Tuesday night, Nov. 7, Greensboro took a turn to the left, but not as sharp a turn as it appeared might happen in the primary when 38 candidates filed to run, including some of the most radical candidates Greensboro has ever seen in a City Council election.
The newly elected City Council has no Republicans and is made up of eight women and one man, and, interestingly, not a single white male. The lone male on the City Council is District 3 City Councilmember Justin Outling, who is black.
It is certainly the first time Greensboro has not had a single white male on the City Council, and Greensboro may be the first major city in North Carolina not to have a white male on the City Council. Perhaps we’re out in front of everyone else.
One consideration when looking at the outcome is that Mayor Nancy Vaughan, Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson and City Councilmembers Marikay Abuzuaiter, Sharon Hightower, Goldie Wells, Justin Outling and Nancy Hoffmann didn’t face a serious challenge in their reelections.
Hoffmann and Vaughan had the closest races and they both won with 67 percent of the vote, which is considered a landslide.
So seven of nine members of the City Council were elected by large margins, indicating that the voters are very satisfied with them.
But then the two who lost – At-large City Councilmember Mike Barber, who lost to Michelle Kennedy, and District 5 City Councilmember Tony Wilkins, who lost to Tammi Thurm – were the two most conservative members of the City Council.
Maybe it’s significant that they were men running against women. Seven of the 18 candidates running on Tuesday were men. One of the nine winners is a man. Eleven of the 18 candidates were women and eight of the 11 were elected. At least in this election, the odds of winning were much better for women.
In the past two years there have been a number of 8-to-1 votes where Wilkins was the one vote. So it might seem that there won’t be much difference if those votes are now 9-0. But what Wilkins did was try to pull the council to the right. The City Council is a collegial group and likes to reach consensus. Many times Wilkins would get some concessions, but not enough for him to change his vote.
Being replaced by Thurm means that pressure to move right won’t be there and there won’t be anyone on the City Council presenting a more conservative point of view.
But it also appears that Wilkins didn’t necessarily lose because of his political views but because he was out-campaigned. In a district race, going door to door can be extremely effective. Personal relationships usually trump politics, and if one candidate has stood on a person’s doorstep and asked them what they would like to see the city do, and the other is simply a face they have seen on TV, usually the personal touch wins.
But whether it was politics or campaigning, the result is that a conservative Republican on the City Council has been replaced with a liberal Democrat. Thurm was the only candidate who received a perfect score on the platform presented by Democracy Greensboro, which is as far left as any platform ever presented in a City Council race.
Barber’s loss is in many ways more troubling. Barber is a Democrat and most often voted with the Democratic majority on the City Council.
One difference between Barber and Wilkins is that Barber would get some concessions from his fellow councilmembers and then vote for the motion, even if it wasn’t what he wanted, while Wilkins in a similar situation would cast that one no vote.
It represented a difference of opinion in how to get things done. Barber’s philosophy was that if he voted with his fellow city councilmembers for something he wasn’t 100 percent in favor of, he was more likely to get them to vote with him when they were on the fence.
But so much of what Barber did on the City Council was behind the scenes, didn’t get much publicity and will be hard to replace. He was the councilmember that others went to when they were trying to put together five votes to pass a motion.
Barber was also the go-to guy for local businesses when they had needed help working with city government. Businesses in Greensboro need someone who can cut through the red tape and move them up the ladder to the department head or city manager level where reasonable accommodations can be made.
There are a lot of negotiations that go on behind the scenes that nobody knows about other than those involved, as long as they are resolved. Barber was good at getting issues resolved before they turned into a major issue or a lawsuit.
The local business community is going to have to find someone else on the City Council to fill that void.
Kennedy is far more interested in social issues than Barber. She doesn’t have his legal or business experience, having spent most of her career in the nonprofit sector; and even if she had, it would be nearly impossible to know who to call to solve a problem in your first couple months on the job.
Greensboro is poised for growth. Not only is there a chance that the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite will attract an automobile manufacturing plant in the near future, there are some other major opportunities on the horizon.
Hoffmann noted that companies are showing interest in the 1,000 or so acres being opened for development at the airport and that a large development in east Greensboro is in the works.
What Greensboro needs more than anything are good paying jobs. The good news is that most of the current members of the City Council realize that attracting new industry and the jobs they bring to Greensboro would go a long way to solving some of the social problems. But if the new City Council gets sidetracked on trying to solve the issues, like affordable housing and poverty, before attracting new industry, the city could lose out on some city-changing opportunities coming down the pike.
Vaughan, Hoffmann, Outling and Johnson form a solid base on the council for future development, but they will need to add one more to take action. It will be interesting to see if they can find that vote or votes to move Greensboro forward.
What this election appears to be is a mirror image of the City Council election of 2009. After President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, the voters of Greensboro went to the polls in 2009 and elected six Republicans to the City Council, including a Republican mayor.
After President Donald Trump was elected in 2016, the voters of Greensboro went to the polls and elected eight Democrats and one unaffiliated candidate to the City Council. The unaffiliated candidate is Michelle Kennedy, who will be one of the most liberal councilmembers.
One important difference is that in 2009, the City Council was elected to two-year terms, and in 2011, three of those Republicans elected in 2009 were sent home.
There can be no such correction in 2019 because this City Council was just elected to four-year terms and the next City Council election won’t be until 2021.
One final note: A lot of folks left the Old Guilford County Court House on Tuesday night thinking that former Guilford County Commissioner Bruce Davis had been elected mayor of High Point. I was one of those.
The reason we thought that was because Davis won in Guilford County, but High Point has expanded into Randolph, Davidson and Forsyth counties. So while Davis got the most votes in Guilford County, High Point City Councilmember Jay Wagner received the most votes overall and was elected mayor of High Point.