Two years ago it was me; running a very grassroots campaign for City Council at Large. My decision to run was one I had been pondering for several years but the final decision to file was an 11th hour decision. I learned a lot in that short campaign about Greensboro's political scene and also about both partisan sides in what is designed to be a non partisan city council. We all know that is not the case in reality. We all know Greensboro is and has always been a "blue city". Everyone knows which side each candidate falls on; no secrets there. We all know that local election apathy exists in large quantities in Greensboro; due in part to odd year elections, in part to cronyism and in part to a startling lack of media coverage, especially by the local electronic media. It would not take much effort to point out that local secondary publications such as the Rhino Times, Triad Weekly and Yes Weekly do far more to cover local elections and politics than the primary newspaper does. If the local primary media (News and Record, WFMY News 2 for example) are not offering more than very cursory coverage, how can a local candidate make any headway versus the established cronies who have campaign coffers filled with local developers money?
WFMY News 2 is especially negligent in covering these important elections. Two years ago the only electronic media representative that contacted me was WGHP Fox 8. I received a phone call the night of the election asking where they could reach me in the event I won my election. Sad. In an age where print media is struggling to stay financially solvent due to declining subscriptions, most folks turn on their local channels to get what local news they receive. Granted, most viewers in Greensboro are primarily only interested in the weather but they do at least tune in. What they get is state news, national news and local fluff. The reason that this is detrimental to our city is that the cronies have access to the airwaves to bloviate their "all is well" messages and are NEVER asked about or held accountable for their failings. If the local TV stations aren't covering local elections and actually seeking out "new" candidates to share their views, how are local citizens going to make informed opinions about their options? Greensboro citizens have talked about "change" for several years. Many are disgusted to the point of "no hope" and those who can leave are. Compare the demographic changes to our city the past 35 years. Read the city's own Trends and Development reports since 1980. The statistics are startling. Yet Greensboro citizens are either in a politically induced coma or they simply like being led around by their noses and allow local cronies or opportunistic antagonists to tell them HOW to vote.
Do the politically "elite" run the show here? You betcha! And here's a news flash for you; they don't all live in Old Irving Park. Members of the "club" come from all corners of our city and the worst ones prey on lower income citizens. The local Pulpit Forum controls a large part of the east Greensboro voting block simply by telling its' parishioners "who" to vote for; not "why" to vote for them just "who". It works too. Joblessness and poverty continues to grip east Greensboro yet the same old promises that we hear every campaign season are still the rallying cries though rarely do you here anything about them after the election is over. Whether it's work training centers, affordable housing or job creation, east side voters fall for the same old shtick only to see the same old nothing. Instead they are creatively diverted to issues in the State General Assembly or social issues, some warranted but many not so.
In an interview with News and Record columnists Allen Johnson and Doug Clark during the 2015 election, I was asked by Mr. Clark if I felt as if I were running against a "team effort" by the incumbents. My immediate answer was a resounding YES! When the new candidates go to the political forums sponsored by varying groups in our city, you will hear things from the incumbents like "our current council works together better than any council we have ever had". You will hear it from EVERY incumbent candidate. They want to keep the club together. What is more apparent is that the movers and shakers in Greensboro (i.e. the developers) all agree with them. One such developer who is a registered Republican, donated to every incumbent campaign in 2015 except for Mike Barber's; that's 7 Democrats and one Republican. Now why else would he do that unless he was "happy" with how the sitting council was benefiting his business? And he is not the only one. Who is making money downtown? Who stands to gain from saturating the city with retail businesses that produce little to no career jobs that have benefits? When the movers and shakers are loading up local incumbent campaign funds with tens of thousands of dollars, how do new candidates get their messages, ideas and more importantly the failed resumes of incumbents to the voting public? Without in depth, impartial and fair media coverage, the answer is they don't.
These local forums are also a chance to see the incumbents exercise their best "team" ability; diversion. During the last campaign I consistently brought up Greensboro's depressing economic numbers. They have not changed the past 2 years. Greensboro is last compared to cities our size or even smaller in several economic categories; poverty, new job creation, tax rate, new businesses, unemployment to name a few. What's more, the Trends and Development report published by the city annually confirms these numbers. Greensboro's home ownership rate is 50% or less now. Where are the property tax revenues coming from? Did your water rates go up? Property taxes? Since 1980, those who can afford to move usually do. Students from our many colleges and universities are no longer staying because there are no jobs or careers. High school graduates are going off to college and not returning. The millennial population in Greensboro has declined 9% since 2010. Mass job producing businesses find Greensboro as an "unfriendly" place to locate. The Mayor trumpeted Honda Jet as a city success in 2015; how many residents of east Greensboro or Greensboro in general was hired by Honda Jet? How many of their "relocated employees" moved into the city?
Yet when I would point out these economic numbers, the incumbents did not challenge me on them. They simply changed the topic to other issues, mainly NC General Assembly bills in which they had zero control. They did not want to talk about their record of lack of achievement.
This year there was a noticeable increase in candidates filing for city office. Several have already packed it in. Want to know who is in the club? Look no further than Jamal Fox's replacement for example. Mr. Fox backed Tim Vincent as a replacement to fill out his term. The council chose Goldie Wells, a long time political figure in the city. Mr. Vincent filed to run for election in District 2 as Ms. Wells supposedly had no intention of running. Ms. Wells switched her position and filed; Mr. Vincent compliantly withdrew. Wonder who the east side elite club members are endorsing?
To oust an incumbent in this city, you either have to start raising money and support years in advance or gain the approval of the club elite. You somehow have to identify the pitiful 11% of the city's population that bothers to vote, then hope the club elite have not sufficiently mobilized their voting block. Then to be effective you have to hope that scenario manifests itself at least in five races. That has happened once that I can recall the past several years. What is even worse is that some of the candidates running are frighteningly worse than some of the incumbents. Without the perfect storm, Greensboro's city council will not get one iota better. Unfortunately, with some of the candidates running it could get a whole lot worse. Social issues will continue to dominate council business meetings further deteriorating and undermining any possible improvements and special interests will continue to dominate decisions. Now that we have moved to four year terms, Greensboro's rate of decay will accelerate.
Greensboro is not only in need of new leadership and ideas, it is in need of any leadership or ideas. It is my hope and prayer that the Greensboro electorate will heed the call for significant action and change. It is my belief that they will not.
Drug addicts often have to hit rock bottom before they can actually get help. Greensboro is an "addicted city". Like Detroit, it is headed for rock bottom. If the chain of bad electoral decisions is not broken soon, it is just a matter of time before Greensboro founders. We are "circling the drain" with no plug in sight.