Politics is full of surprises.
District 2 Greensboro City Council candidate Jim Kee changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican on Wednesday, Oct. 18.
The City Council races are nonpartisan, but the political affiliation of the candidates is considered a factor in the races.
Kee said that the timing for his party switch may not have been the best, but he added, “Basically all my support has come from Republicans in every campaign I’ve run. I’ve been meeting with Republicans and they said, we’ve been supporting you and you have conservative views but you aren’t a Republican.”
He said, “My supporters said, we could help you make things happen if you were a Republican.”
Kee said that his overriding goal is for economic development in east Greensboro and that he hadn’t had too much success getting that done with Democrats, so, since he agreed with Republicans on most issues, it made sense to make the change. He said that he switched from unaffiliated to Democrat in order to run for City Council and that didn’t appear to be working too well, so he thought he would make the change.
Kee said that he’s running because he thinks being on the City Council is the best way to bring economic development to east Greensboro, but if he doesn’t get elected he will still be working to bring economic development to east Greensboro, just in a different way. He said if Republicans can help him do that then he’s willing to give being a Republican a try.
Kee also said that because the Greensboro City Council races are nonpartisan, he didn’t think changing parties would make a big difference. He said, “I’m the same guy I’ve always been regardless of my political party.”
He said that if people want economic development in east Greensboro then they will vote for him, and if that isn’t important to them they will probably vote for his opponent.
Kee may be right about the party of the candidates not mattering in some City Council races, but District 2 may not be one of those.
District 2 is a particularly bad district to be a Republican if you want to win an election. In District 2, 28,669 voters, or 68 percent, are registered Democrat and 3,284, or 8 percent, are registered Republican. And at 10,079, there are over three times as many unaffiliated voters as Republican voters in District 2.
But it actually gets worse for Republicans in District 2 if you look at voting records. In 2013, the last year there was significant voter turnout in District 2, 3,372 Democrats voted and 360 Republicans. In that race, 558 unaffiliated voters voted.
Plus, it’s not a good year for Republicans: One of six Republicans who filed to run made it through the primary, and that was District 5 City Councilmember Tony Wilkins, who finished second in the District 5 primary behind Democrat Tammi Thurm, who beat Wilkins by 80 votes. So in the primary not a single Republican won.
In 2009, when Kee was first elected to the City Council, the voters elected six Republicans, and since then there has been a steady decrease until currently Wilkins is the only Republican on the council; he was also the only Republican of the 18 candidates left in the race this year – until Kee changed his registration.
All six at-large candidates are Democrats.
District 3 had never elected a Democrat to the City Council until District 3 City Councilmember Justin Outling won in 2015. This year four candidates filed to run in District 3 and all are Democrats.
It’s strange to change your party affiliation in the middle of a race, and even stranger if you are a Democrat running in a district that is overwhelmingly Democratic to change your affiliation to Republican.
The odds of Kee winning were long even before he changed his registration. Kee finished second in the District 2 primary, with 457 votes for 21 percent, to District 2 City Councilmember Goldie Wells, who had 1,197 votes for 54 percent. It’s extremely unlikely for a candidate to come back from being down by 33 points in the primary.
Kee narrowly defeated third place finisher C.J. Brinson, who had 434 votes for 20 percent. Brinson was one vote away from being able to ask for a recount. The difference has to be 1 percent or less to request a recount.
But Brinson, politically, is more closely aligned to Wells than Kee. Brinson was to the left of Wells and Kee was to the right, where you would expect a Republican to be. But that makes it more likely that Brinson’s votes would go to Wells rather than Kee.
This has been an unusual race all the way around. Former District 2 City Councilmember Jamal Fox resigned to move to Portland, Oregon, in July and the City Council chose Wells, who was the District 2 city councilmember from 2005 to 2009 and had indicated that she was not planning to run for election but would finish out the term. After Wells was appointed to the District 2 seat, she said that she wasn’t pleased with the candidates who had filed, which included Kee, and filed to run herself.
Up until Wells filed, it appeared that Kee was the front-runner in District 2. In fact, Kee spoke in favor of Wells being appointed to the District 2 seat, but that was before she filed to run. Kee said he would not have spoken in favor of Wells if he had known he was going to be running against her.
Being an incumbent, even one recently appointed, is a considerable advantage in a City Council race.
Kee served as the District 2 city councilmember from 2009 to 2013, when he was defeated by Fox.
With Kee changing his registration, it makes it much more likely that Wells will win.