Young candidate hopes to bridge Greensboro’s worlds

by Jordan Green

Ryan Shell, resident of the tony Southside neigh- borhood and at-large candidate for Greensboro City Council, strolled across the bridge that carries Martin Luther King Drive over East Lee Street. He wore a tie and black dress shoes, and he walked with a sense of ease as the landscape of townhouses and cafés gave way to empty lots and curb markets.

Shell has walked this stretched of roadway many times, as amply documented through his campaign website, Facebook site and Twitter account. His custom is to talk non-stop, interrupted by greetings to passersby and knots of young men standing on street corners.

The first item on his agenda was litter.

“There are a couple things that define a place as a ghetto,” Shell said. “Trash is one of them. Crime is one. Rundown housing is one. Trash is easy to take out. You can’t tell me that taking this away wouldn’t make this a nicer place.”

He passed the New Zion Community Enrichment Center and gestured toward the ground.

“I picked up a used condom right there,” he said. Shell said he was responsible for persuading the city to place four garbage cans in front of Lee’s Curb Market.

He recounted a conversation with Leo Cheek, from the city’s field operation department.

“He said, ‘They’re either going to spray-paint them or they’re going to get stolen,’” Shell recalled. “I called him back and said, ‘Leo, I got to talk to you about trash cans again.’ He said, ‘What, they’ve been vandalized?’ I said, ‘No, they’re overflowing.’” Shell does not work behind the scenes. “I work in public relations,” he said. “Some people use that against me. I know how to bring things to life. If someone comes to me with a problem, I’m going to make some noise about it. I’m the guy who’s going to bring a trash bag full of beer bottles into the city council meeting. I’ll fight for bike lanes just as much as I’ll fight for trashcans. I’ll fight just as much to reduce the budget.”

He pointed to the right. “That’s Nettie Coad’s house,” he said. Coad is a candidate in District 2, which is the seat Shell initially filed for. Around the time Coad filed for District 2, Shell switched to the at-large race.

Coad was driving home through the twilight. She tapped her horn, parked her car, walked into the front yard and called out to Shell.

“When he hears something, he’s gone,” Coad said. “We need people on council like that.” Then she announced, “I voted today. I voted for you.”

Since announcing his candidacy, Shell has been prolific in floating proposals. The fact that only 7.4 percent of the city’s bus stops are equipped with shelters is not good enough, he said, adding that he’s researching a program set up by Clear Channel Communications to provide free bus shelters in exchange for an advertising platform. He would also like the Greensboro Transit Authority to set up a trip-planner program.

Shell eventually returned to the bridge, which he called a “defining place for me.” It connects his neighborhood to Coad’s and represents the concept of reaching across divides of race and class. It passes over Lee Street, which was one of the first to be adopted by the candidate.

“In this one mile from South Eugene Street to Bennett Street, you’ve got Urban Ministry and loitering; all this history; South Side; bootleg DVDs. You’ve got the M-Town Boys, where I’m told you can buy dope. You’ve got Bennett College, a world-renowned college. That’s diversity.”