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The Guardian endorses…

In late July, the Greenville Guardian sent a questionnaire to all candidates in Greenville’s municipal elections. Eight candidates completed it and were invited to an interview. All eight participated. Editor Lisa Ellison sat down with these eight for about an hour each; if you’re a regular here, you’ve seen the transcripts.

Our interviews and questionnaires as well as questionnaires by other community groups, debates, forums, and two years of close observation and interaction with those currently in office inform our endorsements.

The Listelection 2013

Mayor: Tom Best
At large: Calvin Mercer
D1: Kandie Smith
D2: none
D3: Marion Blackburn
D4: Rick Smiley
D5: J.C. Woodley

Mayor

Our very first requirement for any elected official is that he or she be accessible to constituents and remains respectful and even-tempered–especially when people are asking difficult questions or stating disagreement. We could not support anyone for elected office who will not respond to or become petulant when faced with questions from citizens, who reportedly throws tantrums in City Hall, who has said during council meetings that anyone who disagrees with him could step over the city line, who is disruptive during council meetings and who will disparage his constituents by name in public. Thus, we cannot endorse Mayor Allen Thomas.

Tom Best is in stark contrast to the sitting mayor. Best comes across a little dull beside the more youthful Thomas, who appears to operate in fast-forward at times. Best has the leadership and managerial experience needed on council. Knowing how to keep a diverse group of representatives working together for the benefit of everyone in the city is the very thing most needed on council now.

Being the face of Greenville when meeting with other regional municipalities and state government is one asset Allen Thomas offers the city. His relations within these groups appear unstrained and productive–and having these partners is undoubtedly a good thing, especially considering the state of North Carolina’s government. But having a mayor who can conduct himself with respect in his own chambers is a greater priority.

Because of his strong background in conducting meetings and communicating respectfully in business and civic organizations, the Guardian endorses Tom Best for mayor.

At-large

This has been the most contentious (and difficult to watch, at times) of all the races. Both candidates are current council members who seem to hold what is best for Greenville in the highest regard. Their ideas of what “best for Greenville” means aren’t even so very different. It’s the “how to get there” part where they diverge. Dennis Mitchell is the at-large incumbent; Calvin Mercer is vacating the District 4 seat he has held for six years in his bid to unseat Mitchell.

Both men bring a streak of ego that shows up now and then and distracts them–and the residents–from the business of the city.

Both men have shown a desire to listen and respond to citizens. Mercer has his constituent newsletter letting interested people know what issues are going before council and inviting residents to engage with him on possible solutions–the sort of community dialogue that is beneficial to the city. Mitchell has always responded to questions posed to him publicly in the comments of the Guardian’s articles and on our Facebook page. The responsiveness of each man is commendable.

One key difference in their approaches is that much of Mitchell’s public discussion occurs as after-the-fact explanations, while Mercer’s tends to be a before-the-fact dialogue. Mercer’s is the approach more satisfying to a population that wants to interact with the individual charged with the public interest.

District 1

Clinton Anderson’s desire to open up more choices, hoping to engage more people in the electoral process is a good one. His work as a pastor shows ability to listen and respond to people, often in difficult or stressful situations. He would benefit the city most by applying his interest in civic service to a board or commission for a couple of years to learn more about the city.

The Greenville Guardian endorses Kandie Smith because she has shown tireless commitment to the people she has been representing since 2009. She is responsive and engaged. She is tenacious in going after what she thinks is right and is able to evaluate priorities. She is driven to understand the challenges people face every day and to be part of the process to provide solutions.

District 2

Rose Glover is running unopposed for reelection to this seat which she has held since 1999. She didn’t participate in our questionnaire/interview and her voting patterns are unpredictable, so we aren’t able to endorse her, but we would like to commend her for her consistently strong statements in support of minority rights.

District 3

The remaining candidates for this seat are incumbent Marion Blackburn and challenger Katherine Wetherington. Thor Gylfason will be on the ballot, but has officially dropped out of the race and votes for him will not be counted.

Since Wetherington did not respond to the questionnaire, we do not have enough information to consider her for possible endorsement. At a public forum on Oct. 17, she showed an understanding of the difficulties many families, and especially single mothers, face.

The Guardian endorses Blackburn because of her responsiveness to citizen questions and concerns. Blackburn stands out most significantly as a voice for environmental stewardship. Her drive to make Greenville progress toward cleaner energy sources is an important element to keep on our legislative body.

District 4

Candidates for this open seat are both seeking election for a second time. Rick Smiley ran a close race for the at-large seat in 2011; Terri Williams ran for District 4 in 2007.

Since Williams did not respond to the questionnaire,  we do not have enough information to consider her for possible endorsement.

The Guardian endorses Smiley because of his history of involvement on city boards and commissions, his engagement with neighborhood organizations as well as Uptown development, and his interest in historical preservation. With family roots in the city, Smiley would add an element of historical context to municipal discussions. Though he is analytical and citizens can count on him to make decisions based on data and reason without getting side-tracked by emotional appeals, he understands that public sentiment on an issue should be taken into consideration.

District 5

This is a three-man race for an open seat between Richard Croskery, Michael Overton and J.C. Woodley–all newcomers to the political scene. While Overton did answer the questions on our questionnaire, he did not complete the process and go on to an interview with us. We do not have enough information about him to make an endorsement. We appreciate his campaign for responding to us when we asked questions about the placement of his campaign signs, and we highly commend him for moving them once he saw the rules regarding this fair-elections issue. It is a sign of respect to the people that he cares about following the laws–even if they do seem silly.

Croskery has plenty of experience serving on professional and civic boards. His work as a primary care physician gives him a sensitivity to a broader range of the people and problems than most people might encounter in their daily lives.

Woodley’s position as an environmental biologist with the Environmental Protection Agency gave him the opportunity to build consensus between groups not favorably inclined toward one another–something worth a great deal at this moment on council. It also gave him an in-depth understanding of infrastructure needs and environmental preservation. His work on the strategic plan for the county’s Animal Control Advisory Board has given him the opportunity to participate locally in establishing intermediate goals in order to reach a larger one.

Though Woodley is perhaps an unlikely candidate for the largely affluent and white voters of District 5, the Guardian endorses him for all the foregoing reasons and because he is concerned first with those who are often overlooked in our society: people with disabilities, the elderly, the homeless. His presence on council would create a governing body that represents a wider swath of the population.

We thank Pitt County Arts Council at Emerge for their generosity in allowing us to use their space to conduct our interviews.

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