YES! endorsements

by YES! Weekly staff

Mayor — Robbie Perkins

Two issues symbolize the fork in the road that will determine Greensboro’s future: the White Street Landfill and the Downtown Greenway. The landfill separates us; the greenway unites us. We conceive our endorsement slate as a “dream team” comprised of members who will represent all constituencies, work across differences for the common good and demonstrate cooperation and creativity to move our city in a progressive direction.

We enthusiastically recommend Robbie Perkins for mayor. As a seasoned and smart public servant who is plugged in to a wide array of constituencies in Greensboro, he credibly pledges to build a shared vision for the city.

As an at-large councilman seeking reelection two years ago, Perkins accurately predicted that reopening the landfill would tear the city apart. It was a bold position to take at the time; other candidates sat on the fence or signaled their interest in dumping on east Greensboro, never mind the message to the black citizens who predominantly inhabit the neighborhoods that would bear the burden of rodents, odors and uncertainty about possible adverse health effects.

As a result of the ill-considered effort to reopen the landfill, trust has eroded between citizens, confidence in our city’s growth and vitality has diminished, and our best minds have been distracted from addressing staggering economic challenges. Incumbent Mayor Bill Knight has been a consistent vote to reopen the landfill, although it would be charitable to credit him with leadership on the issue.

The greenway will literally link four of the five districts and provide a pedestrian hub connecting downtown to surrounding neighborhoods. It will build community, encourage fitness and spur investment in housing that, in turn, will support bars, art galleries, retail stores and a long awaited downtown grocery.

“We need to move it forward soon as possible because that will create economic development and jobs in center city,” Perkins said during a recent debate. Knight, in turn, said the greenway will “will have to stand in line” with other needs.

On balance, Perkins’ background in commercial real estate is an asset. He understands how economic development is interconnected with transportation and infrastructure. He maintains relationships with lawmakers in Washington and Raleigh, with state transportation officials and with elected leaders in neighboring jurisdictions. In short, he holds the expertise and relationships to make things happen. Progress is risky, but we can’t afford to squander the opportunity to grow and provide opportunities for our citizens.

At-large — Wayne Abraham, Marikay Abuzuaiter, Yvonne Johnson and Nancy Vaughan

In our primary endorsements, we said that the current leadership on council deserved repudiation because of its insistence on reopening the landfill, based on faulty and suspect motives, and because of its callous disregard for the concerns of the citizens, to whom they are ideally accountable.

The voters spoke louder than we could have predicted, turning out in higher numbers than two years prior and resoundingly supporting candidates who opposed the reopening of the landfill, while consigning pro-landfill incumbent Danny Thompson to fifth place.

Voters need to understand that there are three at-large seats on council. Everyone gets the opportunity to vote in the at-large race, as they do for mayor. We noted before the primary that there were five candidates with strong qualifications, demonstrated commitment and solid track records of service to the community that would provide the course correction needed by the city. The voters agreed with us in broad strokes, but spoke their own minds when it came to individual candidates.

They rejected one of our choices, Cyndy Hayworth, a capable candidate with support among downtown power circles and some neighborhood groups. The electorate apparently punished Hayworth for taking too long to make up her mind about the landfill. In contrast, voters across the city and particularly in east Greensboro gave deafening affirmation to Yvonne Johnson, a former mayor with almost two decades of experience in government and a universe of relationships, and to Marikay Abuzuaiter, a passionate advocate with an extensive record of community service. The voters also placed two candidates that we backed, Nancy Vaughan and Wayne Abraham, on the general-election ballot.

We’re punting in this race: There are three seats, and we’re trusting voters to choose from among four remaining candidates. Our decision comes down to a practical consideration of a set of unique circumstances, and to a concession to reality. We would be happy to work with Yvonne Johnson, Nancy Vaughan, Marikay Abuzuaiter and Wayne Abraham and hold confidence that any of them would do a good job. Johnson and Vaughan are virtually assured seats on council due to popularity and name recognition; the lesser known Abuzuaiter and Abraham share some of the same qualities, and are likely in contention for the third seat, if it can be wrested away from one of the conservatives, who historically hold the best shot at it.

An endorsement for four candidates is necessarily also a recommendation against two candidates. We do not support Thompson, whose credibility has been tarnished in his maiden term by his pursuit of reopening the landfill after telling voters in the last election that he would not be in favor of reopening it, by his funny numbers on the cost savings of reopening the landfill and murky criteria for selecting a company, and by his apparent lack of respect for campaign finance law.

Chris Lawyer has openly stated that he supports reopening the landfill. Credit him with honesty, but this position automatically precludes him from consideration. Lawyer also deserves commendation for pledging to listen to citizens. If he doesn’t win, we’re confident this will not be the last Greensboro has heard from him.

We believe any three of our four recommended candidates would make excellent team players.For strategic purposes we strongly urge you to cast your first two votes for Abuzuaiter and Abraham, and then choose between Johnson and Vaughan for your third selection.

Abuzuaiter has been a warrior in the fight to keep the landfill closed, and has given up countless hours of her time to be responsive to any number of community concerns. Her downto-earth demeanor is rare in politics. A restaurateur, she has insight into the challenges of small business owners. Abuzuaiter is unique among all the candidates in her relationships with people in Greensboro’s diverse immigrant and faith communities. And, as we have learned from recent experience, she is quick to forgive.

Like Abuzuaiter, Abraham has accumulated invaluable experience and expertise through service on the city’s human relations commission. Abraham is possibly the smartest candidate for city council. He has a detailed economic development plan that would enrich a long overdue discussion on council about job creation. He has proposed bold and progressive investments in infrastructure and public transit, and has articulated good ideas about sustainability, which have been sorely missed in the current council.

Johnson’s extensive set of authentic relationships with diverse constituencies across the city would help maintain the citizen buy-in necessary for accountable and representative municipal government. She genuinely cares about ordinary citizens and will work to resolve their problems. Her political alliance with Perkins bodes well for the formation of an effective team, and can be counted as more an asset than a liability.

Vaughan exemplifies open and responsive representation. She actively seeks out perspectives from a wide array of constituencies and likewise actively seeks out the media to explain her decisions, in contrast to other council members who either stonewall journalists or grudgingly release crumbs of information.

All elected officials make mistakes, and Vaughan is not afraid to admit when she makes the wrong call and to set things right. She made the decisive play to keep the landfill closed just before the buzzer sounded.

District 1 — Donnell "DJ" Hardy

The residents of District 1 need a council member who will fight for them, and Dianne Bellamy-Small has diligently applied herself to filling that role since 2003.

While Bellamy-Small satisfies a number of our criteria for a council member, she refuses to return our calls regardless of the subject — an unacceptable practice for a public official, and a dealbreaker when it comes to our endorsement.

Challenger Donnell "DJ" Hardy has big shoes to fill, but we are confident that he will rise to the challenge. We are attracted to a number of his economic ideas that draw from what has worked for other cities rather than betting everything on attracting outside businesses through incentives, which has led to mixed results.

Hardy is a team player but not at the cost of abandoning his district’s needs, while Bellamy-Small approaches council as a lone ranger prepared for a battle. Hardy may have some fights ahead of him as well, but we expect he will attempt to find the middle ground between other council members and propose forward-thinking solutions.

On the campaign trail, Hardy has repeatedly spoken of his aim for an “urban renaissance” in Greensboro, and his interest in supporting entrepreneurs through a venture capital fund that would support 10 start-up businesses annually out of which two would hopefully have staying power.

Hardy’s challenge is to be more transparent and communicative than his predecessor. Recently, Hardy has harped on the mythical “restaurant tax” as a way to distinguish himself, but if he drops this non-issue and focuses on economic development and other pressing needs of his constituents, we have full confidence in his abilities.


District 2, one of two minority-majority districts in the city, suffers from the blight of empty strip malls and foreclosed homes. There aren’t enough sidewalks, though there are plenty of pedestrians. There is a disproportionate amount of crime as compared to other districts in Greensboro. It has the lowest voter turnout numbers in every election. And ironically, it is home to the White Street Landfill, a major issue in this election.

But we’re not here to beat up on District 2; we are here to endorse its incumbent representative, Jim Kee. Again. Kee got the nod for the primary, and his 70 percent share of the vote virtually assures that he will keep his job — good for the district, because Kee has both business and community service chops, as well as a fairly successful term under his belt, his missteps on the landfill notwithstanding.

And Kee is exactly the kind of council member we want: equally at ease with big-money business types and down-ontheir-luck homesteaders, able to build alliances with just about every other member of council, thoughtful and reasoned in his decisions, not prone to tantrums or grandstanding.

Frankly, we could use a few more like him.

DISTRICT 3 — Jay Ovittore

This is a tough call. Incumbent Zack Matheny has much to recommend him for re-election. In his two terms he has made alliances with diverse factions on council to get things done. He understands banking, finance and real estate, and has connections in those industries. He says he is “not done yet,” in terms of the things he would like to accomplish for the city, and we believe his heart is in the right place.

Matheny is a throwback, a pristine example of an old-school Greensboro politico whose ties to real estate and business impair his accountability to all citizens. He is also a practitioner of the paternalistic style of governing that we actively seek to end.

On the other hand, Greensboro has never had a councilman like challenger Jay Ovittore, a former rock drummer and current video game salesman — a wage slave, like most of the rest of us. His bona fides are in order, with time on the human relations committee, a previous run for the District 3 seat and a race against Rep. Howard Coble for US Congressional District 6, a year spent as a lobbyist in Raleigh for municipal broadband access and a term as the vice chair for the Guilford County Young Democrats ‘± though he is in fact a registered independent these days.

The two men are the same age, but have taken completely different paths to this juncture — and that is the deciding factor. If we truly want all of Greensboro represented, then we already have our business and real estate contingency set with Perkins, Kee and Hoffmann. And while there are tens of thousands of people like Ovittore living in the city, they do not have a voice on council — maybe they never have.

Ovittore is smart and feisty; his commitment to government transparency is stronger than that of any other candidate on the slate; and after years bouncing around the fringes of the game, he is ready for elected office.

So after much deliberation, the nod goes to Ovittore.

DISTRICT 4 — Nancy Hoffmann

Nancy Hoffmann may be running on the district level, but her outlook demonstrates concern for the entire city, attending the Interactive Resource Center forum and reaching out to NC A&T University students far from her district.

Her concern for the well being of people in all districts is exactly what the her competitor Mary Rakestraw and numerous other council members lack, which was well illustrated by Rakestraw’s self-serving and disingenuous redistricting attempt as well as her support for the divisive landfill struggle. Hoffmann approaches residents from throughout the city as a neighbor, an outlook this council desperately needs.

Hoffmann is smart and urbane, and has been successful in business. She’s lived in big cities and brings that outside perspective, but Hoffmann has lived here for a while and plans to stick around. Good for us. She chairs the human relations commission, which means relevant experience and working relationships with Abraham and Abuzuaiter, who we also support.

Hoffmann holds solid positions on the issues in an election season where some of the candidates don’t even know what the issues are: land use, sustainability, public safety and civility on council chief among them. Hoffmann, Kee and Abraham have placed particular emphasis on sustainable planning and we hope this meeting of the minds could signal a greater emphasis on well thought out, intentional planning. Perkins, a champion of the Downtown Greenway, and the other council members would likely join them.

DISTRICT 5 — Tony Wilkins

(write-in) It is longstanding policy around here that if a candidate doesn’t want our endorsement, then she will not get it. We’re talking about Dr. Trudy Wade, the incumbent District 5 representative, who generally ignores our phone calls and interview requests even though our offices are right in the heart of her territory. Though to be fair, we are in almost complete disagreement with Wade’s tactics and decisions during her past two terms, so she would have had to do some pretty fast talking to gain our approval anyway.

The problem is that we cannot endorse her opponent, Jorge Cornell — not because he’s a gangster. He’s not. But his lack of relevant professional experience, impertinence towards the institutions of government — in May he infamously directed members of the Latin Kings to square off against baliffs in a courtroom hallway after being convicted on a misdemeanor resisting charge — and somewhat surly demeanor maker him unsuitable for the position. But we acknowledge that he has come a long was as a citizen and as a candidate, and we applaud his work in the community and encourage him to keep it up. It is worth noting that Cornell was one of just two candidates who wanted to talk to us about the plight of the poor.

Which leaves us in a quandary. Fortunately we have a solution.

We encourage all voting residents of District 5 to write in Tony Wilkins for the seat. We have our reasons.

For one, Wade is widely believed to be eyeing the NC Senate District 27 seat in 2012, and after recent gerrymandering she has a real good shot, which means the council would have to vote on her replacement. Wilkins’ name is on the short list for her post.

He’s got the bona fides as a current member of the War Memorial Commission and veteran of dozens of campaigns as part of the Guilford County GOP, with enough connections, savvy and clout to get things done.

And though some in his own party question his Republicanness, he’s undeniably conservative, providing a reasoned and necessary check to a council loaded with progressives. He won’t get his way very often, but we have confidence he’ll always ask the right questions.


For more information about Greensboro City Council elections, visit our Triad Elections ’11 webpage at