Challengers take aim at Council incumbents
The turnout of candidates for Winston-Salem City Council positions has created a crowded field this year.
Following the July 19 filing deadline, no member of the Council has escaped without opposition. North Ward Council Member Denise “DD” Adams will face no Primary challenger, but Republican Patricia Kleinmaier awaits her in November’s general election. Southwest Ward Council Member Dan Besse also won’t face a primary challenger, but Republicans Donald Shaw and Robert Bultman are vying to see which one of them will run against him in the general.
Five members of the Council, including Mayor Allen Joines, face opposition in the Sept. 10 primary. The Northwest Ward seat held by Council Member Wanda Merschel is up for grabs after the veteran decided not to seek reelection.
Northeast Ward incumbent Vivian Burke has decided to seek another term. She had initially told The Chronicle she was “thinking and praying” about whether she would run for re-election, but when she was confronted on the eve of the filing deadline with a roomful of supporters imploring her to run again, Burke, who has served on the Council for 35 years, said she took their pleas to heart.
“I said I have to go and pray over it and pray about it and so I decided that I would go on and run,” she related. “There’s still some things that need to be done.”
During her more than three decades of the Council, Burke said she has introduced a variety of city initiatives to serve minorities, women and youth, including the Minority/Women Business Enterprise Program and the Youth Advisory Council, and established valuable relationships with stakeholders all over the city. If the voters re-elect her, Burke said she will continue to fight for women, minorities and vulnerable populations such as the city’s homeless community.
“I have been able to bring folks together and to work with them very hard to articulate the concerns of minorities,” she said. “I have always been committed and dedicated to serving the people. Maybe some people don’t like it, but I’ve done every step of it with God in front, and all I want to do is just listen and work with people.”
The veteran politician dismissed the criticism of some, who say she has allowed her tenure to drag on too long.
“I’ve always said with any position, it’s out there and it’s how the people speak,” she said. “If they want someone else to have a term, then we will know … after the polls close.”
Burke will face opposition in the Democratic primary from Jemmise Bowen and Brenda Diggs, and Republican Michael Owens awaits her in November if she is victorious.
Bowen, a city native and North Carolina A&T State University alumna, said building stronger ties among community members by establishing new neighborhood watches and associations and other initiatives that would encourage community interaction would be among her priorities as a Council member. Property values are determined in part based on societal factors such as test scores and graduation rates at local schools and proximity to amenities such as shopping, Bowen said. If elected, Bowen, a member of the Democratic Women and the Senior Democrats, said she would work to establish a collaborative of residents in the ward who would use their skills and expertise to improve conditions in their communities.
“I just want to literally make a Northeast Ward collaborative in which we would all work together,” said Bowen, a shelter monitor for the Salvation Army. “…I think it’s going to take the entire ward committing to the ward. I think that the people of the Northeast Ward have to be willing to work – I know I am.”
Bowen, 43, said she would also work to help the city diversify its corporate and business offerings, in an effort to attract more residents to the city and retain a larger percentage of college students after graduation.
“We have to find a way to keep the city active and moving and I just think if we had different types of industry, we could bring more people to the city,” she said. “I don’t dislike what they’ve done, it’s just let’s do more, let’s try something different, let’s think outside the box.”
Owens, a former IT professional, believes his leadership would be a breath of fresh air for the ward.
“To be perfectly honest, the incumbent in this race has been on the City Council since 1977,” said the 37 year-old. “I don’t know how many of her constituents were even alive when she was elected, but for me, that’s a problem. I’m a big proponent of term limits at every level of government, including the city. Although I don’t know Vivian Burke … I think 35 years is long enough. I’d like to be the one who makes that change.”
If elected, Owens said he would fight for pay increases for the city’s fire fighters and police officers, who he says receive 12 and 13 percent less pay, respectively, than their counterparts in comparable North Carolina cities.
“I think those men and women deserve more,” stated Owens, who had a failed run for the District 12 U.S. House seat in 2012. “…Public safety, I think, is a priority for everyone, and I think if we’re able to pay those men and women more, they might be willing to stick around.”
Democrat Bill Tatum will challenge incumbent James Taylor in the Southeast Ward. Tatum, a former president of the local NAACP chapter and retired member of the city’s Housing and Neighborhood Services Division staff, believes his experience as a former civil rights leader and city employee will serve him well on the Council.
“Essentially, I feel that I can provide some experience in government in the way of revitalization and economic development of this area where we will be looking at bringing corporations and businesses to the community to allow for more jobs,” said Tatum, who moved to Winston-Salem from his native High Point as an infant. “…On the other side of town, businesses are building and we don’t see the grand finale in the Southeast Ward.”
A father and grandfather who ran for the Forsyth County Board of Education and for county Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor in the mid 1980s, Tatum said the ward “needs a stronger voice.” If elected, Tatum said he would fight to ensure that all city employees who pursue higher education will receive pay increases, push for a stronger emphasis on vocational and technical degrees that could help citizens quickly obtain employment, and implore local employers to exercise leniency in hiring folks with criminal records or bad credit.
In a non presidential election year, Tatum, who has served on the Downtown Health Plaza Advisory Board and Rural Initiative Preservation Inc. Board of Directors, says getting out the vote will be his greatest challenge as a candidate.
“I’m getting a lot of feedback from people that’s elated to see me in the race,” stated the 63 year-old. “Of course, you’ve got to do like everybody else – you’ve got to get out there and get people to the polls.”
Republican Mike Hunger will face the Democrat who wins the Southeast Ward primary in the Nov. 5 general election. Hunger, a National Property Inspections employee, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Phillip Carter, a Democrat and longtime community activist, is challenging City Council member and fellow Dem Derwin Montgomery for his East Ward seat, as is Joycelyn Johnson, whom Montgomery upset four years ago. If elected, Carter, who was reared in the now defunct Happy Hill Gardens community, said he would work to help members of the East Ward empower themselves, and to leverage the collective support of the city as a whole to help boost the progress of the ward.
“I believe that the pathway for economic sustainability and stimulus is in the community still – building job training and education programs within the community – I believe that that will curtail many of the issues that are plaguing the East Ward,” he stated. “…It takes our city leaders, it takes our educators, it takes our business and job providers, and most of all, the community members themselves.”
Carter touted his extensive community service efforts, which include stints on the Boards of Directors for HARRY Veterans Community Outreach Services, Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods and on the Operation Impact and Forsyth County Nursing Home Community advisory committees, in addition to holding a variety of positions and roles in the local Democratic party.
“I’ve got 13 years of community activism,” said the 54 year-old. “…I’ve been on the ground for years. I’ve walked and talked and worked among the people in many different capacities.”
Carter, who ran for the North Ward seat in 2009, believes he has what it takes to successfully lead the ward.
“I’m not seeking to talk about personalities, but more so principles and issues and the future,” he remarked. “I’m looking towards the year 2017 as it relates to the East Ward. With my vision, it should turn around economically, there should be a turnaround as it relates to crime, and there should be a turnaround as it relates to personal income.”
No Republicans registered to run in the ward.
In all, 28 people have filed for City Council seats this time around. Republican James Lee Knox and Democrat Gardenia Henley will run against Mayor Allen Joines, a Democrat. Democrats Jeff MacIntosh, Noah Reynolds and Laura Elliot will face off in the Northwest Ward primary in hopes of winning the chance to face Republican Lida Hayes Calvert in the general election. South Ward incumbent Molly Leight, a Democrat, will face opposition from Democrat Carolyn Highsmith and Republican Nathan Jones. West Ward incumbent Robert Clark will face primary opposition from fellow Republicans Howard Hudson and Andrew Johnson.
Early voting begins Aug. 22 at the Forsyth County Board of Elections. The primary will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 10.