With the retirement of Councilman Mike…

by Jordan Green

With the retirement of Councilman Mike Barber, Mary Rakestraw — an ally on the current council — might seem like an apparent heir to the District 4 seat. Rakestraw is one of four candidates in the primary contest, which will narrow the field to two on Oct. 6.

But political newcomer Mike Martin makes a strong claim as both a voice of change and a champion of the Barber legacy.

“Him and I have similar views on some issues,” said Martin, a 64-year-old retiree of Guilford Mills, who held various management position’s in the textile company’s automotive interior division. “Maybe he needs a rest. I know he’s frustrated. Maybe in two to four years, he’ll come back and run for mayor. From what I know about Mike Barber, I’d vote for him.”

Martin said he spoke to Barber about the sitting councilman’s campaign to reopen the White Street Landfill in District 2 to household waste. When Barber announced that he would not seek reelection, Martin decided to run for the seat and has spoken plainly about his conviction that the city is wasting money by trucking its garbage down to a landfill in Montgomery County instead of taking care of it at home.

Early in the campaign, Martin also spoke out about the fact that Greensboro is the city with the highest tax rate in North Carolina, comparing unfavorably with neighboring Winston-Salem. The message has resonated with candidates that lean to the right, with District 3 candidate George Hartzman and District 1 candidate Jeramy Reid joining the chorus.

“What’s the city doing with the tax?” Martin asked. “I think there could be a look at the city and see if the city can’t do what other corporations are doing, combining jobs. The city needs to get lean and mean, basically. I’ve lived in other cities. I don’t know that other cities are getting less services. They should really lay everything out. Benchmark with Winston- Salem. What’s Winston-Salem doing? What can we do like Winston-Salem? What can we do like Raleigh? If another city’s doing something good, there’s nothing wrong with copying it.”

Having knocked on doors in the district to introduce himself to voters, Martin said he has picked up on a mood of antiincumbency. Some voters have told him that if he is currently serving on council they won’t vote for him. Fortunately for him, he’s not.

“They think there’s weak leadership coming from the mayor,” Martin said. “The city isn’t communicating well with them. And they feel like [former] police Chief [David] Wray and that whole situation was mishandled. They think the city manager should have gone a long time ago.”

Martin has also called on the city council to do a better job of engaging college students. District 4 includes Guilford College and, since redistricting took place last year, UNCG.

“My suggestion is that the city offer a formal presentation to college students on, what are the advantages of staying here and working with the corporations in Greensboro,” Martin said. “There’s a lot of talent that leaves Greensboro.”

He said he would also like the city council to engage the presidents of student government association in an advisory capacity to train them in civic leadership and take advantage of their burgeoning talents.

Martin acknowledged the possibility of getting elected to a council whose members hold a different view on the ongoing police controversy, but said he has the personal skills to work through differences to reach a common purpose.

“The city needs to deal with it honestly and openly,” he said. “There’s transparency…. And then they get the trust of the people.”