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Write-in candidate doesn’t write off his chances

by Dave Roberts

Billy Jones sat in the Green Bean listening to a bicycle cop speak glowingly about what he called the “fair tax,” a national sales tax system to replace our current one. Jones listened attentively as the crop-haired officer detailed the benefits – less confusing, no loopholes for the wealthy and their accountants to find their way through – as the coffee cooled in his hand and his partner waited by the register. Jones offered agreement to some of it, though if he differed on the others, he didn’t make it known. The officer looked over and, seeing his partner was getting impatient, thanked Jones for his time and excused himself.

Billy Jones – or Billy the Blogging Poet, his online nom de plume – recently announced his bid for mayor of Greensboro as a write-in candidate. His candidacy stems as much from frustration with the current government as from a lack of alternatives.

“What I noticed was when I had wrote about [the forums of the city council] they’d get on the issues but I can’t be at every forum,” he said. “So when I would read what the other bloggers wrote about what was said at the other forums, the issues that are important to me never came up.”

A resident of Greensboro for the entirety of his 51 years, Billy only recently got into politics and not, he said, by choice:

“I went to several people whose names I can’t use and asked them to run as write-in candidates. They weren’t comfortable with the idea. Like it or not, sometimes you’ve just gotta do what’s best for everybody. I have no political aspirations, really. I’d rather write poetry and short stories and sell books and keep up my internet company, but if Greensboro’s gonna become a place where I can’t live, I can’t do that.”

Sporting a long scraggly white beard (which he insists on keeping so he can continue to play Santa Claus at Christmas), Jones doesn’t come across as a “law-and-order” candidate, but living across the street from what he described as a “gang house,” as well as having been a victim of gang violence in high school, has made crime his top priority. He cited the low per capita police numbers coupled with the poor state of Greensboro’s social programs as the culprits. He said he plans to put 100 new police officers on the street once elected.

“We train thirty-seven cops a year with thirty retiring,” Jones said. “Why is it that development can be taken care of but not the needs of the people?”

This is not the only area in which Jones feels development is at fault for Greensboro’s woes. On his website he refers to them as ‘rapists,’ a term he does not shy away from in person.

“They rape the economy, take what they want and leave us to pick up the pieces,” Jones said. “What would you call it? I think most of the working-class voters will agree.”

Overdevelopment is Jones’ second biggest issue, coupled with “a city government that forgets that Greensboro is one hundred and twenty square miles, not the three miles of downtown.”

Walking down Elm Street, Jones handed out his business card to passersby, whose reactions were lukewarm at best. He worried aloud that it seemed as if he was “assaulting people,” so he handed them his card as politely as possible, adding that “if you take a look at my ideas I think you’ll agree with me.”

This politesse didn’t stop him from being shooed out of Center City Park by an official, who said, “People don’t want to be bothered.”

When Jones respectfully pointed out that the posted rules made no mention of such a policy, the official, who declined to give his name, simply stated, “I don’t want to argue with you.” He left, but not before handing his card to few more folks on the way out.

The low voter turnout in the recent municipal primary doesn’t surprise Jones. The solution, he said, is to “give people options” than the two candidates on the ballot, Yvonne Johnson and Milton Kern.

“Kern or Johnson is the same,” Jones said. “Why vote? People are of the opinion that the system doesn’t work. I’m fifty-one years old and I’ve watched it my whole life. The youth haven’t turned out since we first got the vote and I voted in my first election in seventy-four and we were worried about another Vietnam then and it’s been downhill ever since.

“Despite what politicians tell you, they don’t want high voter turnout” he continued. “They want it to be the few insiders who make all the decisions, so seven percent is what they’re looking for.”

Despite this, and the historic disadvantage of being a write-in candidate, Jones is optimistic about his chances, indicating that he places them as “better than Milton Kern, if name-recognition is what gets people elected.” He based this assertion on the popularity of his blog, bloggingpoet.com, which he said gets 30,000 hits a month, 30 percent of which come from Greensboro. Despite this, he acknowledged that he faces an uphill battle.

“I’m sure a lot of people think I’m crazy and I probably am,” the candidate said. “But if I don’t do something then nothing gets done.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Dave Roberts at dave@yesweekly.com.

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