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Greensboro city council candidates: July 26 election lineup and Q&A

Greensboro residents will decide on their new mayor, City Council, and stance on a series of five bonds under one general referendum.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The Municipal General Election is Tuesday. The election was originally supposed to happen in 2021 but was delayed because of redistricting from the 2020 Census. The winners of each race will be finalized on Tuesday and will not appear on any ballots in future 2022 elections. 

Seven of the eight incumbents serving on the Greensboro City Council are seeking re-election. The only one who isn’t is District 3 representative Justin Outling, who is taking on incumbent Mayor Nancy Vaughan.

Who you will see on each ballot:

○ Three at-large representatives

   •  Incumbents: Marikay Abuzuaiter, Hugh Holston, and Yvonne Johnson
   •  Challengers: Tracy Furman, Katie Rossabi, and Linda Wilson

Depending on which district you live in, you will see one of these races on your ballot: 

○  District 1, incumbent Sharon Hightower vs. Felton Foushee 

○  District 2, incumbent Goldie Wells vs. Cecile “CC” Crawford

○  District 4, incumbent Nancy Hoffmann vs. Thurston H. Reeder

○  District 5, incumbent Tammi Z. Thurm vs. Tony Wilkins

You don't see District 3 listed because that race is already decided. Zack Matheny will fill the seat, previously vacated by Representative Justin Outling. The race was supposed to be between Matheny and Chip Roth; however, Roth pulled out of the race in May after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Matheny served District 3 up until 2015 when he resigned to become President and CEO of Downtown Greensboro Inc. He currently still holds that position.

Prior to the July 26 election, WFMY NEWS 2 sent a series of questions to all of the council candidates.

We did not hear back from at-large candidates Yvonne Johnson and Linda Wilson, District 1 incumbent Sharon Hightower, District 4 challenger Thurston H. Reeder, and District 5 challenger Tony Wilkins.

The questions touched on several top community concerns including housing and gun violence.

AT-LARGE CANDIDATES: 

Credit: WFMY
Greensboro city council at-large candidates

1. How do you plan to address housing-related issues in Greensboro?

Marikay Abuzuaiter (INCUMBENT): We are in a housing crisis - there is no other way to describe it! Statistics show that housing is one of the most critical needs that we have as a city. With the exciting economic development announcements we have had - Publix, Boom, Toyota Battery - we know that we are going to need even more housing than previously anticipated. Our 10-year HousingGSO plan addresses affordable housing, reinvestment in neighborhoods, down payment assistance to prospecting homeowners, providing access to homeownership, and providing supportive housing. The Housing Bond that will be on the July 26 ballot will provide $30 million for housing: $20 million for affordable rental units; $5 million for access to homeownership and $5 million for neighborhood reinvestment.

Hugh Holston (INCUMBENT): Access to housing is a huge problem in Greensboro, our state, and the nation. Homelessness, inadequate housing stock, the lack that is affordable, and rising rental rates are at a crisis level in our community. Our city needs more immediate solutions to homelessness, affordable housing, and the general housing mix (e.g. below market, single family, townhome, multi-family, etc) in ALL areas of Greensboro. To address this, I recommend we take strategic and intentional steps:

1. Trust and invest in our existing community-based organizations as subject matter experts

2. Leverage Land Use Ordinances from City Council and incorporate density into the discussion

3. Re-Purpose Existing Facilities that have capacity but are no longer being used for their original purpose to include office buildings, manufacturing facilities, and schools

4. Advocate for eviction mitigation with property owners and on anti-price gouging options with the state legislature

5. Prepare to address the other holistic factors that impact homelessness and access housing to including mental health, liveable wages, legal adjudications, etc

Tracy Furman: 
This very complicated issue needs a comprehensive answer. We need to partner with developers to create housing for our fixed-income citizens. We need to ask the legislature to change the laws regarding rent for our senior citizens and we need to encourage more multi-family new development at all levels to meet the needs of our new economic expansion.

Katie Rossabi:  The housing issues have existed in Greensboro for years. Many builders no longer try to build here because our city is very difficult to work with in terms of plan approval, zoning, permits, etc. The response time is long, complicated, and rife with needless hurdles. There are almost 1000 code violations in East Greensboro where an inspector will visit the property within 24-48 hours and then no repairs are done, sometimes for years. All of this needs to change immediately.  We need to become a city that partners with builders and our citizens to get our housing market safe, growing, and vibrant. I will look at the way we do everything in our city government to streamline our procedures and achieve these important goals.

2. If elected, what is your plan of action to address rising gun violence in Greensboro?  How do you intend on working with the Council to achieve results?

Abuzuaiter: I believe that gun violence is affecting every city/town in our nation. I believe we should continue the programs that Chief Brian James started before he retired - Community Connectors, the 500 summer jobs for youth, the “walk and talks” in the neighborhoods, the Behavioral Health Response Team (BHRT), and the Homeless Response Team (HART). Building relationships in neighborhoods between the police and the community is crucial in reducing gun violence.   I walk with the Mothers Standing Against Gun Violence when my schedule permits - they have lost loved ones to Gun Violence.  We walk with Police, Crimestoppers, and those who want to see the gun violence stop.  Also, as a Board Member of Crimestoppers, I believe that we need to reassure our community that if they call Crimestoppers and Gunstoppers to report guns, drug activity, or suspicious activity their identity will never be revealed.  After every walk in the neighborhoods, we receive numerous tips about crime activity. The Greensboro City Council just passed the new fiscal year’s budget and we have allocated funds for an “End Gun Violence Coordinator”.  We are serious about wanting to stop gun violence.

Holston: Instances of gun violence have increased across our city much like the rest of the nation. We need to address this public safety issue to protect our citizens and our reputation as a welcoming and safe community. Additionally, we must consider those individuals and businesses looking to relocate to Greensboro. We need to provide our community leaders and public safety officers with additional, effective, tools to serve and protect our citizens and businesses; while also giving the community the comfort of knowing that interactions will be handled respectfully and effectively; not as ‘one size fits all.’ My plan is to:

  1. Support and advocate for groups such as Mothers Standing Against Gun Violence, Cure Violence, and the NAACP's WIN Committee who have taken a committed stand to end the senseless gun violence and mitigates the possibility of a police interaction which could result in additional mistrust. 
  2. Invest in Community Policing. Offer incentives for public safety officers to voluntarily reside in communities where gun violence is more prevalent to serve as 'resident' positive role models and also as a deterrent to crime and violence.
  3. Continue to support the Police Department's successful policy to get guns off the streets. This year, GPD has already removed over 800 guns from our community. In the last two years, GPD has removed over 1,700 in 2021 and over 1,200 in 2020.
  4. Increase funding for the Behavioral Health Response Team (BHRT) a co-response model in which mental health professionals respond in tandem with police to calls involving persons undergoing mental health crises with an additional goal of lessening the possibility of firearm use in specific situations.

Furman: Gun violence is a result of many factors. First, I would expand the Cure Violence program to stop gang violence before it starts. I would also encourage and facilitate communication between High Point and Winston-Salem to curb the violence coming from other cities. Lastly, most violence is due to a lack of secure jobs and housing. Tackling those issues at the same time will reduce violence overall.

Rossabi: Our gun violence is best addressed by having a supported, well-paid, and well-equipped police force. Gun violence is the result almost entirely of gang-related growth and not enough police officers to handle the crimes. The gangs know we don’t have enough police officers and a DA that is soft on crime so they are emboldened to commit violent crimes.  We have over 800 violent crimes so far this year. We have hundreds of calls to 911 every month with no officer to respond. We are down 132 police officers and counting due to poor pay, lack of support from our city council and the mayor, and the anti-police rhetoric of our leaders. I would raise the salaries of our police officers in line or above cities of similar size to try to bring our officers back and keep them.  Police officers put their lives on the line for us every day.  It is their passion.  We need to pay them and support them. That will decrease our violent crime. 

3. What is ONE area of progress you would like to see continue and grow?

Abuzuaiter: I would love to see the economic development successes that we are experiencing continue and grow. It has taken years to get to this point.  It doesn’t happen overnight. There are amazing collaborators and stakeholders who have all had the same vision as Council to be able to attract the companies that are coming. Also, with the ability to provide a workforce to the companies that are coming through our workforce development programs, with the companies offering good wages for all employees, with the endeavors by our local developers and builders to build housing for those who will be living in Greensboro, we are poised to be one of the most attractive areas for businesses in the region and in the state.  Having been a small business owner, I also know that when there are larger businesses and corporations established in Greensboro and the surrounding area, our smaller businesses are able to be successful as well.  With economic development - all of Greensboro can thrive!

Holston: Jobs and Economic Development. City Council has announced over 8,000 new jobs coming to our area since December 2021. Let's keep up the momentum and grow it. My multi-pronged plan is to:

      1. Identify the future high-demand micro and macroeconomic/technological needs of our city, state, and nation 
      2. Inventory all available sites within the city (especially East/Southeast Greensboro) that can support development around those needs
      3. Partner with our amazing high schools, colleges, and universities to develop, enhance, and deliver high-demand curriculums that match up with the future economic/technological needs
      4. Proactively market our revamped 'Open for Business' model to local, state, and national entities because of the mutual benefits to the entities and Greensboro. Hall of Fame Hockey player Wayne Gretzky said it best when he said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
      5. Rethink our transit systems that provide access to effectively and efficiently connect the targeted area to the major areas of the city including the airport, colleges and universities, entertainment venues, sporting venues, and downtown.  Create a transit system that people 'want' to ride instead of 'have' to ride.
      6. Advocate, if necessary, for targeted and sensible development incentives from our city and county governments where we drive growth to our newly available, high-demand opportunities from a position of strength.

Furman: We have two great economic kick-starters coming to Greensboro and the Publix Distribution Center is almost ready to open. We need to capitalize on this growth with smaller local businesses that will support those companies and the people who work for them. The city can do a lot to encourage entrepreneurs to start and expand businesses here in Greensboro. 

Rossabi: In campaigning these last 21 months I have found that many citizens are not happy with what is happening in our city so the citizens are working together, in all communities, to demand better results from our leaders.  The media so many times tells us we are all from different planets in each community and want different things. That is not the case. We all want many of the same things: we want to be safe with a strongly supported police force; we want lower taxes and we want to know how our tax dollars are being spent; we want safe affordable housing; we want access to healthy food and grocery stores in our neighborhoods (which is not happening in East Greensboro), and we need to know our leaders listen and act when we have needs. All of this needs to continue and increase with communities pulling together. We need to continue to remind our leaders they are servants to the people, not the other way around. 

DISTRICT 1 CANDIDATES:

Credit: WFMY
Sharon Hightower and Felton Foushee are running for Greensboro City Council District 1.

1. How do you plan to address housing-related issues in Greensboro?

Felton Foushee: I plan to elevate and support community members with expertise on matters concerning housing. Encourage clear and accessible pathways to homeownership for generational renters. Establish critical proactive measures with developers, property owners, realtors, landlords, etc. that consider the most vulnerable members of the community. Steer resources where they will make the greatest impact, being specific and sustained has to become a normal practice.  

2. If elected, what is your plan of action to address rising gun violence in Greensboro?  How do you intend on working with the Council to achieve results?

Foushee: Addressing any rise in criminal behavior, including gun violence, has to be in conjunction with addressing economic disparity. Economic disparity is known to be a critical piece in any concentrated rise in criminal behavior, yet we generally fail to consider this first and foremost in our search for solutions. As a member of the city council, I will make addressing economic disparity the principal goal. Sustained resource investment in the areas most impacted by gun violence and other crime has to be paramount.

3. What is ONE area of progress you would like to see continue and grow?

Foushee: The one area of progress I would like to see continue and grow is downtown. Downtown Greensboro is positioned to be the unifying space of our collective community for many years to come. But we must be honest, intentional, and inclusive as we grow together. All business expansion should be with consideration of Greensboro’s rich history, and be innovative in incorporating underserved communities in entrepreneurial opportunities. 

DISTRICT 2 CANDIDATES: 

Credit: WFMY
Goldie Wells and Cecile Crawford are running for Greensboro City Council District 2.

1. How do you plan to address housing-related issues in Greensboro?

Goldie Wells (INCUMBENT): I think we will face this crisis by being a bit more flexible in our zoning to provide, a variety of types of houses i.e., multifamily units, duplexes, and even tiny houses. To meet the continued housing shortage in Greensboro, there must be a collaboration between the city, developers, and citizens. I have a voting record of fighting for the citizens and promoting development, housing creation, and citizenry involvement on these matters in District 2.

Cecile “CC” Crawford: I’ll work with the community, private and public sectors to provide more options in housing. We need the right to counsel. Tenants with lawyers are 47% less likely to be evicted. Taking a portion of housing off of the market to create land trusts for renters/homeowners to keep it affordable for generations. We need an affordable variety of apartments and houses all over town, in areas with amenities. We need an eviction defense fund, that gives emergency assistance to tenants, and funds city-rehabbed old hotels and apartments for chronically homeless people.

2. If elected, what is your plan of action to address rising gun violence in Greensboro?  How do you intend on working with the Council to achieve results?

Wells: I think the Council can support the police department in its efforts to collect illegal guns from the streets. We have to work collaboratively on more gun control regulations but not forsake those who have legal firearms and are law-abiding citizens. We must ensure our communities are safe and that we have a zero-tolerance policy for acts of violence, especially gun violence in our city. In addition, I will work to ensure our police department has adequate resources, training, community engagement, and a competitive salary to combat the violence overall in our city from a critical lens.  

Crawford: Will work to address the root causes of gun violence with preventative measures like affordable housing, livable wages, conflict, and violence prevention. I will work with fellow council members on these issues, as well as work to provide expungement clinics for those locked out of the economy. Finally, we need to work on more community policing that builds better relationships within the community.

3. What is ONE area of progress you would like to see continue and grow?

Wells: One area of progress I would like to see in Greensboro is the efforts being made to reduce the apparent divide between west Greensboro and east Greensboro that is observable in the appearance of neighborhoods, lack of businesses, and lack of amenities for citizens in the eastern part of our city. 

Crawford: I want to bring a CAHOOTS model program where mental health professionals and peer responders respond to calls about mental health crises, homelessness, non-violent conflict resolution, and overdoses. I hear a lot about the police not coming to our neighborhoods fast enough, and sometimes they kill people in mental health crises. In Eugene, Oregon, where the program started, they had 24,000 CAHOOTS calls and only needed police backup 150 times. This should give the police more space to address violent crime, and solve homicides.

DISTRICT 4 CANDIDATES:

Credit: WFMY
Nancy Hoffmann and Thurston Reeder are running for Greensboro city council District 4.

1. How do you plan to address housing-related issues in Greensboro?

Nancy Hoffmann (INCUMBENT): The 2016 Housing Bond has enabled 1700 families to move into permanent housing. Passage of the $30M Bond on the July ballot will continue this work. We are working with developers to find ways to help build more housing at all price points by streamlining review time and possibly waiving some requirements and fees. Along with the County, there can be a discussion of potential tax incentives for affordable housing construction for families with lower than the area median household income.

2. If elected, what is your plan of action to address rising gun violence in Greensboro?  How do you intend on working with the Council to achieve results?

Hoffmann: Most gun violence results from societal problems. A good job and a safe home eliminate many of these problems. I will continue to advocate for investments that make Greensboro attractive for private companies to locate and create jobs. Good jobs require skills so we will continue to invest in Workforce training. Our police compensation is now competitive with peer cities aiding in recruitment and retention. Our Cure Violence Program is working to interrupt and reduce crime in specified areas. Neighborhood policing remains a priority.

3. What is ONE area of progress you would like to see continue and grow?

Hoffmann: We must continue to invest in and maintain the infrastructure of our City and its cultural, entertainment, and recreation assets. This quality of life assets makes us attractive to companies looking for great cities to locate a business unit. They encourage our local companies to reinvest and grow, and they give us an advantage when people are looking to relocate for multiple reasons. Growth increases our tax base allowing us to continue the positive, upward trajectory the City is on.  

DISTRICT 5 CANDIDATES: 

Credit: WFMY
Tammi Thurm and Tony Wilkins are running for Greensboro city council District 5.

1. How do you plan to address housing-related issues in Greensboro?

Tammi Z. Thurm (INCUMBENT): Access to safe and affordable housing for all people in Greensboro is a goal that we can achieve. I am very proud of my work on Greensboro’s first permanent supportive housing project that will include wrap-around services. After extensive work, we just passed the 10-year housing plan focusing on affordable rental homes, neighborhood reinvestment, access to homeownership, and permanent supportive housing. We must continue to move forward with the land banking and land trust programs that we are starting. In addition, we must continue to improve response to substandard housing and landlords that are not working with tenants. 

2. If elected, what is your plan of action to address rising gun violence in Greensboro?  How do you intend on working with the Council to achieve results?

Thurm: We need to work to address crime. Just like in countless major cities, crime is an issue. However, addressing the issue is a multi-prong approach. We need to work to create trust in communities by having officers create real and lasting relationships with residents. I’ve worked to push to have mental health professionals, working together with our officers, respond to mental health calls, and advocated to increase pay to keep our police officers here, so that we can work across all teams to address the issue of gun violence. My opponent voted against background checks (News and Record 4/17/13), we need to make sure we are moving forward, not backward when it comes to addressing crime head-on.  

3. What is ONE area of progress you would like to see continue and grow?

Thurm: We can only continue to grow our city and our economic base if we have an employee base for that future growth. We need an affordable place for those employees to live. The lack of decent affordable housing impacts the quality of life for all of us. It also impacts how our youth view their future and influences the options they see for a viable future in Greensboro. 

    

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