Bradford Cone decided the day filing for Greensboro City Council elections closed to run for mayor. Two days earlier, Dianne Bellamy-Small, a Democrat who represents District 1 on city council, had withdrawn from the mayoral race and switched back into the district contest. Three Republicans were already in the race, and a fourth would file on the last day.
“There was a Democrat earlier,” Cone said in a recent interview. “She dropped out.” He added that he decided to run “so that I knew someone was running with my political views.”
Greensboro City Council elections are nonpartisan, but Republicans dominate the board even though the city’s voter registration leans Democratic.
An EMT by profession, Cone wore a Merlefest shirt and bushy sideburns into the board of elections office when he filed. He later confessed that he was surprised to find press there. Since then, the candidate has trimmed his hair and begun making his campaign rounds in crisp khakis and dress shirts.
Though Cone entered the race as a political unknown — he hasn’t served in elected office before or on city boards and commissions, but he has been active as a Democratic Party volunteer since 2004 — his surname is perhaps the most familiar in Greensboro. For much of the 20th century, textile giant Cone Mills was one of the city’s largest employees. The family has given the city one mayor already: Benjamin Cone. Today, journalist Ed Cone is one of Greensboro’s preeminent bloggers, and Betty Cone is a community volunteer whose nonprofit produces the city’s annual July 4 festival.
The family lineage means something, Bradford Cone said.
“It does have an effect because of how my family had run the mills,” he said. “They looked out for the workers and made sure they were taken care of. They were also big in supporting the arts. Growing up around the arts probably has something to do with me supporting the arts.”
One of the causes Cone has embraced that sets him apart from all of his opponents is his support for making Greensboro a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants. Providing that protection would give undocumented immigrants who witness or are victimized by crime confidence to cooperate with the police and improve public safety, he argues.
While the city’s strain of political progressivism includes a degree of interracial cooperation and support for infrastructure and industrial recruitment, the sanctuary city proposal would probably find a warmer welcome in a city such as San Francisco.
“I don’t know if it will get much traction,” the candidate said. “I’m not writing positions to get votes. I’m writing them because that’s what I believe in.”
Carefully choosing his words, Cone added, “I’ve always thought that honesty is the best policy. I don’t lie or tell half truths.”
In a similar vein, Cone said allegations of corruption in the Greensboro Police Department need to be investigated to maintain citizens’ trust and improve the department’s effectiveness. In this regard, Cone’s candidacy offers an alternative to both incumbent Mayor Bill Knight and challenger Robbie Perkins, who currently holds an at-large seat on council.
“It needs to be investigated because [otherwise] people on the east side will be distrustful, and it makes it harder to police,” Cone said. “We want people to believe that if they come to the police they’ll get fair treatment.”
Cone also suggested that the city address public safety challenges by enhancing parks and recreation services, particularly in low-wealth neighborhoods.
“We need to give people in those communities something to do other than drinking and drugs,” he said. “I don’t like the idea that wealthier people have opportunities for children that lower-income people do not. Hopefully, that would help with the gang situation, especially if we had neighborhood basketball teams.”
Cone’s relative youth — the candidate is 31 years old — makes him more attuned to the interests of young residents, he said. For example, he calls the under-18 downtown curfew passed by council last year “exclusionary.”
Cone has not always been a political progressive.
“I used to be very conservative,” he recalled. “I was almost libertarian. [My views changed] halfway through college, or around the time the Iraq war started. I didn’t like Bush. I went to the Democratic Party to help defeat him.”
During the 2004 election, Cone met Pricey Harrison, another Greensboro progressive from a prominent family. He admired her and volunteered to help with her campaign.
“I went to the Philippines, where the government doesn’t get involved much, and it isn’t a good place to live,” Cone added, further explaining his conversion. “That changed my mind about government regulations. Without them, a mudslide after a clear-cut would destroy a village, or an over-loaded ferry would sink.”
Cone said he would consider raising taxes as a last resort if there is no other way to maintain important services.
He supports the Greensboro Coliseum.
“We have to make sure it operates and draws people,” Cone said. “We don’t want it to become dilapidated and not make necessary upgrades. Some things tend to cost more later if you don’t fix them now.”
He opposes reopening the White Street Landfill, but also thinks the city needs to get more serious about conservation.
“I’ve been told about recycling programs in other cities in which they try to increase the amount of recycling,” Cone said. “Which would also go a long way toward fixing the landfill.”
He also favors continued investment in sustainable land-use and alternative transportation, including a rubber-tire trolley serving downtown and smaller buses to handle lower-use routes.
“I like the greenway a lot,” Cone said. “I think that’s something that should be expanded, and we should make it more connected [to outlying areas].
“Also, I’d like to contract with a gym so that I can see if city employees can get a discount,” he added. “If city employees use that, they’ll be healthier. Healthier employees get sick less and are more productive.”
As mayor, Cone would also get rid of the prayer before city council meetings that was implemented by Knight, and replace it with a moment of silence.
Finally, Cone said he believes the mayor should encourage inclusion.
“He needs to be a figurehead promoting diversity and having one city,” the candidate said, “not one city for whites and one city for others.”