STORYLINES OF THE WINSTON-SALEM CITY COUNCIL ELECTION
REMATCH IN EAST WARD
In 2009, Derwin Montgomery, a senior at Winston Salem State University, shocked many by garnering an abundance of support from fellow students to unseat Joycelyn Johnson, the incumbent of 16 years, in the Democratic primary, the de facto deciding election in the East Ward. Not only was it an astonishing upset, it wasn’t very close either, as Mongomery received 57 percent of the vote, dwarfing Johnson’s 24 percent. Four years later, Johnson is back to try to regain her seat while Phil Carter, who ran for the North Ward seat in 2009, joins the fray as the third Democratic candidate. But if Montgomery, now 24 years old and a graduate, gets his WSSU base to turn out for him again, he’ll be tough to beat.
VOTER ID BILL AND TURNOUT
Four years ago, a paltry 3.7 percent of registered voters in Forsyth County took part in the municipal primaries. With a historic low turnout and deadlocked races, the primary election is where the impact of a single vote is at its greatest. The General Assembly’s controversial voter ID bill won’t take effect until 2016, but the voters it applies to could still be deterred in this year’s elections. Mayor Allen Joines has called voter turnout in recent municipal elections “abysmal,” and it might just get worse.
A RARE NOVEMBER MAYORAL RACE
Without a Republican challenger since his inaugural 2001 run, Joines has run unopposed in November in his last two cycles. That changes this year, as Republican James Lee Knox will challenge for the mayoral office, squaring off against either Joines or Democratic challenger Gardenia Henley. Knox is doing so without the financial backing of the Forsyth County Republican Party, which, he says, is focusing its resources elsewhere.
SOUTHEAST WARD BARN-BURNER?
In 2005, Evelyn Terry took the seat after receiving 162 votes to opponent Jimmy Boyd’s 160. Four years later, challenger James Taylor Jr. lost to Terry by 10 votes, a slim enough margin to set up a runoff, which saw the former prevail. This time around, with Terry now in the NC House, a new candidate, Bill Tatum, has emerged to compete in what could be another tight primary.
REVENGE OF THE WRITE-INS
In 2009, after cruising to victory in the primary, incumbent Molly Leight found herself running unopposed on the November ballot, signaling an anticlimactic race for the South Ward seat. That did not turn out to be the case, however. Republican Nathan Jones and Carolyn Highsmith, a Democrat, both gave Leight a scare by mobilizing worthy write-in campaigns that collectively accounted for 42 percent of the vote. Although Leight prevailed, a major statement was made that night. Now, Jones and Highsmith are back to build on their promising grassroots movements. If Highsmith, who emphatically criticized Leight at a late-July candidate forum, can dethrone the councilwoman in the primary, she and Jones will again make waves in November, this time with their names on the ballot.
ONE FRESH FACE GUARANTEED
In June, Northwest Ward representative Wanda Merschel announced that she will retire at the conclusion of her fourth term, opening up her seat for the first time since 1997. The four candidates vying for the seat, Republican Lida Hayes-Calvert and Democrats Laura Elliott, Jeff MacIntosh and Noah Reynolds, are all neophytes when it comes to political candidacy.
A WEST WARD REPUBLICAN VOICE
With the exception of Robert Clark, who represents the largely Republican West Ward, the council is completely comprised of Democrats. With no Dems running in the West Ward this year, there will still be at least one Republican on the council, but who will it be? In the primary, Clark will square off against Andrew Johnson and Howard Hudson, who has criticized the councilman for supporting tax increases and capital spending projects
WILL THEY BE THE ONLY ONE?
Since Clark’s only competition is within his party, the seat is practically assured to stay Republican. Knowing that, the GOP will focus on regaining a council seat in another ward. After the West Ward, the Northwest Ward has the most registered Republican voters of the wards remaining and might be the party’s best shot at gaining a seat.
IS BURKE UNBEATABLE?
In 1977, the Atari 2600 was released, punk rock became a cultural phenomenon worldwide and Vivian Burke was elected to represent the Northeast Ward. In her nine terms since, Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke has cemented her legacy as one of the most revered and influential municipal legislators in the Camel City’s history. Unsure of whether she would seek a 10 th council term, Burke literally waited until the 11 th hour to decide, filing less than an hour before the July 19 deadline. She will face opposition from two other Democrats: retired bank executive Brenda Diggs and Jemmise Bowen, a shelter director at the Salvation Army.
THE PRODIGAL GREAT-GRANDSON?
Of all the candidates vying for a council seat, the one with the marquee name might be the most quotable. As the great-grandson of tobacco mogul RJ Reynolds, Noah’s passion for the city is understandable, but also borderline farcical. It’s common for Reynolds to refer to 1941, when Winston-Salem was North Carolina’s most populous city.