November 17, 2011The analysis of the recent Greensboro City Council election can go in a number of directions.
The Greensboro News & Record has declared that it was a referendum on using the fully licensed and permitted White Street Landfill for the disposal of garbage. If the News & Record is correct, and there is no chance the city is ever going to use White Street as a landfill, then the city should quit spending the money it takes to keep the landfill permitted. See if Mayor-elect Robbie Perkins and company are interested in that. It's highly unlikely.
White Street has to be kept as a backup or the private waste haulers can charge Greensboro whatever they want. If White Street is absolutely never going to be used then Greensboro has no other options, which is why it has been kept permitted all of these years and why it makes sense for it to continue to be permitted.
But only 20 percent of the people voted. So if that is the interpretation then we know that 11 percent or 12 percent of the voters in Greensboro are in favor of keeping the landfill closed. But to be fair, not everyone was a one-issue voter. Some people who don't care one way or the other about the landfill no doubt voted for Perkins and company. And some people who think it would be a good idea to use the landfill voted for Perkins for other reasons.
No doubt some women voted for him because they think he is good looking, and some Duke fans voted for him because he went to Duke. Some runners voted for him because he was a track star and a whole bunch of people in the real estate industry voted for him because some think they will have at least one proponent if they come before the City Council.
Other than the landfill it sometimes seemed like the next biggest issue facing the city was when to have speakers from the floor. And no doubt Mayor Bill Knight lost some votes because people believe folks who walk in the door and think of something they want to say should be moved to the front of the line ahead of those on the agenda.
Whether or not the election was a referendum on the landfill, it is obvious that the new City Council is not going to seriously consider reopening the White Street Landfill to municipal solid waste, what is commonly called garbage.
One thing that has been unfair is the criticism that Knight and City Councilmembers Danny Thompson, Mary Rakestraw and Trudy Wade – who voted in favor of using the White Street landfill – never gave any reason for it. That is not true. They gave their reasons over and over again.
The main reason was the city could save $7 million to $8 million a year by opening the White Street Landfill to Greensboro's garbage. They also discussed moving the entrance so that the trucks would not come down White Street or Nealtown Road but would come in on what is now the back side of the landfill.
But because they didn't talk about that every time the landfill was discussed it has been reported that they didn't give a reason for voting to open the landfill.
A completely different analysis of the election would simply confirm that women tend to vote for women and that 2009 was the exception that proves the rule. In 2009 the voters elected two men and one woman to the at-large seats, in 2011 the voters elected three women. The fourth place finisher this year was Chris Lawyer, a newcomer to politics who was completely unknown to the average voter at the beginning of the election cycle. Lawyer beat incumbent Thompson, who had big questions raised about his campaign finance reporting and finished fifth; and Wayne Abraham, who finished sixth.
So the three women finished one, two, three; and the three men finished four, five and six. Marikay Abuzuaiter got the endorsement of the Simkins PAC, and having run twice had good name recognition. She was the only Abuzuaiter on the ballot. The other two seats were won by former Mayor Yvonne Johnson, who finished first, and Councilmember Nancy Vaughan, who won reelection by finishing second.
Vaughan and Johnson had already won 11 City Council races between them, and no one who really follows local races thought that either one of them would lose. Vaughan won her fourth term on the City Council and Johnson won her ninth. The only time either of them has lost was when Johnson lost the mayor's race to Knight in 2009. So that is certainly evidence that the aberration may have been the 2009 election, when Knight beat Johnson in the mayor's race and Thompson beat Abuzuaiter in the at-large race. Both Johnson and Abuzuaiter got the Simkins PAC endorsement in 2009 as well.
The big difference in 2009 and 2011 appears to be voter turnout. People who claim to know this stuff said that voter turnout was going to be the key. Two years ago the Cardinal area had just been annexed and turnout was higher than anticipated because people were upset about being annexed without having any say and wanted to elect one of their own, Thompson, to the City Council.
A quick analysis of the 2011 race shows that overall voter turnout was about the same, but voter turnout in east Greensboro was up, and voter turnout in the northwest was down. In 2009 the people in the northwest had an incentive to go vote: They were upset about annexation, government spending and what was happening in Washington. In 2011 those issues were not as much in the forefront, but in east Greensboro people were upset about the attempt by the current City Council to open the landfill.
Hundreds of students marched over en masse from NC A&T State University and Bennett College this year, and that didn't happen in 2009. Those hundreds were not enough to change any of the races, but that kind of enthusiasm grows, and it indicated the level of organization and commitment in east Greensboro.
According to that analysis, east Greensboro turned out the voters and northwest Greensboro did not. In any case, it is embarrassing that a 20 percent turnout is considered good.
Another analysis is just of campaign finances. The candidate who raises the most money usually wins, barring some unforeseen events like some kind of scandal.
According to the last reports filed before the election, Perkins had raised about $61,000 and Knight had raised over $36,000. If everything else is equal, it's hard to overcome someone who can spend twice as much on advertising, commercials, signs, buttons, pins and stickers.
It's also true that people like to contribute to winning candidates, so if you give the perception of winning then it actually helps the campaign because it makes it easier to raise money. When a front-runner loses you hear a lot of grumbling by people who say they never would have contributed to the campaign if they had known the candidate was going to lose.
In the District 4 race, a lot of people were surprised that former Guilford County Commissioner and incumbent Councilmember Rakestraw lost to Nancy Hoffmann, who had virtually no name recognition before the race. Hoffmann, however, raised over $37,000 and used some of that money to put up billboards when most people were not even thinking about the City Council election. Rakestraw, it appears, raised about $14,000. Once again it's hard to win if your opponent can outspend you over two to one.
It appears that Lawyer raised about $7,000. He was defeated by Abuzuaiter, who it appears also spent about $7,000, but Abuzuaiter did get the endorsement of the Simkins PAC, and that makes a huge difference. Also Abuzuaiter had two advantages going in: She is a woman, and women like to vote for women; and she had name recognition from running before and being involved in the movement to keep the White Street Landfill from being used for Greensboro's garbage.
A retired accountant has said that when he gets a few minutes he is going to do a complete analysis of the election returns, and that should be revealing. We think he'll have more time starting Dec. 6.