When it comes to the Greensboro municipal elections, two candidates want to challenge voters to think outside the ballot checkbox and write in their names on Nov. 7. The dictionary’s definition of a write-in candidate is a candidate for public office whose name does not appear on the ballot (usually because he or she has not secured the nomination of a political party) but whose name must be written on the ballot by voters.
Thessa Pickett and Billy Jones are an unlikely duo, seeing as Pickett is a black woman who used to identify as a Democrat and Jones is a white man who used to identify as a Republican. Both have left their respective parties to fight on the same, nonpartisan side. Pickett is running for District 2 City Council and Jones is running for Mayor.
Pickett said she is running on the Democracy Greensboro platform, which consists of a variety of different topics such as, $15 minimum wage, eradicating homelessness, creating affordable housing, District 2 economic development and redevelopment and more.
Jones said he tried to bring the first accredited aquaponics school to North America, two years ago. Jones explained that aquaponics is a modern version of farming where fish and vegetables are raised together. In 2015, his proposal was shut down by local developers.
“Our local politicians stood by and watched as our local developers destroyed the project,” Jones said. “Mostly Marty Kotis.”
Pickett agreed that Kotis along with other developers were trying to buy land in East Greensboro that Jones proposed the site of the aquaponic school to be.
“He wasn’t the only one,” Jones said. “The Greensboro partnership wanted to put it on the west side of town and the county commissioners wanted to put it at the county farm. But we were trying to put it in east Greensboro, where it would help the most.”
“Because it is a food desert there,” Pickett chimed in.
“They all saw dollar signs and didn’t care about the people,” Jones said.
Jones and Pickett, who ran for the District 2 spot in 2015 and lost to Jamal Fox, met during this time and have stayed in touch since. Now they are both running because they want to see the Aquaponic school come to fruition as well as change up the officials who hold power so that the people can feel better represented.
“I would absolutely love to see the Aquaponics project come back to east Greensboro,” Pickett said. “The issue again, to reiterate, they tried to move it out to somewhere near the airport instead of keeping it in [east Greensboro].”
Jones said that after two years the lot that the future aquaponics school could be on is still a vacant lot. He said the reasoning behind its vacancy is because the county is waiting for the highest bidder.
“[The aquaponic school] covered job creation, economic development and it went toward eradicating a food desert,” Pickett said. “Those were the three points of my platform at the time and it is something that they tore apart.”
Pickett said council members won’t use their common sense in placing such entities such as an accredited aquaponics school that makes sense to put something such as that in the district that is a food desert that needs jobs and economic development.
“It has the potential to stabilize an entire community,” she said. “ Instead, they want to put it in the wealthiest district.”
“On rented property, which is owned by their campaign contributors, so that they have to pay rent forever,” Jones said finishing Pickett’s sentence. “Why should a public venture pay rent to a private entity. The county commissioners want to get millions of dollars for it and that is what they are holding on to. They could bring in millions and millions a year in economic development if they had a brain.”
Pickett said the farm has the potential of bringing in hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in revenue once it is up and running. Jones said he had a federal grant from the Food and Drug Administration to pay for the start-up costs.
“It was not going to cost any local money,” Jones said. “All I needed was the space. I had a local church that was willing to let us use their extra building space to put our offices and classrooms in .”
Jones and Pickett claim that the council is not looking out for their constituents, but rather for each other and their campaign contributors.
“Every single issue in this town is designed to pad someone else’s pocket,” Jones said.
Pickett said she recently completed 40 to 50 pages of research for the redevelopment commission’s annual reports, meetings, and agendas and it is all the same groups over and over again.
“It is Habitat for Humanity, Westminster Church, Greensboro Builders Association,” she said. “It seems like it is on repeat for hundreds of millions of dollars in east Greensboro that are going to these same entities over and over again with seemingly no community involvement.”
Pickett and Jones believe they are cut out for the positions they are running for because they know the needs of the community.
“We are not bought by anyone,” Pickett said. “We have not raised $1, there is not a Marty Kotis or Roy Carol that is paying us to run, or any other stakeholder or personal interest group. Which, should display that we have the heart to serve the people, in their best interest.”
“Because I have been here since 1958,” Jones said. “I did not move here in July and sign up to run for mayor the same day I moved here, I do not own a $400,000 home in Jamestown.”
Pickett said she embodies a struggle, she has worked for minimum wage, she has been homeless and she has been discriminated against in this community. Now, she is a small business owner of a small venture capitalist firm and a commercial planning franchise and a consultant.
“I have worked really hard fighting for my family to get out of the boughs of poverty,” she said. “So, I feel like I embody what it takes to fight and bring a community out of poverty.”
Jones was raised in northeast Greensboro and still lives there today. He said he has seen the community grow and change throughout the years, despite him traveling for work when he was younger.
“I know how bad it can get,” he said. “I know what is going to happen if Greensboro continues down this path, you can’t keep taking from the middle class to take care of the poor. Because the middle class gets tired and moves out. Then you are left with a situation where your city is bankrupt.”
Pickett said Greensboro is very near and dear to her heart and was her home ever since she and her mother moved here in the middle of the night while escaping a domestic violence situation.
“To me, over the course of 30 years,” she said. “District 2 hasn’t changed much, and not drastically at all. You’ll see them come in and redevelop the housing projects, but there is never real development. You have the Walmart, I get that, but it is still a food desert.”