Two homegrown Democrats vie for Southeast Ward seat

by Alex Ashe

Winston-Salem City Councilman James Taylor Jr. can only hope that this year’s primary election in the city’s Southeast Ward is less suspenseful than the previous one. In 2009, Taylor, then 28 years old, finished just ten votes behind incumbent Evelyn Terry in the Democratic primary.

The margin was slim enough to force an October runoff election, which saw Taylor prevail by earning 60 percent of the vote.

Nearly four years later, Bill Tatum, a retired code enforcement inspector and the former president of Winston- Salem’s NAACP branch, will challenge Taylor in the Democratic primary.

Both candidates are lifelong residents of the Southeast Ward who stress the importance of bringing jobs and economic development to the community, as well as stabilizing public safety in the ward. The winner of the Sept. 10 primary will square off against Republican Mike Hunger in November.

Taylor, who joined council in the heart of the recession, says that in terms of jobs and economic development, the Southeast Ward is moving in the right direction.

“We’re bringing the Southeast Ward back to life,” Taylor said. “We’ve been able to continue to revitalize our urban commercial areas.”

He highlights the city’s partnership with Goodwill Industries, which has invested $4 million to build a threepart complex on Waughtown Street.

Goodwill also helps operate the Career Connections & Prosperity Center, which provides career coaching and job training free of charge. Taylor also touts the addition of the Caterpillar and Herbalife plants, which he said will bring roughly 1,400 jobs to the area.

Taylor also pointed out efforts to improve the Southeast Ward’s infrastructure, particularly the renovation of Salem Lake, the reopening of the Thomas Water Treatment Plant and the installation of new playground equipment at several area parks.

Taylor said he had an especially productive first term, due in large part to his collaborations with the rest of the council.

“You have to be able to work with other council members in order to get things done in your particular area,” Taylor said. “I’ve been able to pass more legislation, as a freshman council member, than any other council member in the last four years.”

Among the legislation Taylor initiated or approved: the resolution opposing the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the casket and graffiti ordinances and the formation of the city’s entertainment district.

Despite a drop in the city’s crime rate, Taylor, the vice chairman of the council’s public safety committee, said he wants to see continued progress in that area.

“My goal is to work to decentralize the Public Safety Center.” He hopes to do that by giving the Southeast Ward its own police station, potentially on the old Nissen Wagon Works property on Waughtown Street.

“Right now, all the police officers are located downtown on Cherry Street,” Taylor said. “I want all the officers that work the beats in the Southeast Ward to come 24 hours a day to one location that will improve community relations and reduce police response times.”

Tatum, 64, said he supports the concept of decentralization, but only if it’s done in a cost-effective manner.

“If decentralizing means that we can get to a site quicker, then I don’t have a problem, as long as we look at the cost and see how it affects the bottom line,” he said.

Tatum added that if police become more active in the area, it’s important that citizens don’t feel targeted or profiled.

“I see an opportunity to reduce crime and allow police and detectives to look at break-ins and traffic violations in the Southeast area, but not to target,” the candidate said.

He argues that the jobs openings that will gradually come with the Caterpillar and Herbalife plants don’t make up for those lost in sudden closings, such as the Dell plant.

“We’re not gaining jobs, we’re losing jobs,” said Tatum, who also expressed concern that the companies will look to hire internally rather than locally.

“We’re not filling them with people who are within the city, who pay the taxes to support the incentive program,” he said.

Tatum said corporate incentives need to give Winston-Salem residents a fair shot at the jobs, but the amount of qualified candidates must also increase, through education and training.

“When we look at types of jobs that are going to be brought to the community, we don’t even have qualified people to take those jobs,” he said. “We want to make sure that the universities are producing skilled employees to get those jobs.”

Tatum said he believes the city needs to invest more beyond downtown and cited the East side in particular as an area of need.

“You can’t fix one place and leave another undone,” the candidate said. “If you want an entertainment district, you’ve got to look at fixing up those areas where people and businesses come into the community.”

Taylor called Tatum “a fine fellow,” but declined to comment further on his opponent, insisting he’d prefer to run on his record from his first council term.

“I have been a leader of the people for the last four years,” Taylor said. “We’ve done a great job of listening to the people looking to move our ward and city forward.”

While Tatum didn’t criticize Taylor directly, he did make a slight jab at the incumbent in regards to his unsuccessful 2012 campaign for the District 32 seat of the N.C. Senate.

“If I’m elected, I will make sure that I’m not taking another office while I’m serving the office that I’m holding,” Tatum said. “The people will get what they vote for—a strong councilman who will be transparent and able to communicate to them exactly what we’re doing for the city and the Southeast Ward.”