The Greensboro City Council faced challengers from the left and the right in the primary on Tuesday, Oct. 10.
Democracy Greensboro, one of the increasing number of organizations that have been spawned by Nelson Johnson of the Beloved Community Center, developed a platform, held a candidates’ forum and ranked candidates.
Two of the candidates who ran work for Nelson Johnson, but neither made it through the primary.
The Guilford County Republican Party, which in the past has largely stayed out of City Council elections, tried to get involved. The GOP didn’t recruit candidates, but it worked for the candidates who filed to run who registered as Republicans, and that didn’t work out too well.
District 5 City Councilmember Tony Wilkins, who has won in the past without much help from the Republican Party, is the only Republican who made it through the primary and will be on the ballot in November.
Democracy Greensboro faired slightly better. In the at-large race, both David Wils, who participated in the Democracy Greensboro forum, and Michelle Kennedy, who received its highest ranking from Democracy Greensboro in the at-large race, finished in the top six.
In the District 4 race, Gary Kenton, one of the founders of Democracy Greensboro, made it through the primary but, because the third candidate dropped out of the race, the primary was a formality.
In District 2, C.J. Brinson, who works for Nelson Johnson, finished only 22 votes behind Jim Kee, but hundreds of votes behind Goldie Wells. So Brinson almost made it to the general election, but not quite.
So for all of its time and effort, Democracy Greensboro didn’t have any big outright wins.
If At-large City Councilmember Mike Barber can maintain his 6-vote lead and Wilkins can come back from an 80-point deficit, then you have the same City Council we have today.
But it is just as likely that Barber will lose the 6-point lead if you look at the other candidates in the primary and divvy up their votes between the two.
Barber would likely get the votes for Dan Jackson and James Ingram, about 4,200, but Kennedy would likely get the votes of Irving Allen, Lindy Perry-Garnette, Tijuana Hayes, Jodi Bennett-Bradshaw, and Sylvine Hill for about 6,000 votes. The votes from Andy Nelson and M.A. Bakie would probably split.
But with that scenario, Barber starts out, not up 6, but down about 1,800. It’s going to be a really tough race for Barber to win, and Kennedy has already proven that she can raise money and make good use of it.
By the same token, in the District 5 race, Wilkins should pick up the Tanner Lucas voters, and the Sal Leone votes should split. So you have essentially a tie starting out in the general election. But Tammi Thurm in the primary ran a winning race against a popular incumbent. Her supporters will be energized so there is a good chance Thurm will be able to do the same in the general election.
If the votes fall so that Barber and Wilkins both are defeated in the general election, the City Council would lose its two most conservative members, replaced by Kennedy, who would be the most liberal member of an all-Democratic City Council, and Thurm, who would probably fit somewhere in the middle of the council on the liberal-conservative scale. However, Thurm did receive a perfect score at the Democracy Greensboro forum, so she may be more liberal than she would like people in District 5 to believe.
That scenario, with two incumbents losing, would also mean that there would be no white males on a City Council made up of five white women, three black women and one black male, District 3 City Councilmember Justin Outling, who with this setup would likely be the most conservative member of the City Council.
It would completely change the dynamics of the City Council, making it far more liberal and less business friendly. Instead of having Wilkins and Barber constantly pushing against raising taxes and spending money on expensive social programs, you would have two councilmembers pushing to spend money on social programs – and that money has to come from somewhere.
That council setup would make recruiting businesses to Greensboro – something the present City Council hasn’t done well – even more difficult, and doing business in Greensboro far more difficult.
By endorsing and working for all six Republicans, regardless of their political stance or viability, the Republican Party may have shot itself in the foot and helped clear the path for a far more liberal City Council. If the Republican Party had stayed out of the race, it could not have done much worse.
Endorsing candidates like Devin King in District 1, where King didn’t even fill out the required paperwork to legally run for office and didn’t campaign, doesn’t send a strong message. When M.A. Bakie filed to run, he was registered Democrat, but he switched over to the Republican Party during the primary season and got the full support of the Republican Party. Maybe Barber should consider doing the same in the general election. Then again, looking at how the Republican candidates did in the primary, maybe that’s the last thing he should do.
In District 5, the smart move for the Republican Party would have been to try and get Tanner Lucas to drop out, giving Wilkins a better shot at winning the primary. By supporting both Lucas, who did almost nothing in the way of campaigning, and Wilkins, who raised over $34,000 and has won the seat twice, the Republicans actually helped Thurm win the primary. And although candidates start from scratch in the general election, winning the primary has provided Thurm with a tremendous amount of momentum and a good narrative when she is out raising money. She proved Wilkins is vulnerable in District 5, which has been considered the lone bastion of conservatism in the city.
The Republican Party wasted a lot of effort on promoting John Brown, who announced his candidacy in August 2016 and finished a distant third in the primary. If those efforts instead had gone to Dan Jackson and Wilkins, two more mainstream candidates, Jackson might have made it to the general election and Wilkins might have won his primary, setting up an entirely different scenario for the general election where Republicans would be in a position to gain a seat on the City Council, not lose the one seat they have.
In the primary, the voters overall said they were happy with the City Council the way it is now, but the worry during the primary was that the City Council could take a sharp turn to the left and in the general election that may prove to be true.