Filing for the Greensboro City Council elections opens on Friday, July 7 at noon, and two city councilmembers ended months of speculation this week by announcing they would file to run for reelection.
At-large City Councilmember Mike Barber and District 5 City Councilmember Tony Wilkins, the lone Republican on the council, announced this week they would run for reelection.
One rumor was that Barber planned to challenge Mayor Nancy Vaughan in the mayor’s race. Another was that he wasn’t going to run at all. Both rumors proved false
Wilkins had been urged by some to run for mayor and by others to run in the at large race, leaving the District 5 seat open for another Republican. District 5 in the western part of the city is the most conservative district in Greensboro and the thinking among some Republicans was that Wilkins could win an at-large seat and another Republican would win District 5. Of course, the other side of that would be that Wilkins could lose the at-large race and the unknown newcomer who would run in his place could also lose, leaving Republicans without a single city councilmember. Wilkins was appointed to replace Trudy Wade when she was elected to the state Senate in 2012. It’s hard to believe that in 2009, the voters elected six Republicans to the City Council including Mayor Bill Knight, and now the council is down to Wilkins.
For years the voters elected at least one Republican to the three at-large seats. But that has changed, and since 2011 all three at-large seats have been held by Democrats. It would have been a tough race for Wilkins to win in a citywide election and his odds of winning are much better in District 5, though he has already attracted one opponent, Tammi Thurm, a Democrat who has held a fundraiser, has a campaign website and all the appearances of running a legitimate campaign.
Wilkins as the lone Republican serves as the council’s unofficial liaison to the state legislature, which has veto-proof Republican majorities in both the House and Senate. Wilkins has also gained something of a reputation on the City Council for asking tough questions. It was when Wilkins asked for a copy of the contract between the International Civil Rights Center & Museum and the city that the City Council discovered there was no signed contract.
With Barber committing to run, it means that all three at-large councilmembers are running for reelection.
A few months ago it appeared there might be two open seats because Councilmember Yvonne Johnson had said in 2013 and 2015 that the 2015 race would be her last. Johnson changed her mind and now says that the 2017 race, which is for a four-year term, will be her last. Johnson was first elected to the City Council in 1993 and was elected mayor in 2007. She lost he reelection bid in 2009 and then ran again for City Council in 2011.
The at-large races are always confusing and contentious. It’s a tough race to run because the at-large candidates are not like most political candidates running against another candidate, they are each running against everyone. It’s a lot like a basketball game we used to call “Taps,” where whoever got the rebound was on offense and everyone else on the court was on defense. It was one against all and all against one. That’s how the at-large City Council race works.
It appears the at-large race will have a primary, where the top six finishers will move on to the general election and the three candidates with the most votes will be elected.
In 2015, Barber finished solidly in third place behind Johnson who finished first and Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter who finished second. In 2013, Barber finished second and Abuzuaiter finished third.
About his decision to run for reelection Barber said, “I’m excited about running again. I want to continue the work we’ve begun, supporting business investment in Greensboro and to continue to try to streamline the permitting process and developing a far better fast track program. We need to ensure that we have adequate well-trained inspectors that can move the permitting process forward quickly. But most importantly we need to continue to strongly support our police and fire department to move toward a safer Greensboro.”
Barber is an attorney who currently runs First Tee of the Triad, a nonprofit organization that uses golf to teach life skills to economically disadvantaged children.
Barber launched his political career winning a four-year term on the Guilford County Board of Commissioners in 2000, serving one year as chairman. He was defeated when he ran for a second term as a commissioner in 2004.
In 2005, Barber won a seat on the City Council and served two terms before stepping down in 2009. After leaving the City Council, Barber moved to Spain for a year – talk about getting away from it all, that’s really getting away.
When he returned from Spain and got back into the swing of things, Barber ran for an at-large seat on the City Council in 2013 and was reelected in 2015.
Barber often doesn’t participate in the sometimes-heated City Council discussions, but when he does speak, he doesn’t mince words.
While other city councilmembers seem content to come to meetings and vote on what is put before them, Barber is known for working to put five votes together to get things done.
Barber put together the votes to increase the raise for the Police and Fire departments from 5 percent to 7.5 percent. He was also instrumental in getting the water rate increase for city residents reduced from 3.75 percent to 3.25 percent and the rates for those outside the city increased to make up the difference in revenue.
Barber, in his previous term on the City Council, was one of the forces behind getting the Greensboro Aquatic Center built at the Greensboro Coliseum, something that is now considered a big success.
Joining the three incumbents, Johnson, Abuzuaiter and Barber in the at-large race so far are three newcomers, Dave Wils, Michelle Kennedy and Jodi Bennett-Bradshaw. Both Wils and Bennett-Bradshaw are teachers, and Kennedy runs the Interactive Resource Center, the daytime homeless shelter. That’s six who have announced they intend to run, but it would be an unusual year if during the filing period they weren’t joined by at least a couple more.
One of the most unusual at-large council candidates in recent years, Jorge Cornell, who ran in 2009 as the leader of the gang the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation, won’t be running because he’s serving a 28-year sentence in federal prison. But his candidacy did make for some interesting candidate forums.
District 2 City Councilmember Jamal Fox has announced he is resigning from the City Council and his replacement will be appointed at the July 18 City Council meeting. According to people who claim to know these things, the appointment will most likely go either to former District 2 City Councilmember Goldie Wells or Tim Vincent, who has announced his intention to run for the District 2 seat.
Former District 2 City Councilmember Jim Kee and C.J. Brinson have also said they intend to run for the District 2 seat.