Young progressive takes on seasoned black politician

by Jordan Green

Earl Jones, a veteran Greensboropolitician with close ties to the SimkinsPAC, faces his first Democratic primarychallenge for the NC House District 60seat since he first won it in 2002.Thirty-five-year-old Marcus Brandongrew up down the street from Jones, andbecame active in politics and activism atan early age in emulation of his uncle,Lewis Brandon, a widely respectedactivist and photographer who played aseminal role in the 1960 Woolworth’ssit-ins. A political consultant who workson national campaigns for progressiveDemocrats, Brandon moved back toGuilford County last year after living inWashington, DC.Brandon said in a recent interviewthat Jones’ representation of District 60,which covers south Greensboro, PleasantGarden and central High Point, alongwith rural parts of Guilford County inbetween, has fallen short, particularlywith regard to the sitting representative’sadvocacy of video poker.“Very few people I talk to [in thedistrict] are in support of this measure,”Brandon said. “They talk about howthey haven’t worked in six or sevenmonths, their house is about to go underforeclosure. They have illnesses thatthey can’t address because they haven’tbeen working and don’t have insurance.”Some of Brandon’s claims about theimpact of video poker do not bear out.Brandon’s statement that “video pokerbrings not one single job into our district”could be countered by evidencethat a single owner-operator doingbusiness in District 60 also resides inthe district. And Brandon said that ashooting last summer at a betting parloron Randleman Road near Rocky KnollRoad discouraged business in a shoppingcenter to the extent that “if you go therenow it’s almost empty because everybodyhas moved out.” A visit on a recentSaturday revealed that more than half ofthe storefronts on the right flank of theshopping center referenced by Brandonwere vacant, but overall the area wasbustling with commercial activity.Brandon argued that his opponent’spromotion of video poker doesn’t representthe values of the district.“We have a policy that will deteriorateour community, and preys on peoplewith addictive personalities,” he said.Brandon said, if elected, his representationwould mark a shift in emphasis.The candidate cited a recent announcementby the White House that the state of North Carolina will received $540million in federal funding to develop alight rail system. Brandon said District60’s representative in Raleigh needs tobe proactive about getting those dollarsfor Guilford County by making thecase that the Triad’s central location inthe state makes it a logical place to startbuilding new rail infrastructure. The candidateadded that he would like to see 30percent of the jobs created go to unemployedpeople and to racial minoritiesand women, and to ensure that rail linesare aligned to accommodate those whorely on public transit to get to employmentand education centers.“The whole eastern seaboard is connected;it goes all the way from Bostondown to northern Virginia, and then itstops,” Brandon said. “When I lived inDC, I could go out of my house with mysuitcase, go two blocks to the train station,go to Union Station, get on Amtrakand go to New York, get on the subway,and then get off two blocks from myaunt’s apartment in Harlem. We in NorthCarolina are second to Texas when itcomes to spending on roads. We need toreconfigure how that works.”Jones has retained political consultantBill Burckley, and the two are knownfor engaging in bare-knuckle politics.If the Jones campaign were to try tospring a late-game disclosure on the votersto knock the challenger off balance,Brandon said he has a good idea what itwould be.“The biggest skeleton in my closetis the fact that I have some speedingtickets,” he said. “That’s the reasonI am pushing for mass transit: I am ahorrible driver.”Brandon has had a dozen trafficoffenses in Guilford County since1995, including charges of speeding,improper equipment and failing tostop at a red light.The candidate was scheduled to be incourt on Monday on charges of drivingwhile license revoked and operating avehicle with no insurance; he said hewould ask for a continuance.The charges stem from a traffic stoplast July. Brandon said that he had paida fine for speeding in Ohio earlier in theyear, which resulted — unbeknownst tohim — in the revocation of his licenseand suspension of his insurance.Although he is a proud progressive,Brandon said he hopes conservativerural voters will give him a chance. Likeconservative 6th Congressional Districtcandidate Billy Yow, Brandon attendedSouthern Guilford High School. He saidthat many of the present-day Tea Partiersin southern Guilford County “have beenmy neighbors and mentors all my life.”Considering that healthcare reformappears to be stalled at the national level,Brandon said he believes it is both practicaland constitutional to pass legislationin Raleigh to set up a statewide singlepayerhealthcare system.“I believe healthcare is an uncompromisinghuman right; I get introuble for this,” he said. “We providehealthcare for the mass murderer sittingon death row. And we do thatbecause we have a responsibility totreat them humanely. We owe that tothe single mother, the mass murdererand the illegal immigrant.”Brandon is currently registered tovote at his parents’ house in southGreensboro, but he lives in High Pointnear the Morehead Recreation Center.“I have no problem saying I moved toHigh Point for this campaign,” Brandonsaid. “I did. Those people have beenunrepresented for years. Greensboro isrepresented, but not represented in ourideas and values.” !