A dozen campaign volunteers gathered under a shelter at the First Christian Church off Country Club Road in Winston-Salem as a steady rain fell on Sept. 26. Dan Besse, a two-time Democratic incumbent city councilman, thanked the volunteers for coming out to canvass the neighborhood in the Southwest Ward before giving them their marching orders.
Besse told the volunteers there was nothing more important than face-to-face contact with the voters, and noted that the neighborhood they would be canvassing was where his opponent, Republican Ted Shipley, resides.
“So this is a pushback,” Besse said. Tara Orris, Besse’s field organizer, gave the volunteers directions regarding the registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters they would be speaking with that afternoon.
Looking over a checklist, Orris said volunteers’ top two priorities should be encouraging voters to vote early and determining the residents that are planning on voting for Besse.
Orris said campaign staffers and volunteers would then place calls to Besse’s supporters on the first day of early voting, Oct. 15, to remind them to cast their ballot early. Orris then went over a checklist of questions volunteers should ask residents, such as, “Would you like a yard sign?” and “Would you like to volunteer?” With five weeks until the Nov. 3 election, Saturday’s canvass represented part of Besse’s strategy of putting forth “an enormous amount of outreach to the voters I have represented for eight years.”
“I’m starting with a solid base of eight years of hard work for the neighborhoods of the Southwest Ward,” Besse continued. “And it’s very difficult for a challenger to overcome the record of service in a district where people know the person who has been working for them.”
Shipley, a 31-year-old attorney, believes he has what it takes to knock off a popular incumbent like the 54-year-old Besse. Shipley easily won the Republican primary on Sept. 15 and described his fundraising efforts as “record-breaking.” With the financial component in place, Shipley said he’s now turned his focus to getting out the vote on Nov. 3.
Shipley said he believes his platform of fiscal responsibility, job growth and enhancing traditional city services resonates with Southwest Ward voters, and it should propel him to victory in November.
“This is going to be the race to watch in Winston-Salem this year,” he said.
Besse described Shipley’s criticisms of his record on taxes and his votes on resolutions related to the downtown ballpark as “pure politics as usual.”
“It’s my view that the whole ballpark thing is a smokescreen for Ted and the people he represents,” Besse said.
“Their real goal is to push an environmental deregulatory agenda. I am working to move Winston-Salem to a cleaner and greener future with responsible, moderate, effective environmental rules. When you really dig beneath the surface of Ted’s philosophy and the folks who are backing him, what you’ll find is that’s what they object to.”
DAVID VS. GOLIATH?
Claudia Shivers is not reluctant to ask for advice. Shivers, the Republican candidate for Winston-Salem’s Northeast Ward, asked the Rev. Nathan Parrish, a board member of the Institute for Dismantling Racism, to share his wisdom during a Sept. 24 reception at Wake Forest University.
Parrish counseled Shivers on working with clergy members in her ward and introducing herself to church congregations to get her name out. Parrish acknowledged the significant hurdles Shivers faces in her battle against Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke, the 32-year Democratic incumbent from the Northeast Ward.
Shivers, a 34-year-old African American woman, is running on the Republican ticket in a traditionally Democratic part of Winston-Salem, and faces the longest-serving member of the Winston-Salem City Council in the Nov. 3 municipal election.
The Rev. Carlton AG Eversley, president of the Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity, said Burke’s advantage in the race is clear.
“Ms. Burke has a political apparatus around her that is well seasoned and efficient,” he said. “Perhaps the most difficult thing for Ms. Shivers to overcome is she’s running on the Republican ticket.”
Eversley, a resident of the Northeast Ward, credited Burke’s long tenure on the council to her ability to create organizations around her leadership such as the Black Political Awareness League and her status as chair of the Public Safety Committee.
“People feel like she’s a person who holds the city manager and police department with some accountability,” he said. “I think people in the community feel like if you have a problem in city governance you can call [Burke] and get a response.”
Shivers said she believes education can solve many of the issues Winston- Salem faces. That is why she brought her five children to the Sept. 24 panel discussion at Wake Forest sponsored by the Institute for Dismantling Racism.
Shivers said it appears that members of the city council feel “we’re at an acceptable level of understanding or cultural diversity training.” Shivers said racism adversely impacts the lives of citizens she hopes to represent.
“You can see it play out in the Northeast Ward systematically when you talk about issues of crime, when you talk about issues of education, when you talk about different issues — job opportunities, entrepreneurship,” she said. “The city hasn’t done enough about these issues.”
LESSONS OF MONTGOMERY’S WIN
If incumbents on the city council learned anything from Derwin Montgomery’s stunning defeat of East Ward incumbent Joycelyn Johnson in the Sept. 15 Democratic primary, it was the fact that there are six colleges and universities in Winston-Salem and students are voting in greater numbers, Northwest Ward incumbent Wanda Merschel said.
“As a campaign committee, we said, ‘Let’s don’t forget that we’ve got Wake Forest University in our ward.’ That could present a challenge to us as well,” Merschel said.
Merschel faces Republican challenger Peter Sorensen in the Nov. 3 election.
She said her campaign committee has planned a number of outreach efforts with Wake Forest to get her message of experience and integrity across to students.
“I’m always going to be open to new ideas,” Merschel said. “I’m always going to go to my constituents for their ideas, but I think one of the greatest things I can bring to a fourth term is the experience I’ve gathered over the first three.”
Merschel said she believes incumbents have an obligation to mentor young people so the younger generation will be prepared to serve when their time comes. If she wins re-election, Merschel said she plans on mentoring “that next wave of public servants.”
“We’re just going to have to reach out,” she said.
SOUTHEAST WARD RUNOFF
The Oct. 6 runoff between Southeast Ward incumbent Evelyn Terry and challenger James Taylor could prove to be one of the most fascinating Winston- Salem contests of this political season. The 65-year-old Terry, who is seeking her second term on council, garnered 160 votes to Taylor’s 150 votes during the Sept. 15 primary. Jimmy Boyd, a retired Winston-Salem police supervisor, received 138 votes. Under local election law, if a candidate does not win 40 percent or more of the vote, there is a runoff between the top two vote-getters.
Last week, Boyd said he had not decided if he will endorse Terry or Taylor in the runoff election. Taylor is confident that with Boyd out of the race, residents who wish to see real change in the Southeast Ward will vote for him.
“I am change,” Taylor said. “I’m a breath of fresh air.” Taylor, a 28-year-old juvenile justice counselor, said he has not altered his campaign strategy for the runoff.
“We’re going to go out, we’re going to knock on doors, we’re going to make phone calls and we’re going to get people to the polls,” Taylor said.
Taylor and a group of his loyal supporters canvassed the neighborhood around St. Andrews United Methodist Church on Sept. 26. Taylor noted that precinct had one of the highest voter turnouts on Sept. 15.
“I know we will win regardless of voter turnout, but we want people to come out to the polls,” he said. “We want to make sure that everybody’s voice is being heard, not just a few.”
ADAMS MAKES ‘HARD PUSH’ TO ELECTION DAY
Denise “DD” Adams took a direct and straightforward approach during her campaign to win the Democratic nomination to represent the city’s North Ward, and nothing will change in the general election, she said.
“I did tell people that in some audiences that ‘You may not like me because my management style and my personality can sometimes be a little assertive, and passionate,’” Adams said. “But I did tell them I would fight for them every bit of the way. I’ll fight for you. I’ll be there for you because their concerns are my concerns, and I think that’s what got me over.”
Adams won 44 percent of the vote in the primary and faces Republican John Hopkins on Nov. 3.
“We are getting ready to plow into another level,” Adams said. “I call it the ‘hard push.’ We called it the push for the primary. This is the hard push — my folks understand we go to another level.”
Salem College students Janet Sykes (left) and Alessandra Bazo canvassed the Buckingham Road neighborhood on behalf of Winston-Salem City Councilman Dan Besse’s re-election campaign on Sept. 26. (photo by Keith T. Barber)