What might the next Greensboro city council look like?

by Jeff Sykes

Now that the Trudy Wade power play is over with we should all get down to the important business of figuring out just how the legislature’s bullying of Greensboro’s voters will impact the business of local government.

Wade launched her bid to reshape the Greensboro City Council back in January after weeks of speculation in local media circles. Her original bill, SB 36, ultimately was shoved into a house bill related to the Trinity City Council. That bill, HB 263, added at-large representation to Trinity’s council, while Wade’s measure was prefaced on the argument that at-large seats are bad.

But let’s not get caught up in that. It’s been debated ad nauseam for six months and argued about to the detriment of significant other issues the city faces. It’s over now and barring a last-ditch legal challenge that could be decided Wednesday night after a special city council meeting it seems likely that the new districts are here to stay.

So what’s up with the new districts? It’s hard to know where to begin. Geography? Voter statistics? Let’s take them in order.

Districts 1 and 2, which are in traditionally African American sections of the city, are gutted. Current District 1 council member Sharon Hightower, who has worked quite hard on housing and small business development issues in her district, would lose half of the area she represents while absorbing core sections of District 2 to the north. District 1 would lose Warnersville, Glenwood, and residential areas inside the US 29/I-40 corridor. Those areas are split between new Districts 3 and 4.

District 1 absorbs key areas of District 2 under the new plan, including the Yanceyville Street corridor all the way up to Cone Boulevard. The neighborhood cohesion of most of the districts is disrupted in the new plan, but strikingly so in its transformation of traditional representation in East Greensboro.

In its place comes a new District 4 carved mostly from the old District 1. District 4 begins along Tate Street and Friendly Avenue, moving east across Downtown before turning south to pick up Ole Asheboro. The vertically oriented district moves south between Freeman Mill Road and US 29, across I-40 and toward the city’s fringe at I-85.

District 2, having lost much of its inner-city precincts, only picks up one precinct from Zack Matheny’s former District 3. Interestingly, that precinct, G24, is home to a politically active church whose members just sent their pastor to Congress. Current District 2 representative Jamal Fox, a young and extremely popular council member finishing his first term, loses the Revolution Mill redevelopment project from his district, a move that seems to push District 2 to the edge of the city.

Things aren’t much more cohesive on the west side, where three large and logically shaped districts are replaced with five. Districts 3, 6, and 8 extend from the city center, while District 5 and 7 consist of outlying suburbs.

When the bill was passed last week, many current council members were scrambling to figure out where they’d been bunked by the geographers in Raleigh. Newly appointed District 3 representative Justin Outling was double bunked with Hightower in District 1. Fox and current Mayor Pro-Temp Yvonne Johnson were bunked in District 2. At-large member Mike Barber will have to run in District 3 against current council member Nancy Hoffman. Tony Wilkins in District 5 and at-large member Marikay Abuzuaiter find themselves all alone, with Abuzuaiter having to run in the new District 8 to continue on council.

Voter statistics provided by the state legislature shed a bit of light on what the new council might look like in terms of race and political affiliation. Under the old system, black voters generally elected two district representatives, had sway over one of the at-large seats, and were a highly sought after voting block in the mayoral contest. In this analysis we will look at the voting age population statistics provided by the legislature.

Districts 1, 2, and 4 will most likely elect an African American council member, given past voting trends. District 2 consists of 61 percent African American voters, while Districts 1 and 4 exceed 70 percent. Some confusion exists about District 6, since its total black population outpaces white by 40 percent to 38 percent. The voting age stats, however, flip that, with 43 percent white voters compared to 39 percent black. The difference is about 1,000 more white voters in the district.

Districts 7 and 8 are more than 80 percent white, while District 3 is 73 percent. District 5 is a mere 63 percent white, with 10,000 more white voters than black.

Greensboro’s elections are non-partisan, but most campaign experts understand that voters trend toward party affiliation in municipal elections. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the city by a margin of 56 percent to 23 percent, with a growing 21 percent of voters unaffiliated. Republicans have held two district seats in recent years, in Districts 3 and 5. Republican voters exceed 30 percent in the new Districts 5, 7, and 8, with 27 percent in District 3. It’s possible to envision Republican-affiliated candidates winning 5, 7, and 8, with an outside shot at Hoffman in her new District 3.

It’s early yet to tell exactly who will be the power broker in this brave new world of Greensboro politics. But now that the lines are drawn, it will be one hell of a ride covering this fall’s elections. !