October 25, 2012
A Monday, Oct. 22 "Meet the Candidates Open Forum" at the Macedonia Family Resource Center suffered somewhat from an excess of candidates.
According to moderator Terrence Thomas, the Macedonia candidates' forum was originally intended to be a mayoral debate, but the "open" part of the debate took on a life of its own, resulting in wall-to-wall candidates from most High Point
City Council races and one- and two-minute time limits on responses.
That's what you get when you have 25 City Council candidates on the ballot and some fuzziness in the invitations, with candidates crashing the forum like college students crashing a keg party. High Point
has no primary for City Council races, meaning anyone with $96 can get on the general election ballot.
Thomas let candidates for mayor and for the two at-large seats on the City Council answer questions from the audience. He limited the candidates for ward seats to short statements.
Despite the crush of candidates, the debate was interesting, if only because the time limits on answers prevented the second debate in a week from becoming just a mayoral-race retread. The forum was the first public appearance for some of the ward candidates.
City Councilmember Bernita Sims, generally considered the leader in the mayoral race because she is expected to sweep Wards 1 and 2, was present, along with Councilmember Chris Whitley and developer Coy Williard. Wards 1 and 2 are the two majority black wards. Sims is a black Democrat; Whitley and Williard are white Republicans. Sims would be High Point
's first black mayor if elected.
Sims said that, if elected mayor, she would continue the work of the High Point
City Project to renovate blighted old High Point
neighborhoods. She touted her service on numerous boards and committees, including the boards of the North Carolina League of Municipalities and the National League of Cities. Like other candidates, she said High Point
attracts businesses that don't hire its residents.
Sims said, "We're talking about training people to get those jobs when they do come."
Whitley said he hadn't expected to run for mayor, but did so at the urging of business leaders and friends. He said his goal is to promote water, sewer and electric infrastructure to attract businesses and to improve police, fire and trash service. He said he would support more small local parks.
Williard said his priorities are jobs, lower taxes and improved schools. He said, "Between jobs and schools and enriching our city, we can make it a better place to live and work."
The forum gave candidates for the two at-large seats needed exposure.
This year, At-large Councilmember Latimer Alexander did not run for reelection, opting instead to run in the Republican primary for the state Senate District 27 race, losing to Greensboro City Councilmember Trudy Wade, who won with 54 percent of the vote to Alexander's 10 percent, third-place finish.
That left At-large Councilmember Britt Moore running to retain one of the two at-large seats, and High Point
Mayor Becky Smothers, who is running at large and not for reelection as mayor.
The other at-large candidates are Elijah Lovejoy, a minister best known for arranging events such as Party on the Plank to draw people downtown; Ed Squires, the owner of the Squires Group and director of A Child's World Day Care Center's High Point
branch, and Cynthia Davis, who did not attend.
Lovejoy cited his training as a pastor and the company he runs that promotes events in High Point
, including the periodic downtown Party on the Plank and the International Festival. He said High Point
's two main challenges are its high tax rate and its declining property values. He said, "if elected, I will vote 'no' on property tax increases for the next two years."
Lovejoy also said he would ask High Point
City Manager Strib Boynton for a menu of 2 percent, 4 percent and 6 percent budget cuts.
Moore said that High Point
has many positives as well as negatives, and that the City Council has done the best it could. He said the City Council reduced the budget twice before approving it. He said, "We've made very good progress in many areas in a very difficult economy."
Smothers, having been mayor for all but four years since 1992 and having been on the City Council since the 1970s, has the strongest name recognition of all the candidates – a fact she both bragged and joked about by saying she didn't think she had to introduce herself much. She said, "My hair has been three different colors since I've been elected."
Smothers said she did not run again for mayor because there were new, eager councilmembers who wanted the job, but ran at large because the City Council will lose much of its collective experience on Election Day. She said, "Do you all know that it's very probable that a majority of the City Council will be new faces or in new seats?"
Smothers said the City Council has attracted 2,000 jobs in companies moving to High Point
or expanding there this year. "And they've been all over," she said. "It hasn't been concentrated in one part of town."
Smothers said she would push for safer neighborhoods and investments in communities. She called the Macedonia neighborhood a poster child for community investment. High Point
has used federal grants to buy and fix up many houses in Macedonia.
Squires, contrary to Smothers, joked about his lack of name recognition. "Who is Ed?" he asked rhetorically.
Squires said he has a real estate license and that the Squires Group employs more than 20 people. He said, "I may not have the public experience that Ms. Smothers and all the others on the council have, but I do have volunteer experience."
In response to a question on whether High Point
has done enough to promote itself, Whitley said the city needs to remember to promote what it has – renovated areas in the South End, Washington Drive, Uptowne and the Palladium Shopping Center. He said he is not opposed to the High Point
Whitley said, "I am in favor of the City Project becoming a self-supporting operation."
Sims said that much of the money that flows through High Point
during the twice-yearly furniture market doesn't stay there. She said High Point
needs to improve its appearance so that people will want to live there.
Moore said High Point
is known worldwide, something he learned while studying abroad.
"The biggest room in my personal home is the room for improvement," he said. "And I don't think the city is any different."
Another question was on education and job training.
Williard said, "You must have picked that for me." Williard is chairman of the board of trustees of Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC). He said that GTCC is building a $1.5 million job-training program with a recently won grant, and that it also won a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to keep students in college until they graduate.
Lovejoy called for a small business incubator like the Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship in Greensboro. He said more businesses and jobs would give High Point
's young people a reason stay in High Point
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