This is City Council candidates’ forum season, with four scheduled this week.
Tuesday, Oct. 17, the League of Women Voters and the News & Record held a forum for mayoral and at-large candidates in the main hall and then held mini-forums for each district in separate rooms. A couple hundred people attended, which is a huge crowd for a candidates’ forum.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan, who won the primary with over 61 percent of the vote, and Diane Moffett, who finished second with 22 percent, each answered questions from moderator Bill O’Neil of WXII 12 News.
Vaughan talked about what she had done as mayor for four years, and as a city councilmember for four years before that. Moffett who moved to Greensboro in July when she filed to run for mayor was at a disadvantage because, not being a resident of Greensboro, she was not eligible to serve on any city boards or commissions. So Moffett talked mainly about “being able to create a vision” for Greensboro, bringing people together and getting input.
The first question was about Greensboro’s nickname, “the Gate City,” and what that meant today. Moffett repeatedly called Greensboro “the Gateway City” and said Greensboro should be the gateway to “entrepreneurial innovation, science and technology.” She also said, “It’s important to be able to name who you are.”
Vaughan said the moniker Gate City came about because of the railroads that went though Greensboro, but it was appropriate today because Greensboro has more interstates than any city on the East Coast and this made the city a good location for logistics companies. Vaughan added, “We are also known as tournament town because we know how to have a good time.”
On a question about attracting new industry, Moffett made the point that it was important to have a trained work force ready for the company that decides to locate in Greensboro.
Vaughan talked about her part in forming the Guilford County Economic Development Alliance to facilitate working with High Point and Guilford County, something that wasn’t done in the past. She also noted that the city had worked to get the taxiway bridge at the airport to open up 1,000 acres to development.
When asked how they differed from their opponent. Moffett said that she had observed City Council meetings that had really gotten out of hand and that “just having meetings and no action will just frustrate people.”
Vaughan said, “We do more than just talk about the issues. I’m out in the community every single day and have been involved in this community since 1997.”
Vaughan noted that the City Council had passed a $25 million bond for affordable housing to provide safe, affordable housing for all the people of Greensboro.
After the mayoral candidates left the podium, five of the six Greensboro City Council at-large candidates sat down to answer questions from O’Neil.
Greensboro Board of Education member and at-large City Council candidate Dianne Bellamy-Small did not attend the forum.
When asked what made them different from the other candidates, Dave Wils, who finished fifth in the primary, said, “I’m a servant.” And he added that made it difficult to talk about himself, but he was a public school teacher and wanted to make sure that everyone had their needs met.
Michelle Kennedy, who finished fourth in the primary, said, “This is the work I’ve been doing for a long time.” She added, “I didn’t just start showing up at City Council meetings when I started running for City Council.” She said that she had driven all the change she could at the nonprofit level and it was time to move up.
City Councilmember Yvonne Johnson, who finished first in the primary, said, “My motto is: Service is the rent we pay for living on this earth. I am the voice of experience and the voice of inclusion.”
She said that in her tenure on the City Council she had served people in every section of the city and didn’t hesitate to help anyone in need.
City Councilmember Mike Barber, who finished third in the primary, said it was his unique experience that differentiated him. He noted that he had served as both a Guilford County commissioner and a city councilmember, and while a commissioner was able to facilitate the building of a new baseball stadium and a new health and human services building. He said that as a councilmember he had proposed and advocated for the Greensboro Aquatic Center, which has been a great success.
City Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter said that she had been a member of the League of Women Voters for 10 or 15 years, and that brought a round of applause. She also said that she is in all five City Council districts every day and that she was able to make being a councilmember her full time job. She said, “I am one of the few who has either invested in, lived in or been involved in every single district in this community.”
After the at-large forum ended, the audience was invited to attend a forum in one of the five rooms where the two district candidates each answered similar questions.
The District 5 primary was the closest of the district races and challenger Tammi Thurm won the primary by 80 votes over District 5 City Councilmember Tony Wilkins. In that breakout session, when asked about which of the recently passed bonds was most important, Thurm said the economic development and housing bonds. She said that the bus routes in District 5 have not grown with the city limits and she would like to see them extended.
Wilkins said the economic development and parks and recreation bonds. He said that Griffin Park needed to have phase 2 completed, which would be important to District 5. Wilkins also said that in his five years on the City Council he had never had one complaint about the city transportation system.
When asked how they were different from their opponent, Wilkins said, “We are as different as night and day. This is the city’s most conservative district and Tammi represents the far left.”
Thurm said that her personal history differentiated her. She said, “I have a history of working with and for successful small businesses.” She added, “I want to work with the citizens of District 5 to develop a vision of where we want to go.”
On Monday, Oct. 16 in the forum held for District City Council candidates by the Neighborhood Congress at the Central Library, some of the best exchanges of the evening were from the District 3 candidates, City Councilmember Justin Outling and Craig Martin, who are both attorneys.
Martin threw down the gauntlet when, in his opening statement, he said that as a public defender he worked to benefit the people of Greensboro, “not corporations like UnitedHealthcare.”
Outling said that one of his jobs was as a partner in the Brooks Pierce law firm, another was being a city councilmember who is active in the community, but his most important job was being a father to his son and daughter.
Outling described himself as “socially progressive and fiscally conservative.” He said, “I have a history of getting results, not talking about them for the first time before an election.”
But Outling’s best shot came later in the forum when he asked people to look at the candidates’ voting records to see who had been participating in the city government.
Martin has a spotty voting history and didn’t vote in the 2015 municipal elections. Outling has voted in every election since moving to Greensboro in 2012, even the ones where he wasn’t running.
There were also some good exchanges between District 4 City Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann and Gary Kenton. It appeared that Kenton wanted to make it abundantly clear that he is far more liberal than Hoffmann.
Kenton called the bill that passed the General Assembly to redistrict Greensboro into eight districts, eliminating the three at-large City Council seats, “an outrage.” He said, “Our district system is working well for us and should be maintained.” He suggested that Greensboro should band together with Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham and other cities to push back against the state government.
Hoffmann was the only candidate who answered the question about the redistricting who seemed to understand the difference between the district system passed by the state legislature and the current system. She noted that under the present system each voter can vote for five members of the City Council.
The district system passed by the state would have divided the city into eight districts and eliminated the at-large City Council seats. Only the mayor would have been elected at large. The City Council and a group of citizens sued over the state system and had the law overturned, so we have the system we have had since 1983.
Every other candidate talked about how they liked the district system, which is not what Greensboro has. Greensboro now has a hybrid with five districts, three at-large districts and the mayor elected at large.
Hoffmann also said, “It’s important to keep in mind cities in North Carolina are creatures of the state. We derive all of our power from the state.”
In a similar way District 4 candidate Jim Kee was the only candidate to accurately answer the question about the new law that will allow Greensboro to post its public notices on the Guilford County website. Kee said that it didn’t require the city to post electronic notices on the county website but gave the city that option.
District 4 City Councilmember Goldie Wells said the city “should fight back” against the law giving the city that option.
But mainly, from what Wells said, she is against any law that state Sen. Trudy Wade supports.
Thurm also spoke out against Wade. She said she didn’t know if the city is prepared to run public notices on its website. She said, “Over all I’m not in favor of it and I think we need to push back on it.”
Wilkins, Thurm’s opponent, did not attend the forum.
In this case what was discussed as if it were a bill has become law, but Greensboro can continue to spend thousands of dollars advertising in the News & Record if it so chooses, or Greensboro can choose to place public notices on the Guilford County website at far less expense to the taxpayers.
On an economic development question, Wells said, “When companies come to the city they should provide a livable wage for our citizens” and that she was concerned about the lack of development in east Greensboro.
Kee said, “We don’t have the infrastructure in east Greensboro for business development.” He noted that Alamance County “has been eating our lunch” when it comes to attracting new companies to the area because of lower taxes and overall costs.
District 1 Councilmember Sharon Hightower agreed that the infrastructure needed to be brought up to standard. District 1 candidate Paula Ritter-Lipscomb said that the city needed to look to the businesses already here and look at our universities for economic development. She said it was important to inform people to get them involved.