December 27, 2012
High Point Mayor Bernita Sims is a small woman.
You don't notice her size when she sits at the dais at High Point
City Council meetings, but it was evident at her Dec. 3 swearing-in ceremony at the High Point
Theatre, where she barely topped the lectern, and it's apparent when she's seated in her usual corner at Becky's & Mary's Restaurant on Washington Street.
But Sims has a large amount of confidence and ambition. That was apparent not only before the Nov. 6, 2012 election, but before the May 8 North Carolina primary.
At that time she said, in strong terms but off the record, that she would win the mayor's seat whether or not former High Point
Mayor Becky Smothers ran for reelection, whether or not two white Republican candidates split that vote and whether or not the High Point
City Council voted to reinstate a primary for City Council races.
Smothers did not run for reelection, former Councilmember Chris Whitley and developer Coy Williard split the conservative vote, and High Point
skipped the primary, making it possible for a candidate to become mayor with only a plurality of votes.
Sims, until Dec. 3 the Ward 1 representative to the City Council, got 33 percent of the vote, beating Williard's 27 percent Whitley's 18 percent.
At Becky's & Mary's on Friday, Dec. 7, Sims discussed the campaign, her reorganization of the City Council and what she thinks needs to be done to put High Point
on the right track.
Being mayor is equally a change for Sims. The mayor does most of the public speaking and much of the liaison work for the City Council, which is almost a full-time job in itself. In her last months as mayor, Smothers delegated most of the public speaking engagements to Whitley. Now the burden falls on Sims.
After a long day of meetings on Monday, Dec. 10, Sims said, "One thing that's amazing to me is the diversity of people with whom you interact."
Besides her confidence and her height, there are probably many things some High Pointers don't know about Sims, despite her decade on the City Council.
As Ward 1 councilmember and now as High Point
's first black mayor, Sims is well known in Wards 1 and 2, the two majority-black wards. She's well known to followers of the High Point
City Council. But Smothers, except for one term won by Arnold Koonce, has been the public face of the City Council since 1992 – a long time for any mayor, and some young High Pointers may not remember anyone else in that role.
Sims, despite being born and raised in High Point
and attending High Point
city schools, did her senior year of high school at Central High School in Seat Pleasant, Maryland. She attended the University of the District of Columbia for two years, majoring in communications.
Sims moved away from High Point
for much of her professional career, working in Kansas City, Atlanta and Washington, DC. Her resume shows a series of corporate jobs, including senior property manager for National Housing Partnerships in Washington, vice president of operations for Bolton Property Management in Atlanta, vice president of operations for Omega Realty in Atlanta and human resources executive for La-Z-Boy Furniture once she returned to High Point
in 1997. She now works as night manager of a High Point
Sims argues that her time outside of High Point
has better prepared her to serve as mayor of High Point
"I think it would be the diversity of the knowledge I bring to the table," she said when asked about her qualifications. "I have lived all over this country, so I don't come with a preconceived idea about High Point
. I think if you've lived here all your life and you've never lived anywhere else, you're making decisions based on limited knowledge."
Sims won the mayor's seat in the three-way race against Whitley, who had 20 years on the City Council, and Williard, who touted his business experience. Williard's campaign was interpreted by some as an effort to block Sims' election, and Sims has some bitterness over the campaign.
"Coy to this day doesn't speak to me," she said. "I tell him, why do you personalize this? Whitley didn't do that. The next day he called me to congratulate me. It's not personal. If Coy won, I would have called him to congratulate him, and the next thing I would have said is, 'How can I help in the transition.' He did none of that."
Despite any lingering animosity, Sims remained adamant that she would have won even had Williard not filed to run.
"You forget what my part in all this is, I would have prevailed anyway," she said. "I might have had to work a little harder, but at the end of the day, I still would have won."
Sims dismissed many of the positions taken by other candidates for City Council as gimmicks, including that taken by unsuccessful at-large candidate Elijah Lovejoy, who said he would ask High Point
City Manager Strib Boynton for a menu of 2 percent, 4 percent and 6 percent budget cuts.
"That's not how budgets work," Sims said. "Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there's another guy sitting in the room telling me 'I really have some concerns about our streets and roads, and I want to make sure you put more money into resurfacing of streets.'"
Sims said Whitley and Williard said they would revisit the High Point
budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year – this fiscal year, which is halfway done.
"I'm not Chris and I'm not Coy," she said. "We're not going to revisit the budget. It is what it is."
Sims did say that, if the City Council or staff find any savings, they can put them back into the city's general fund, but that taking this year's budget apart and putting it back together makes no sense.
"I can't see what that does," she said. "We're beginning another budget as we speak. To me that is just a total waste of time. I don't see the reasonableness of that happening."
It has been no secret to people following High Point
politics that Sims has been planning to run for mayor for years. Her campaign came together in what seemed like a perfectly timed sequence of events: Smothers decided not to run; former Councilmember Bill Bencini, who also wants to run for mayor and whose father was mayor, is off taking a turn as a Guilford County commissioner; and the City Council, despite complaints from some councilmembers, did not vote to reinstate a City Council primary, which would have left Sims, a Democrat, running head-to-head against a single Republican candidate.
Nevertheless, Sims claims she had no master plan.
"There was not a plan," she said. "As much as people may want to give me credit with being all that strategic and whatever, I never sat down and put pen to paper and set a strategy. That never happened."
Sims also claims she did nothing to aid the City Council's failure to restore a primary for City Council races. The City Council eliminated them several years ago, at the same time that it switched High Point
City Council races to even-numbered years in an effort to capitalize on the turnout for national and state elections....continued on page 2