Filing for the Greensboro City Council election ended Friday, July 21 at noon, and 38 candidates have filed to run. That includes 15 running for the three at-large seats.
It’s the most candidates who have ever filed to run in a City Council election.
But don’t let that fool you. According to people that follow city politics, the most likely outcome of the election is that the same City Council will be seated at the dais in 2018 as in 2017.
There is a primary in every race. The City Council races are nonpartisan, so the top two vote-getters in the mayor’s race and the five district races will face each other in the general election.
In the at-large race the top six vote-getters will be in the general election, and out of those six, the top three will be elected to the City Council.
In the at-large race voters can vote for three candidates in the primary and in the general election. But voters don’t have to vote for three and often a candidate will ask supporters to only vote for him or her. It’s called a single-shot vote and it gives that one vote more weight. This may come into play in the at-large primary with 15 candidates.
All nine members of the City Council are running, including District 2 City Councilmember Goldie Wells, appointed to replace Councilmember Jamal Fox, who resigned on July 18 because he is moving to Portland, Oregon.
Some councilmembers said one reason they were supporting Wells was because she wasn’t running in the election, and she had not filed when she was appointed on Tuesday, July 18. Wells filed on Friday.
She said she wasn’t planning on running, but when she heard some of the candidates speak at a forum for those who had applied to be appointed to Fox’s seat, she didn’t think they had a good grasp of what District 2 needed.
Wells filing makes the District 2 race one of the most interesting because former City Councilmember Jim Kee has also filed for District 2. Wells served as the District 2 councilmember from 2005 to 2009. Wells didn’t run for reelection and Kee won the seat in 2009 and served until he was defeated by Fox in 2013.
Because of name recognition, Wells and Kee have to be considered the front-runners in the race, but either one or both could get knocked out in the crowded primary. Also running in District 2 are Felicia Angus, C.J. Brinson and Tim Vincent. Brinson has worked for the Beloved Community Center run by Nelson Johnson and that carries some weight in District 2.
The mayor’s race also has some twists. Mayor Nancy Vaughan is running against Diane Moffett and John Brown.
Moffett registered to vote in Greensboro for the first time the same day she filed to run for mayor. Moffett has a house in Jamestown but changed her voter registration to vote from an apartment in Greensboro. Moffett’s husband is still registered to vote from their home in Jamestown.
The question is whether the voters of Greensboro will want to elect a mayor who didn’t even make a pretense of living in Greensboro until she filed to run for mayor. And since her husband is still registered to vote in Jamestown, it does raise the question of where she would actually live if elected.
But Moffett reportedly has a lot of support in east Greensboro where she is the pastor of Saint James Presbyterian Church. So whether or not the voters of Greensboro want to elect a mayor who has never voted in a Greensboro municipal election and has a home in Jamestown is a question that will be answered at the polls.
Brown is a Republican, and Republicans have run well in mayoral races in the past decade. Both Bill Knight, elected in 2009, and Robbie Perkins, elected in 2011, are Republicans. Being the lone Republican in the race against two Democrats could make a difference in the primary, but a lot of that depends on whether or not Brown can raise the money to let voters know he is a Republican.
City Councilmember Tony Wilkins is the lone Republican on the City Council and District 5 is considered a Republican district.
Wilkins was appointed to finish the term of Trudy Wade when she was elected to the state Senate in 2012. Wilkins then won reelection in 2013 and 2015.
He has attracted three candidates running against him, and Tammi Thurm appears to be the most formidable. Thurm is a Democrat running in a Republican district, but she is reportedly well funded. The other two candidates are Sal Leone, who is currently registered as a Democrat but he switches back and forth; Leone likes to pay his filing fee but has never run a serious campaign and rarely gets many votes. Tanner Lucas is a Republican making his first run for public office. He registered to vote in 2010 but the first time he exercised his right to vote was in 2016. He has never voted in a City Council election.
In the past, not voting was considered something of a disqualifier for a successful run for office, but it appears from looking at the voter registration forms of the candidates, at least the candidates don’t consider that to be the case. There are a number who have never voted in a Greensboro municipal election and many who have spotty voting records.
This is the first time the City Council has run for four-year terms. One of the reasons given for increasing the terms to four years is that it would attract more candidates if they knew they didn’t have to run every two years.
That seemed to have worked, but another reason given for the four-year terms is that it was supposed to attract more business people to run. The current City Council has five members who are retired or don’t work full-time jobs. Of the four who do have full-time employment, three work for nonprofits and only one member of the City Council, Justin Outling, an attorney with Brooks Pierce, has a job with a private for-profit organization. You could argue that there isn’t a single currently active business person on the City Council, although several have business interests, they just don’t work at it full time.
Another reason some pundits believe the field is so crowded is that in 2016 this City Council gave itself a 60 percent raise. Councilmembers are now paid $22,140 a year and the mayor is paid $28,862. Councilmembers also receive an expense account of $5,356 per year and $10,712 per year for the mayor, as well as a free city cell phone.
Another benefit that in today’s world is worth a lot is that councilmembers qualify for city health insurance. Councilmembers have to pay the cost, but being a part of a large group policy is a good deal.
The council also voted unanimously to provide health insurance to former councilmembers going forward. In some cases the city would pay part of the cost and in others the entire cost, depending on how many terms the former member had served.
The council voted for it, but the state legislature would have to approve it and no bill was introduced before the legislature adjourned. However, the city is slated to push for that legislation in the 2018 session of the legislature.
Councilmembers also receive an assigned parking space in the city parking garage under city hall, which is also a valuable commodity in downtown Greensboro.
The result of the pay increase appears to be that several teachers – who would likely have to hire substitutes for the work sessions held at least once a month – are running. The $22,140 would provide enough funds to hire quite a few substitutes.
Of the 38 candidates running, only six are Republicans and two of them Wilkins and Lucas running in the District 5 race. Brown is running for mayor. James Ingram and Dan Jackson are running at large and Devin King is running in District 1.
Even if the Republicans won every race they could, it would mean five Republicans on the council. In the unlikely event that did happen it would be fewer than the six Republicans on the City Council in 2009, and there is little chance of all five winning. In fact, at this point in the election, the only Republican who appears to have a good chance of winning is Wilkins. All the rest would have to be considered long shots.
Here is a sign of the times: There are six unaffiliated candidates running. So you have the Republican Party, which reportedly was recruiting candidates, with exactly the same number as unaffiliated candidates, and nobody was recruiting unaffiliated candidates to run.
That leaves 26 Democrats running for the nine seats. There isn’t a single race without a Democratic candidate.
District 3 had always elected a Republican to represent it on the City Council until 2015, when the voters elected Outling, who had been appointed to finish out the term of Councilmember Zack Matheny when Matheny stepped down to take the reins at Downtown Greensboro Inc.
In 2015, Outling had two Republican opponents. This year Outling is running against three Democrats, which means no matter who wins the District 3 race it will have a Democratic councilmember.
Racially, the candidates are fairly evenly split, with 21 white candidates and 17 black candidates.
When looking at the list of candidates you have the nine incumbents who have name recognition from serving on the City Council, and then you have former City Councilmember Kee running in District 2 and former City Councilmember and current Guilford County Board of Education member Dianne Bellamy-Small running at large. Most of the remainder of the candidates have limited name recognition.
District 1 candidate King ran for mayor in 2015 but finished with 11 percent of the vote, so he has some name recognition from that race, but 11 percent is extremely low for a citywide race against an incumbent. Usually an incumbent has more than 11 percent of the voters who will vote against them regardless of their opponent.
Running in District 5, Leone also ran for mayor in 2015 and he received 5 percent of the vote in the primary.
One of the big unknowns at this point is how much money candidates can raise or are willing to spend. A self-funded candidate who is willing to spend freely can turn the tables in a race pretty quickly. Until campaign finance reports are filed, it’s mainly a guess, but with 38 candidates running it’s going to be worth watching.