Candidate Janet Wallace sees non-profits as priority
Janet Wallace wore a plaid polo shirt, navy shorts and a matching headband to hold back her medium-length brown hair. The only thing about her casual attire that betrayed her status was the discreet silver nametag identifying her as ‘“City Council Candidate District 4.’”
‘“I hate showing up here in shorts,’” she said as she waited for a latte at the Quaker Village Starbucks ‘“but I’m going to spend all day on the golf course and it’s going to be 90 degrees.’”
Once seated and smiling, the 36-year-old loan officer looked every bit the part of a young, novice politician eager to hit the green and make the acquaintance of voters and other politicians. She is running to represent Greensboro’s northwestern, majority-white district. Retired firefighter Joseph Rahenkamp Sr., and former County Commissioner Mike Barber oppose her in the race.
Campaigning is nothing new to Wallace, although this is her first run for elected office. Her experience behind the scenes of the local Republican Party goes back 12 years, with a few breaks for school.
Wallace’s earliest political activities included campaigning for Richard Burr in his first Congressional race. She has served as the secretary of the Republican Party in both Rockingham and Guilford Counties and been a delegate to two state conventions.
Her loyalty to the Republican Party surprised her parents, both of whom are staunch Democrats. But she credits the conservative climate of the 1980s, which coincided with her teens and early adulthood, for shaping her political views. She recently added Newt Gingrich’s latest tome to her personal syllabus in conservative politics.
‘“Our economic standing was a lot better back then,’” she said. ‘“I felt Reaganomics worked and believed in conservative moral and fiscal values.’”
Besides her experience in the political ring, Wallace also learned about the nuts and bolts of city and county governance over a dozen working years. Eight of those were spent at the Guilford County Child Support Enforcement Office and four with the Reidsville Chamber of Commerce. Between both jobs, she interacted with people from all walks of life, from business leaders to those living paycheck to paycheck.
Success at the county agency came one family at a time, and she said she helped a lot of people while working there as a paralegal and advocate for custodial parents. Her job at the chamber involved more projects she could describe as successful.
‘“When I was at the chamber I hated Christmas because I was in charge of the Christmas parade,’” she said. When she started at the chamber, the annual parade incurred a financial loss for the town. By the end of her tenure, she had transformed it into a break-even proposition.
In addition to the Christmas parade, her job there included bookkeeping and economic development.
For the last several years her free time has been split between several community organizations, including the Greensboro Jaycees, the Chinqua-Penn Plantation Reopening Committee and the Reidsville Appearance Commission. Wallace suspended many of her community involvements two years ago to concentrate on finishing her political science degree from A & T University. Her campaign for city council is a very public plunge back into political life.
She said she admires the way members of the city council work with each other and could only think of one concrete example ‘— red light cameras ‘— she disagreed with. Wallace opposed installation of the red light cameras on the basis that they infringe on citizens’ due process rights. The city discontinued the program in March after a county court ruled that $3 million in proceeds were owed to the school district.
Nonprofit organizations that receive funds from the city also deserve more scrutiny, Wallace said. She proposed the city set a schedule to review the progress of projects funded with local taxes and review spending more diligently. Projects like St. James Homes and the Center City Park deserve more attention, she added. In her district, some residents oppose the construction of a waste transfer station.
‘“I think that is going to be looked at again to make sure whatever we do is cost effective,’” she said.
One of her most important contributions to the council would be her generational perspective, she said. She supports downtown revitalization but added that young people need other options besides going to bars.
Which is not to say that she doesn’t enjoy the occasional respite at local watering holes ‘— the Rhinoceros Club is her favorite. She spends some of her other nights out watching her friends’ or fiancÃ©’s bands.
As a recent college graduate, she knows about the tough job market that awaits students. Many of the traditional 9-to-5 jobs have disappeared; she earns commission working for First Horizon bank. Greensboro should keep targeting corporations who want to relocate and bring jobs to the area, she said.
‘“If you’re going to think small you’re going to stay small,’” she said.
Her perspective is also influenced by her Southern Baptist religious beliefs. She attended church regularly before she moved to Greensboro, but hasn’t found a congregation in town that suited her. Going through one divorce and working her way through college has changed her perspective, and she described her relationship with God as very personal.
‘“I’m not somebody that it’s my way or you’re going to hell, ‘“she said. ‘“You have to respect other people’s feelings. It isn’t my place to judge them.’”
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