winner, and Fox will be in a more favorable position if he can pull this off.

As of the end of the day Monday, 228 people have already voted in District 2. Matheny should cruise to a victory. And Perkins still has a lot of ground to gain.