July 12, 2012The filing period for High Point municipal elections opened on Friday, July 6, and, as of Wednesday, July 11, three candidates had filed to run for mayor and several for other City Council seats.
The three people who filed to run for mayor are longtime City Councilmember Chris Whitley, motivational speaker Tammy Holyfield and developer Coy Williard. A mayoral campaign by Councilmember Bernita Sims is all but certain, although she has not yet filed to run.
The probable candidacies of Whitley, Williard and Holyfield had been reported in The Rhino Times in recent months. Sims has said she will run in every possible way except by making a formal announcement.
Holyfield's candidacy seemed the iffiest of the three. In April, when she told The Rhino Times she would run, she lived on Groometown Road in unincorporated Guilford County, but said she would move to High Point to run. That seemed like a big commitment for a political novice to make. Holyfield has never run for political office.
But the Guilford County Board of Elections confirmed that, as of July 2, Holyfield moved to Rockbridge Road in the part of Davidson County that has been annexed into High Point. High Point Mayor Becky Smothers also lives in the Davidson County section of High Point.
Williard and Holyfield filed on the first day of the filing period, and Whitley, although he was, on March 28, the first to formally announce his candidacy, held off on filing until July 10.
A Sims candidacy, although all but certain for months, is virtually guaranteed by the filings of Whitley, Williard and Sims – all white candidates who may split the vote in white High Point neighborhoods. Sims, who is black, represents Ward 1, a majority black district.
"I'm getting it together," Sims said recently. "My plans are to run, and you've always known that. It's just a matter of making the announcement."
High Point has elected black at-large councilmembers, but never a black mayor.
Of the three filed mayoral candidates, Whitley is the only one with City Council experience. High Point typically elects current or former councilmembers as mayor.
Whitley has been on the City Council all but one year since 1992. Since 2003, Whitley has held the Ward 5 seat, representing large parts of north High Point. He has been an advocate of economic development in north High Point, particularly in the Piedmont Centre industrial and office parks. From 1997 to 2002, he held one of the two at-large seats on the City Council. In 2002, he filed to run for City Council but was afterward convinced to instead run for the District 61 state House of Representatives seat. He lost that race and spent a year off the council, but he returned to it in 2003. He has been chairman of the City Council's Finance Committee, its most powerful committee.
"I think the race is stacking up about exactly the way I expected," Whitley said. "Of course, I've got Tammy and Coy in there. My basis is going to be 'experience counts' – working on infrastructure, keeping it maintained. I've always taken the position that it's the key to economic development."
Whitley said he has had bankers tell him that their client companies want to leave High Point, or refuse to move there, because the city has allowed its streets, sidewalks and infrastructure to decay since the city's economy has declined.
"That's what I think it's going to take," Whitley said. "To get us back to that grandeur we used to be."
Whitley said that Sims, who could not be reached for comment, was in Washington, DC, for a meeting of the National League of Municipalities, but that he expects her to file to run for mayor on Monday, July 16, before the City Council meeting that day.
"My goal will to keep pitching the experience I have, particularly over the two newer ones who have no experience in government," he said. "And Bernita, I even have additional years over her. I've served in wards and at large. I've been mayor pro tem I think five times. It's given me the experience to be the right choice for mayor of the potential four candidates. I've worked hard and done my due diligence to get where I'm at. I have the knowledge to do the job."
Holyfield, a newcomer to both politics and High Point, is the founder and CEO of Holyfield Consulting, a personal and business development company, whose clients she said include numerous Fortune 500 companies. She has contributed to several books about business strategy and recently had a book released, Counter-Attack: Business Strategies for Explosive Growth in the New Economy, co-authored with business-development expert Brian Tracy. Holyfield has done regular business spots on WFMY News 2 and plans to rely on social networking in her campaign. She has also said she may mount a television blitz – a rarity in High Point politics.
"I would be comfortable with TV," she said in April. "Definitely, High Point would know who Tammy Holyfield is before November, and what I stand for."
On Tuesday, Holyfield said that she and her campaign manager, Nishaka Proctor, have already begun working heavily on the campaign.
"I am sleeping about four hours – maybe three hours – a day," Holyfield said. "What I am doing the rest of the time is studying, working, working every social-media aspect I can to get my name out there and my vision for High Point."
Holyfield said she has been busy in High Point since long before moving there.
"I am out here paving some roads," she said. "I'm meeting with neighborhoods and businesses and individuals. Right now I'm getting to know them, and they're getting to know me, my character and what I stand for."
Williard is president of Williard-Stewart Inc. construction and Marketplace Management Inc., with a long resume of current and past positions in High Point civic associations, including chairman of the board of trustees of the High Point Partners, chairman of the High Point Economic Development Corp., board member of both High Point University and the High Point Regional Health System, chairman of the High Point Chamber of Commerce, president of the Rotary Club of Furnitureland and chairman of the board of trustees of Guilford Technical Community College.
Williard said he is going to spend the summer talking to High Pointers before taking detailed positions. He said, "Everybody can say they're for making it a better city to live and work – but the how-to's are what's going to make a difference over time."
Williard said he will use direct mail to reach voters, but will spend most of his time talking to them directly. He said, "Most of my summer will be meeting with people from various walks of life and various parts of town and letting people know who I am, and what I stand for."
"This summer, I've been through what I call my 'listen and learn' phase," Williard said. "We've had a lot of meetings with a lot of different groups, and have been learning a lot."
In other City Council races, Jay Wagner, as expected, became the first filed candidate for one of the at-large seats. Wagner in 2010 ran unsuccessfully for mayor against Smothers, winning 36 percent of the votes to Smothers' 55 percent. Many High Point politicians said Wagner would have been wiser to run for City Council first, and he apparently took the advice to heart for his second campaign.
Wagner is in the unusual position of having run an at-large campaign for mayor without ever having run for City Council.
"I'm basically running on the same sort of issues I ran on two years ago," Wagner said. "I think that High Point needs to be doing a whole lot more to encourage business in our city. I think we need a full-court press on job creation. I don't think we're doing enough to encourage entrepreneurship in our city. We do a pretty good job of attracting outside businesses. And of course I'm a big supporter of redevelopment."
Wagner is the president of the Uptowne High Point Association, a group of businesses attempting to revitalize North Main Street, and the vice chairman of the High Point City Project, a public-private partnership created by the City Council to redevelop 11 of High Point's traditional neighborhoods.
Orrick Quick filed to run for the Ward 1 seat now held by Sims. Jeffrey Golden, who challenged Sims unsuccessfully in 2010, is also expected to file.
Former High Point Mayor and City Councilmember Judy Mendenhall on July 9 filed to run for the Ward 3 seat now held by Mike Pugh, who said he plans to run for reelection and is not worried about the competition.
Mendenhall wrote in a press release that she decided to run after "much thoughtful consideration."
"We have many needs in High Point in general and much of Ward 3 specifically," she wrote. "Our people need jobs which has to be a number one priority. Policies need to be in place which will provide those charged with economic development what they need to retain and grow existing industry in addition to bringing new opportunities for jobs into the community while reducing and/or eliminating those things which place undue burdens on employers and hamper a business' ability to grow. In today's difficult times, our government has to be operated as efficiently as possible and our people have to know that their elected officials are working diligently on their behalf."
Two candidates filed to run for the Ward 5 seat: Jim Davis, who now sits on the High Point Planning and Zoning Commission and the High Point Parks and Recreation Commission, and Gerald Grubb, who ran unsuccessfully for the Ward 6 seat in 2010. Grubb has since been redistricted into Ward 5. Grubb also ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for the North Carolina state House District 61 seat and lost to former High Point Councilmember John Faircloth.
"I've been a resident of northern High Point my whole life, and I'm a residential builder as well," Davis said. "Being on those boards, I've learned a lot about city politics, about how the people who work for the city think."
Davis said, "I know a lot about north High Point, which is going to continue being one of the fastest growing parts of the city."
Grubb said being redistricted into Ward 5 gave him an empty seat to run for, since Whitley was running for mayor. He said he was distracted in his Ward 6 run by launching a business the month before Election Day, and is better prepared this time to run for City Council
"I have been wanting to get involved in that, because one of the main things I'm concerned about is taxes going up," Grubb said. "I know the guy who beat me for City Council [Councilmember Jim Corey]. He's voted twice to increase taxes. The biggest thing I'm interested in is I'm a small businessman. I have three small businesses, and it's the hardest thing to get done. I want to see that people who want to start a small businesses, the city makes it as easy as possible for them."
Jason Ewing filed to run for the Ward 6 seat for the second time, this time against Corey. In 2010, Ewing and Corey were running for the seat vacated by Faircloth. Ewing lost to Corey by 45 votes. Ewing works for eXp Realty in High Point.
"Councilman Corey is not quite as engaged as I think I could be," Ewing said. "Being on council is more than voting. It's coming up with solutions, brainstorming things for the City of High Point. I have a lot of interest in High Point. We certainly plan to stay here and try to make High Point a better place to live."