Greensboro City Council races are nonpartisan, which means that in the primaries for mayor and the five district City Council races, the top two finishers in the primary will have a rematch in the general election on Tuesday, July 26.
In the at-large City Council race, the top six finishers in the primary will be on the general election ballot and the top three finishers on July 26 will be elected to the City Council. It is one of the few political races where a candidate could finish sixth in the primary and third in the general election and win.
Incumbent city councilmembers almost always get a bye in the primary. If they had enough support to win the last election, they almost always have enough support to be in the top two or six in the primary, which means the primary is largely to decide who will run against the incumbents in the general election.
It’s also worth noting that this City Council election has been postponed twice. It was originally scheduled for October and November 2021, but the primary was postponed to March 8 because the US Census data required for redistricting was delayed due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
Then the NC Supreme Court delayed the primary from March 8 to May 17 because of court challenges to the state legislative and congressional districts drawn by the NC General Assembly.
It is generally accepted that voter turnout in the primary will be much higher than a stand-alone City Council primary because of the statewide races on the ballot and that the turnout in the stand-alone general election on July 26 will be much lower than normal because it’s being held during the summer, with all its distractions.
The primary for the mayor’s race can be seen as a poll for the general election.
The winners of the primary are almost certainly going to be Mayor Nancy Vaughan and District 3 City Councilmember Justin Outling.
The two other candidates on the ballot, Eric Robert and Mark Cummings, haven’t raised or spent much money and don’t have the name recognition to compete without a major advertising campaign.
Vaughan defeated incumbent Mayor Robbie Perkins in 2013, was reelected without much difficulty in 2015, and then reelected in 2017 for a four-year term.
She was first elected to the City Council representing District 4 in 1997 and served until 2001, when she took a break, and then was elected as an at-large city councilmember in 2009, serving until 2013.
Name recognition is a big part of elections and it’s hard to find a local politician with better name recognition than Vaughan.
If the election had been held on schedule in October and November 2021, the fact that Greensboro was lagging behind much of the state in economic development could have hurt Vaughan’s bid for reelection. But the announcement of the Toyota battery plant coming to the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite and Boom Supersonic coming to the Piedmont Triad International Airport has turned the tables and given Vaughan a campaign issue. Outling has to be recused from voting on either project because he is a partner in the Brooks Pierce law firm, which did legal work on both.
However, recusals by councilmembers are not uncommon. Back when she was a councilmember, Vaughan had to be recused from a vote on reopening the White Street Landfill. When Robbie Perkins was mayor he was also president of NAI Piedmont Triad, a commercial real estate company, and had to be recused from votes when his company was involved.
Outling was originally appointed to the District 3 City Council seat in 2015 after Councilmember Zack Matheny resigned to accept the position as president of Downtown Greensboro Inc. (DGI). Outling then easily won election to a two-year term in 2015 and a four-year term in 2017. District 3 is considered one of the more conservative council districts and had always been represented by a white Republican, but Outling, a black Democrat, has won by wide margins in both elections.
Outling is a graduate of UNCG and Duke University Law School and has been running for mayor since December 2020, when the election was scheduled for October and November 2021.
Because it is as certain as anything in politics that Vaughan and Outling will be running against each other in the July 26 general election, we are going to wait and see where the chips fall between now and July to make an endorsement.
Certainly, the most intriguing candidate in the race is Robert, who was born in Lyon, France, and raised in France and Gabon in West Africa. He came to Greensboro to attend UNCG, graduated with a degree in economics and went on to get an MBA at Elon University. Robert is a designer and partner at QUB Studios and has renovated several downtown properties. He is currently suing the city and Vaughan over a public records request, and in 2015, he sued the city over redevelopment money. He later dropped that lawsuit.
Most candidates stick to their own race during a campaign, but Robert has used his campaign to attack DGI President and District 3 City Council candidate Zack Matheny.
It’s interesting that former District Court Judge Mark Timothy Cummings is running for mayor. It might be because he can’t run for judge. As a District Court judge Cummings was under investigation by the NC Judicial Standards Commission for over a year for his activities on the bench, including falsifying court documents, accusing a NC Highway Patrol trooper of being racist – forcing the district attorney’s office to drop a driving while impaired charge – and changing the bond amount set by a Superior Court judge, something Cummings didn’t have the authority to do.
Cummings’ resignation agreement was accepted, ending the investigation, but part of the agreement was that he would never run for a judicial office again.
While under investigation as a District Court judge, Cummings had run for Superior Court judge.
City Council At Large
Ten candidates have filed to run for an at-large seat on the Greensboro City Council, and the top six candidates will be on the ballot for the July 26 general election.
The three incumbents are Councilmembers Yvonne Johnson, Marikay Abuzuaiter and Hugh Holston. Johnson and Abuzuaiter were both elected to four-year terms in 2017. Holston is making his first run for public office, having been appointed by the City Council to fill the seat left vacant when former At-large City Councilmember Michelle Kennedy resigned to accept the position as director of the Greensboro Neighborhood Development Department.
The City Council talks a lot about the importance of diversity. However, the City Council has no political diversity. City Council races are nonpartisan, but there is not a single Republican or conservative on the City Council.
Some diversity of opinion on the City Council would make it a much better governing body. We recommend voting for Katie Rossabi and Melodi Fentress. You can vote for three, but we recommend voting for two in hopes that they can make it to the general election in July.
Rossabi has been running for an at-large seat on the City Council since March 2021. Of course, when she announced, the primary was scheduled for October 2021, but that’s a long time to be shaking hands and kissing babies. Rossabi has also made good use of that time by familiarizing herself with the ins and outs of city government. She is a strong supporter of the Greensboro Police Department (GPD) and is in favor of giving police officers a raise in order to help the GPD – which is about 100 officers short right now – fill its ranks. She is a former small business owner and is in favor of making the city small business friendly – something it is not currently.
Fentress is also a strong supporter of the Police Department and a small business owner, who can tell her own story about the difficulties of trying to start and grow a small business in Greensboro under the current city leadership.
Both would provide some needed diversity of opinion on the very liberal City Council.
City Council District 1
The Greensboro City Council would be much more effective and efficient without District 1 City Councilmember Sharon Hightower. Hightower talks more at meetings than any other city councilmember, and generally says the same thing over and over again. Hightower regularly interrupts fellow councilmembers and Mayor Nancy Vaughan.
Hightower is also one of the impediments to development in East Greensboro. She opposes most of the rezoning requests for East Greensboro and, unfortunately, often convinces a majority of the City Council to vote with her. She has opposed developments because they were too expensive and not expensive enough. Hightower has even organized opposition to a proposed development when there was no other opposition.
Her opponent, Felton Foushee, appears to be a reasonable person who would like to work with other councilmembers for the betterment of District 1 and of Greensboro.
Timothy Kirkpatrick is also running.
City Council District 2
District 2 City Councilmember Goldie Wells is running for reelection and being challenged by Cecile (CC) Crawford, LaToya Bernice Gathers and Portia Shipman in the primary.
Wells was appointed to finish out the term of Jamal Fox in July 2017 and then won election to a four-year term in November 2017. This is the second go round for Wells. She served on the City Council from 2005 to 2009, when she did not run for reelection.
Wells has often been outspoken in this term on the City Council, making clear statements about an issue while her fellow city councilmembers were wasting time beating around the bush.
Wells often talks about the need for economic development in East Greensboro, but then votes against the rezoning requests that would allow that development.
Dr. Latoya Bernice Gathers stands out because of her varied background working with Doctors Without Borders and at a tuberculosis clinic in Sudan.
Her platform includes support for the police, increased transparency in government decision making, supporting small business and economic development, having a multi-pronged approach to the affordable housing crisis and focusing on youth development.
In short, similar to most of the other candidates running, but the varied work history is what makes her the better candidate.
City Council District 3
Former District 3 City Councilmember Zack Matheny is running for his old seat back and deserves to win it.
Matheny served as the District 3 city councilmember from 2007 to 2015, when he resigned to accept the position of president of Downtown Greensboro Inc. (DGI). At the time, the city attorney advised Matheny that he would have to resign before he could become president of DGI because it is funded by the city.
However, City Attorney Chuck Watts doesn’t see a problem with Matheny serving as both a city councilmember and president of DGI. Former City Councilmember Michelle Kennedy was the executive director of the Interactive Resource Center, also funded by the city, when she was elected to the City Council, and City Councilmember Yvonne Johnson is executive director of One Step Further, which has a $400,000 a year contract with the city to run the Cure Violence program.
DGI, by comparison, is largely funded through a Business Improvement District tax paid by downtown property owners.
Matheny was an active and effective city councilmember when he served. Matheny and current Mayor Nancy Vaughan devised the plan to finance the Tanger Center for the Performing Arts using parking and ticket fees, not general fund dollars, for the city’s share of that public-private partnership.
Matheny is running against Chip Roth, who is the husband of former Greensboro City Manager Denise Turner Roth. This is Roth’s first run for public office, but he is no stranger to politics. Roth worked for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters for 31-years, rising to communications director under Teamster President Jim Hoffa.
Roth was then appointed by President Barrack Obama to be the senior advisor for strategic communications for the Small Business Administration and, in 2017, founded Roth & Associates, which does strategic communication and business consulting.
City Council District 5
Voters that are indecisive about the District 5 City Council race must either have no political opinions or have trouble making decisions.
District 5 City Councilmember Tammi Thurm is one of the more liberal members of an all-Democratic and very liberal City Council.
Former District 5 City Councilmember Tony Wilkins is a strong conservative.
It is almost a certainty that Thurm and Wilkins will be facing each other in the general election on July 26.
Thurm was the major advocate for requiring police officers to have a written consent form signed before searching a vehicle. In its final form, the consent form was going to have to be provided to the person granting consent in their native language and had become so complex that even the extremely liberal City Council couldn’t agree that it was necessary. Police officers were adamantly opposed, noting that there is already police body cam video footage of the person consenting and officers are required to fill out a form about the consent after it is given.
Wilkins was known for asking tough questions when he was on the City Council. For instance, he simply asked for a copy of the contract with the International Civil Rights Center and Museum regarding a $1.5 million loan. The result was that the City Council discovered the check was issued to the ICRCM without a signed contract.
Wilkins is a strong supporter of the Greensboro Police Department, unlike Thurm who voted to turn down a grant for the Police Department from the Justice Department the city had been receiving for years.
Wilkins is the conservative choice.