For the next four years Greensboro will be run by a City Council made up of eight women and one man.
Seven members of the current City Council won reelection easily on Tuesday, Nov. 7, but Michelle Kennedy defeated At-large City Councilmember Mike Barber and Tammi Thurm defeated District 5 City Councilmember Tony Wilkins.
Wilkins is the only Republican on the City Council and Barber is its most conservative Democrat, so although most of the City Council is returning, the two new councilmembers will definitely turn the City Council left.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan easily won her third term, and first four-year term, as mayor with 19,885 votes for 67 percent over Diane Moffett with 9,417 votes for 32 percent.
Moffett was an unusual candidate for mayor in that she was not registered to vote in Greensboro until the day she filed to run for mayor.
She is the pastor of Saint James Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, but for the past 12 years has lived in Jamestown. Moffett is an effective public speaker, but not effective enough to cover up the fact that she didn’t know much about the government of the city next door to the town where she lives.
Vaughan was on the City Council for four years, took an eight-year break and served another four years before running for mayor the first time in 2013.
Vaughan said that one of the reasons she ran for reelection is that the city has so many ongoing projects that she would like to see through to completion.
She said, “We’re going to focus on economic development and how we can reduce poverty.” Vaughan noted that the city had $126 million in bond money that was going to be spent on the downtown, parks and recreation, transportation and affordable housing, and she wanted to be a part of making certain the money was well spent.
Vaughan said that she had plans to address some procedural issues at council meetings by holding one meeting a month with more of a town hall format, giving people a greater opportunity to speak to the City Council.
Before Vaughan won in 2013, Greensboro had three one-term mayors who were each defeated in their bid for reelection. In 2015, Vaughan won with 88 percent of the vote, and the win on Tuesday with 67 percent is considered a landslide.
Vaughan said, “I’ve worked very hard the last couple of years. People have seen that. I’m not afraid to tackle tough issues and I think they appreciate that.”
Also, although it looks like Vaughan only won one or two precincts in east Greensboro, she did well in most of the east Greensboro precincts that she lost – receiving 30 or 40 percent of the vote. That is a far cry from past elections where the losing candidate in an east Greensboro precinct could count their votes on their fingers.
It’s great news for Greensboro if one political action committee is not controlling the vast majority of the votes in east Greensboro.
In the at-large race, City Councilmember Yvonne Johnson easily won her first four-year term with 21,360 votes for 27 percent in a three-way race. Before Johnson won an at-large seat in 1993, people said that a black candidate could never be elected at large. Johnson was elected mayor in 2007, and the only election she has lost was her reelection bid for mayor in 2009. In 2011, Johnson won back her at-large seat and has finished first in the at-large race ever since.
In 2015, Johnson said that she didn’t plan to run for reelection in 2017, but this year Johnson said that the City Council had so much on the table that she decided to run one more time.
Johnson said, “I really want to concentrate on job training for the unemployed. We’ve got to teach people more than just a trade. We’ve got to teach them how to keep a job.”
She said that reducing poverty in Greensboro would also be a major goal for her in this term. But she added, “I don’t want to raise taxes. I’ve only voted for one tax increase and that was when the governor took all our money and we didn’t have any choice. Folks don’t need to be paying any more taxes.”
Johnson said, “If we can get somebody for the megasite, you’ll see me doing the happy dance on TV.”
When asked how she managed to win so decisively year after year, Johnson said, “When you love people, sometimes they love you back.”
Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter Tuesday again finished second in the at-large race with 15,719 votes for 20 percent. Abuzuaiter was first elected to the City Council in 2011 by finishing third and moved up to second in 2015. She also finished second this year in the primary and her reelection never appeared to be in doubt.
Marikay said, “People see that I really work hard for the city and work in every district of the city.” She also said that the City Council was in the middle of so many projects that she wanted to get reelected to see them through.
Abuzuaiter is currently chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which deals with transportation issues, and said she was excited to be reelected to continue to work on those projects.
She said, “Voters said they really like my commonsense approach and the fact that I explain my votes.”
About the newly elected City Council she said, “We need all voices on the City Council. We’ve got to listen to all sides.”
The third seat in the at-large race was one of only two hotly contested races in this election, and it turned out to be by far the closest election of the night.
First time candidate Michelle Kennedy, with 13,220 votes for 16.45 percent, defeated incumbent City Councilmember Mike Barber, who had 13,121 votes with 16.33 percent.
Barber served as a Guilford County commissioner from 2000 to 2004 and served one year as chairman. He first ran for City Council in 2005 and stepped down in 2009. Barber ran again for City Council in 2013 and was reelected in 2015.
In City Council races, usually candidates with Barber’s name recognition and experience win reelection fairly easily. But this was not a usual race and Barber won the third position in the primary over Kennedy by only 12 votes.
After the close primary, both Barber and Kennedy raised more money and stepped up their campaigning.
The consensus among those who closely follow local politics was that it would be close but that Barber would win a narrow victory. The consensus was wrong.
When asked what it meant that, while most members of the City Council won, she was able to knock off a political heavy weight, Kennedy said, “The citizens spoke and what they said this year is, ‘we want some institutional history but we also want some new voices.’”
Kennedy said, “I ran a grassroots campaign going door to door. It was really a community effort.”
She said that her entire career has been rooted in serving the community and she looked forward to serving in a new role as a member of the City Council.
Barber said, “I’m disappointed but have been proud to serve the citizens of Greensboro.”
First-time candidate Dave Wils finished fifth with 8,800 votes for 11 percent. Although technically it is a six-way race, Wils kind of got left behind when the race for the third spot heated up betweem Kennedy and Barber.
Wils ran an impressive campaign, and in a less unusual year he might have won.
When asked about his campaign, he said, “I had fun. I learned that there is nothing better than offering yourself up to serve and that you don’t have to win to move the needle.”
He said he was pleased with the support that he did receive and found that people are looking for real things to happen and that he hoped the newly elected councilmembers would listen to what the people said in this election.
When asked if he would run again Wils said, “Right now, I don’t see any reason I wouldn’t run again.”
Wils added that he wasn’t going away – that he would continue to be active in the community. It will be surprising if Wils name doesn’t appear on the ballot in the future.
Guilford County Board of Education member Dianne Bellamy-Small finished sixth with 7,653 votes for 10 percent.
Bellamy-Small served as the District 1 city councilmember for 10 years before losing to City Councilmember Sharon Hightower in 2013. Bellamy-Small lost to Hightower again in 2015 and was elected to the school board in 2016.
Bellamy-Small all but dropped out of the race after finishing sixth in the primary. Bellamy-Small has been involved in politics long enough to know that moving up from sixth to third in the at-large race takes a citywide effort. She has now lost three City Council elections in a row and will have to wait four years until she can run again.
District 1 City Councilmember Sharon Hightower had the most decisive win of the night finishing with 4,158 votes for 84 percent over Paula Ritter-Lipscomb with 745 votes for 15 percent.
Ritter-Lipscomb didn’t run a very active campaign and there was never any doubt that Hightower would win, but the margin is still impressive.
When asked what it meant that the voters elected eight women to serve on the City Council, Hightower said, “It means that women know how to rule. Women rock. But we’re like mothers, we know how to nurture.”
Hightower said that, in the past, many issues like transportation got pushed under the rug and they would now come to the forefront.
She said, “If the people that need jobs get jobs but don’t go home to a good house, everybody suffers.” She said that affordable housing would also be one of the issues she pushed in this upcoming term.
She said, “We’re going to be more progressive than ever before.”
Hightower said, “There is a big difference between my side of town and the rest of the city. We’ve to get that side of town brought up to where it should be. There shouldn’t be any difference between one side of town and the other.”
She said, “This is a good night for Greensboro. Change is good.”
District 2 City Councilmember Goldie Wells, with 3,033 votes for 71 percent, easily defeated former City Councilmember Jim Kee, who had 1,192 votes for 28 percent.
The District 2 race had all the trappings of what appeared to be a close race between two candidates who had both served four years on the City Council.
Wells was appointed in July to finish out the term of former City Councilmember Jamal Fox, who resigned to move to Portland, Oregon.
When Wells was appointed, Kee had already filed to run and Wells had indicated that she didn’t intend to run. However, after being appointed to the City Council, Wells said that she didn’t like the field of candidates in District 2 and filed to run for a four-year term.
In October, while running in a district that is 8 percent Republican and 63 percent Democrat, Kee changed his voter registration from Democrat to Republican. It doesn’t appear that proved beneficial in this race.
Wells said, “I have been consistently committed to the community when I served on council and when I was off council. Citizens trust me to do whatever I can do for them.”
Kee said that he had enjoyed running and getting out to talk to people.
District 3 City Councilmember Justin Outling easily defeated challenger Craig Martin. Outling had 5,392 votes for 73 percent to Martin’s 2,005 votes for 27 percent.
What made this race interesting is that Outling in 2015 was the first Democrat to ever win the District 3 seat, and in 2017 he was being challenged by a fellow Democrat who is far more liberal.
The election leaves Outling as the only male on the City Council.
Outling said, “Especially in my district, people pay a whole lot of attention to city politics and what people actually do.” He said that what people do is far more important to his constituents than their political party.
Outling said that in campaigning he was surprised to learn that not only did people know who he was, “They know how I voted.”
He said, “The voters made their decisions based on my work and not on my party registration.”
Outling said it was encouraging to find that his constituents were paying so much attention to what he had done on the City Council.
As far as being the only male on the City Council, Outling said he hadn’t thought about it and would reserve his comments.
The District 4 City Council race was surprisingly a lot like District 3.
District 4 City Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann, with 5,147 votes for 67 percent, had little trouble defeating Gary Kenton, with 2,494 votes for 33 percent.
Hoffmann was first elected in 2011 when she defeated Mary Rakestraw, a conservative Republican. So if there was a challenge to Hoffmann you would expect it to come from the right, but Kenton is considerably more liberal than Hoffmann.
Kenton was one of the founders of Democracy Greensboro, one of the organizations connected with Nelson Johnson of the Beloved Community Center, which had a number of candidates in the primary.
Hoffmann is the master campaigner on the City Council. In the past she has raised far more money than any other candidate for City Council and she has hired staff.
It’s like a group of kids playing sand lot baseball in blue jeans and T-shirts agreeing to play a team from another neighborhood and the opposing team shows up in crisp white uniforms with coaches, a batboy and their own official scorekeeper.
Hoffmann’s campaigns are always run with precision. Kenton raised a good bit of money and ran a good campaign, but he is far to the left of Hoffmann, and her campaign could be a model for a campaign in a local election.
Hoffmann agreed that this was an unusual election year but said, “Most of the time the voters get it right.”
She said that when she first ran she thought six years on the City Council would be enough to get some things done, but having served six years she said, “There are so many things going on with such potential” that she wanted to stay and try to complete them.
She said that there were big opportunities for major development at the airport and also a big opportunity in the works for development in east Greensboro.
From a political point of view she said, “At the city level we have to govern in the center.” She said that she saw most city issues as truly nonpartisan, not just nonpartisan in name.
The District 5 City Council race was actually much like District 3 and District 4, with the incumbent being challenged from the left, with one huge difference – in District 5 the challenger won.
Tammi Thurm, with 2,512 votes for 55 percent, defeated District 5 City Councilmember Tony Wilkins, with 2,051 votes for 45 percent. Thurm won the primary by 75 votes and many people thought she would win the general election, but the predictions were that it would be a much closer race than it was.
Thurm won 16 precincts to five for Wilkins, and they tied in one. One of the precincts Wilkins won had a total of seven votes, and another a total of 21 votes. Wilkins actually only won one of the larger precincts in the district.
The final campaign finance reports aren’t in, but it appears that Wilkins raised more money than Thurm, but Thurm won by running an old-fashioned door-to-door campaign.
Thurm said about her victory, “I think it was a matter of being out there every single weekend.” She said she started going door to door in August and knocked on her last door on Sunday, Nov. 5. She said she didn’t count but figured that she knocked on over 1,000 doors.
She said that she found that people in the district didn’t feel like they were being heard.
When asked what she planned to do now, Thurm said, “Take a breather and plan Thanksgiving. I’ve got 20 people coming to my house.”
District 5 has been seen as the most conservative City Council district. Wilkins was appointed to replace Trudy Wade when she was elected to the state Senate in 2012. Wilkins then won election in 2013 and in 2015 ran unopposed.
He was the only Republican on the City Council and its most conservative member. The election of Thurm is a sharp turn to the left for District 5.
It’s tough for a challenger to beat an incumbent, but what Thurm’s race proves is that if a candidate is willing to do the work, even in this world of Facebook and smartphones, old-fashioned face-to-face campaigning still works.
Thurm not only worked hard, she ran a smart campaign where she concentrated on the issues and what she had to offer as a councilmember.