In the City Council primary, early voting is underway and the primary is Tuesday, Oct. 10. This has been a different kind of election from the get-go.
There are 38 names on the ballot but only 33 candidates – which means five candidates paid their filing fee and filled out the forms to run but then dropped out too late to get their names removed from the ballot.
First, the five candidates who dropped out are District 1 Charles Patton, District 2 Felecia Angus and Tim Vincent, District 3 Payton McGarry and District 4 Andrew Belford. So if you want your vote to count, you’d be better off not voting for any of them. It will be interesting to see how many votes each receives because its an indication of how many votes you can get simply because your name is on the ballot.
Also District 1 City Council candidate Devin King has to be placed in the not really running category. He hasn’t officially pulled out but he has yet to fill out his campaign finance paperwork and doesn’t return phone calls, so he may still be officially running, but he isn’t running.
So that really leaves 32.
District 4 is the most heavily effected by the dropouts because there is a primary with three names on the ballot, but with Andrew Belford dropping out you only have two – City Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann and Gary Kenton – left in the race. So the primary is kind of like a poll. Hoffmann and Kenton will find out how well they are actually doing with the voters and which precincts they need to work on. Hoffmann will also get a good idea of how to spend the over $60,000 she has raised.
What makes this race intriguing is that Hoffmann, who defeated Republican Mary Rakestraw to win the district seat, is now being challenged from the left by Kenton.
But that is the state of this election.
No one has dropped out in the mayor’s race and those who follow city elections have predicted every possible combination ending up running in the general election. Some think that Mayor Nancy Vaughan is a sure bet to win the primary. Other’s say that there is a strong anybody-but-Vaughan movement among voters and the two challengers – Diane Moffett with her support in east Greensboro and John Brown as the only Republican in the race – will eliminate Vaughan in the primary. Some say it will be Vaughan and Brown in the general and others Vaughan and Moffett
Moffett, who is the pastor at Saint James Presbyterian Church, reportedly has the support of east Greensboro despite the fact that she lived in Jamestown and was registered to vote in Jamestown until the day she filed to run for mayor of Greensboro. Moffett has an apartment in Greensboro that is her official voting address, which is legal but strange. Will voters in Greensboro elect a mayor who officially moved to Greensboro the same day she filed to run for mayor and still has a house in Jamestown?
Brown is the only Republican in the mayor’s race, which is supposed to bring him support from Republicans. Although he claims to have lived in Greensboro for 30 years, he filed to vote in Greensboro in September 2015, just in time to vote in the City Council primary in October. From 2000 through 2014, Brown voted in Randolph County.
Vaughan wins the name recognition category hands down and won reelection in 2015 with 88 percent of the vote. In 2013, she handily defeated the incumbent mayor, Robbie Perkins, in a hard-fought and somewhat messy election. In a normal year she would be a heavy favorite to win the primary, but then again the mayor of Charlotte was just defeated in the primary, so this doesn’t appear to be a normal year.
This entire election has taken a sharp turn to the left. Those who thought that the right would be emboldened by President Donald Trump’s win in 2016 were wrong. Only six of the 38 candidates who filed are Republicans, and one of those – M.A. Bakie, who is running at large – registered Republican after he filed.
However, the far left is well represented. Democracy Greensboro – one of the many organizations spawned by Nelson Johnson of the Beloved Community Center and formerly of the Communist Workers’ Party – came up with a platform that, despite what News & Record columnist Susan Ladd wrote, is about as far left as it gets in local politics.
Democracy Greensboro held a candidates’ forum and then graded the candidates on how well they followed the platform in their answers. One way to look at the grading system is the higher the grade the farther left the candidate. District 3 Councilmember Justin Outling and District 4 Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann, who are both Democrats, objected to the platform and the grading system.
The question in the election is going to be: Can the far left get voters to the polls? Voter turnout in the primary is usually between 5 percent and 10 percent. In the general election it is usually between 10 percent and 20 percent. So it doesn’t take many voters to make a difference. With so many candidates from the left running, you would expect a higher vote turnout from that segment of the population. The question is: Will it be enough?
Having 15 candidates in the at-large race gives the incumbents – Yvonne Johnson, Mike Barber and Marikay Abuzuaiter – a big advantage on name recognition alone. Johnson was first elected in 1993 and has been on the City Council all but two years ever since, including one term as mayor. Barber is running for this third term this time around and served for two terms before taking a break. He also served one term on the Guilford County Board of Commissioners with a year as chairman. Abuzuaiter ran twice before being elected in 2011 and is running for her fourth term.
It takes more money than anyone in this race has to buy the kind of name recognition those three have.
The odds are that all three will make it through the primary, which leaves the other 12 candidates running for three spots on the ballot in the general election. In the at-large race, the primary reduces the number of candidates to six, and then the top three voter-getters in the general election are elected to the City Council. The primary is a rare race, where finishing 6th is winning.
The only other candidate with citywide name recognition is Guilford County Board of Education member T. Dianne Bellamy-Small, who served as the District 1 councilmember for 10 years but lost to Sharon Hightower in 2013 and again in 2015. In 2016, Bellamy-Small was elected to the school board, but she wants to get back on the City Council. Bellamy-Small may get through the primary on name recognition, but while a councilmember she was not popular outside her own district, and then again twice the voters in District 1 chose someone else to represent them.
Four members of the Greensboro Human Relations Commission are running in the at-large race. Irving Allen, Michelle Kennedy, Lindy Perry-Garnette and Dave Wils. Kennedy, the director of the Interactive Resource Center, a day shelter for the homeless, has raised the most money and received the most publicity, but not all of it good.
When the suggestion was made that the downtown was not the best place for homeless services, Kennedy not only opposed the idea but attacked the volunteer who suggested it.
Irving Allen is a community organizer and a leader of Black Lives Matter Gate City. Lindy Perry-Garnette, who is the director of the YWCA, was forced to resign from the Police Citizens Review Board after she released information about a police body-worn cam video. Before viewing the video she had signed a confidentiality agreement not to release any information about it.
Wils is a high school teacher who spoke at the most recent Democratic National Convention.
Although the City Council races are nominally nonpartisan, there is a lot of partisanship on the City Council and in the races. Forums have been held for only Democrats and for only Republicans – that’s not very nonpartisan.
In the at-large race, there are three Republicans – Dan Jackson, James Ingram and Bakie.
Jackson, a Greensboro native who is retired from the US Postal Service, has raised and spent some money. Ingram and Bakie, according to the last campaign finance report, are both in the $1,000 range. Having no name recognition, coupled with very little money, makes winning a citywide race extremely unlikely.
The other candidates in the at-large race are Jodi Bennett-Bradshaw, Tijuana Hayes and Sylvine Hill. Hayes and Hill both pledged to raise less than $1,000, which pretty much eliminates them from a 15-person race, although Hill does have some name recognition from running two years ago.
District 1 has the record for the least money raised in a year when over $300,000 has been raised by all the candidates combined. District 1 City Councilmember Sharon Hightower is running for her third term and, according to the last finance report, had $34 in her campaign account. Paula Ritter-Lipscomb has pledged to raise less than $1,000, making it difficult to beat an incumbent and, as noted, King hasn’t filed anything.
District 2 is also unusual this year. The incumbent is District 2 City Councilmember Goldie Wells, who was appointed in July to fill the unexpired term of Jamal Fox, who moved to Portland, Oregon. So Wells is an incumbent but just barely. She is facing former District 2 City Councilmember Jim Kee and C.J. Brinson.
Kee lost to Jamal Fox in 2013, and until Wells got in the race it looked like he was the clear frontrunner, but Wells, who served as the District 2 councilmember from 2005 to 2009 is a powerful political force in District 2 and the incumbent.
C.J. Brinson is a youth pastor at Faith Christian Church and a community organizer for the Beloved Community Center. He is also involved in Black Lives Matter, so it would be a decided swing to the left for Brinson to win, but in this election that could happen.
District 3 City Councilmember Justin Outling is running for his second term after being appointed to fill the seat left vacant when Zack Matheny accepted the job as president of Downtown Greensboro Inc.
Outling is the first Democrat to ever represent District 3 and won pretty handily over a Republican challenger in 2015. Now it seems, like everyone else, he is being challenged from the left. Antuan Marsh and Craig Martin both line up to the left of Outling and neither has raised much money, which is what it usually takes to defeat an incumbent.
Outling is one of the more conservative members of the City Council that only has one Republican, and it would be a real turnaround for District 3 to elect a liberal Democrat.
District 5 has two Republicans and two Democrats going into the primary, which makes it an incredibly unusual district in this election. City Councilmember Tony Wilkins is running for his third term after being appointed to finish out the term of state Sen. Trudy Wade when she was elected to the Senate. In 2015, Wilkins didn’t have an opponent; this year he has three. Tanner Lucas is the other Republican in the race and he has not been very visible on the campaign trail.
Tammi Thurm, one of the two Democrats in the race, had at last count raised more money than Wilkins and is running a well-planned campaign. It is almost a given that Thurm and Wilkins will face each other in the general election.
The other Democrat is Sal Leone, who likes to file to run for office. Leone is philosophically opposed to accepting campaign donations, which is one of the reasons he has never won and usually doesn’t receive many votes. He has run as both a Democrat and as a Republican.
The election may be difficult to predict, but it is a safe bet that Leone will not be elected and will file to run for some office next year.