November 01, 2012
High Point voters going to the polls face not only 25 candidates for High Point
City Council seats, including five for mayor, but a ballot that is sure to shake up the usually stable and cozy City Council, on which few seats change occupants in most elections.
This year, the mayor and at least four other councilmembers will be replaced, resulting in a quite different City Council. Depending on your perspective, it's either a much-needed shakeup of the status quo or a loss of years of cumulative experience.
For years, High Point
Mayor Becky Smothers has governed High Point
with a coalition made up mostly of moderate Republicans and Democratic Ward 1 Councilmember Bernita Sims, a moderate Democrat. Two elections in a row have scattered that stable coalition.
Smothers is giving up the mayor's chair and running for an at-large seat. Most of the councilmembers who made up her coalition have left, are leaving or are gambling on campaigns for mayor.
In 2010, Councilmembers Bill Bencini and John Faircloth moved on to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners and the North Carolina House of Representatives, respectively. This year, At-large Councilmember Latimer Alexander lost a race for the state Senate and is not running for reelection as a councilmember. Councilmember Chris Whitley and Sims are gambling on runs for mayor and will be off the City Council if they lose.
Add to that the fact that one-term Councilmember A.B. Henley is not running for reelection, and that Ward 3 Councilmember Mike Pugh has serious competition for a change, and you've got a High Point
City Council election that is harder to predict than any in recent memory.High Point
Republican Party Chairman Don Webb has done High Point
a service by holding two debates at city hall, one on Thursday, Oct. 25 for candidates running for the two at-large seats and those in Wards 5 and 6, and one on Tuesday, Oct. 30 for the candidates running in Wards 1 through 4. That helped voters size up the candidates.
The Macedonia Family Resource Center and High Point
University held a free-for-all candidates' forum on Monday, Oct. 22 that gave City Council candidates a chance to be seen, and a few of them a chance to be heard. Smaller ward forums added to the candidates' exposure.
The debates and forums helped define the candidates, giving voters a somewhat clearer picture of their choices. One issue was on every candidate's lips: jobs, jobs and more jobs. With a 10 percent unemployment rate and a vast class of former factory and mill workers that needs to be trained for modern jobs, High Point
is a city in which everyone running for office wants the city to have more companies, more jobs and more worker training. Beyond that, here is a primer on the non-mayoral City Council candidates:
Cynthia Davis has served one term on the High Point
Planning and Zoning Commission, where she showed zeal. She has commented on many issues at City Council meetings, which she attends regularly and may be the only person in High Point
, NC, except for some councilmembers and city staffers, who has read the entire city budget.
Davis is brash and thoughtful by turns. She is annoying to other commission members, but does her homework. High Point
politicians either love her or hate her; there seems to be no middle ground. She has argued for getting rid of High Point
City Manager Strib Boynton, as has her mentor, Councilmember Mike Pugh.
Davis said: "I know there is a lot of waste in our budget, because I'm the only candidate who attended every budget session."
Elijah Lovejoy is a minister best known for creating a company that arranges events, such as Party on the Plank, to draw people downtown. He rails against taxes, although he has sought funding for his events from the city. Lovejoy is young, friendly and associated with High Point
University President Nido Qubein and Qubein's choice for mayor, Coy Williard.
Lovejoy said he would ask High Point
City Manager Strib Boynton for a menu of 2 percent, 4 percent and 6 percent budget cuts. He has promised not to vote for tax increases in his first two years on the City Council if elected.
Lovejoy said: "I'm not saying you have to make those cuts, but it lets you see what's most valuable and least valuable in each department."
Britt Moore has served one term as an at-large councilmember. He is a self-employed property manager from a textile and furniture family. Moore is straightforward and well-liked and argues for bringing manufacturing back from other countries. One term on the City Council has made him more realistic about the power of one councilmember and the need to build coalitions. He told an audience that this year's proposed city budget was cut twice before passage, and accurately explained the effect of property revaluation on taxes.
Moore said: "I believe the overall [City Council] record has been pretty good. From my perspective, there's a whole lot to stay in High Point
for. We have an excellent city. We've done excellent things in a tough economy."
Becky Smothers is the 900-pound gorilla of High Point
politics. She has been on the City Council since the 1970s, mayor for all but four years since 1992. Smother has the name recognition of the gods in High Point
, with the ability to draw votes in Wards 1 and 2, the majority black wards. She has a well-known record – if you like it, vote for her; if you don't, vote against her. Confident going into the race – perhaps overconfident. She is likely to win anyway. Smothers is sardonic, knowledgeable and (some argue) hidebound. She attacks demagoguery over taxes, saying other cities cost-shift by charging larger fees.
Smothers' main argument is that the City Council needs continuity and that her long experience and knowledge are too useful to waste.
Smothers said: "I urge you to watch the next council. Do not let them wipe out our financial stability."
Ed Squires is the owner of the Squires Group floor-cleaning and supplies company and director of A Child's World Day Care's High Point
branch. He has appeal in minority wards and elsewhere. Squires is eager and enthusiastic but claims little knowledge of government. He ran in 2010 and lost.
Squires said: "I do not claim to have all the answers. But I'm a workaholic. I'm going to promise to give you all I can to make our city better."
The Ward 1 race is a real donnybrook, and virtually impossible to call. There are several candidates with appeal in the ward, and it's another five-way race. Sims running for mayor left the seat open.
Mary Lou Andrews Blakeney is well known and respected in High Point
as one of the planners of High Point
's Woolworths sit-in, which took place only days after Greensboro's better-known one. She is a career nurse and served one term as an at-large councilmember before being knocked off by Britt Moore in 2010. She was only moderately effective in her one term, but she seemed to have learned a lot by the end of it and might be more effective in a second term....continued on page 2