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Mayor Claims Success, Challengers Disagree

by Dennis Mitchell
Election correspondent

Allen Thomas, running for his third term as mayor of Greenville, faces two challengers who hope to end his tenure by calling him out on his record.

City Hall (courtesy city of Greenville)

Via email, Thomas touted a litany of notable national rankings Greenville has received over the last few years, as indicators of his success in the city’s highest elected seat. He pointed to the previous council’s work on economic development and job creation, and his partnership with nearby municipalities Kinston, Wilson and Goldsboro to complete a highway connection project dubbed “Quad East.”  A focus on physical and technical infrastructure will, he wrote, “drive the economy for the next decade by leveraging our ability to negotiate the volatile waters of the state legislature through relationship building.”

Life-long city resident Donna Whitley has never run for public office, but has been a behind-the-scenes player in city politics and an advocate for smart growth for many years. In a phone interview, Whitley said she is running her mayoral campaign on a vision that recognizes economic growth and quality of life are tied together. “You’ve got to have economic development and you’ve got to have jobs to support your family,” Whitley said, “but at the same time, you have to have safe neighborhoods, and you have to protect those neighborhoods.”

Whitley says Thomas doesn’t understand how quality of life and economic growth are one and the same. “I don’t think he gets it,” Whitley said. “He tried to separate the greenway [funding] from the street [funding]. He says he values quality of life but he does not get it.” Whitley says she is running “to give voters a clear choice.”

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The other challenger, retired US Army Capt. Ernest Reeves, said in a phone interview that he is running because “[The mayor] originally ran on a promise to bring crime down, and crime is still a problem. I believe I can do a better job as Mayor.”

“Our crime rate should not be as high as it is with the $37 million we spend fighting crime,” said Reeves. “It’s not about the job the police are doing, it’s about spending our money more wisely.”

Thomas said crime is down 6 percent this year, adding that the city’s approach to fighting it has been strategic. “Our model for public safety has been recognized nationally [by] the [President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing], and in 2014 we had the lowest violent crime and homicide rate in two decades.”

Reeves also plans to challenge the mayor on his economic development record, citing a recently published article in USA Today that ranked Greenville ninth out of the 10 cities with the widest gap between rich and poor. “We have a poverty rate of 25.6 percent, and 5 percent of the people earn 26 percent of all the income in our city,” Reeves said. “We need a plan that focuses on all of the city’s citizens, not just some of them.”

“Four years ago,” Thomas countered, “we made a focused effort to push for more jobs and growth in our city. We created the Office of Economic Development and we have seen tremendous success through public-private partnerships to move our city forward.”

After his decisive win in 2013, Thomas will not be easily unseated. Challengers will need to educate voters on what the mayor has done wrong and why they believe they could do better—or, to have a really shocking “October surprise.”

Dennis Mitchell held the At-large council seat from 2011-2013.

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