Candidate profile: Trudy Wade

District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade, seen with fellow conservative Councilman Danny Thompson, has led efforts to reopen the White Street Landfill.

Trudy Wade, a longtime local politician and veterinarian with a practice in Jamestown, has led the conservative drift of the Greensboro City Council. Her election to the council in 2007, alongside Mary Rakestraw, signaled the beginning of a break with the moderate pro-business consensus era lead by former Mayor Keith Holliday.

Wade and Rakestraw pledged to increase the city manager’s accountability to council amid widespread discontent with then City Manager Mitchell Johnson’s handling of racial discrimination complaints by black police officers. Johnson had brought in an independent agency to investigate the complaints and was awaiting an explanation when then police Chief David Wray abruptly resigned. At the time, in 2006, the council backed Johnson. Following their election in 2007, Wade and Rakestraw made two unsuccessful attempts to oust Johnson, and in 2009 they were able to bring fellow council members Zack Matheny, Sandra Anderson and Mike Barber into a narrow majority to accomplish the goal.

Since 2009, Wade has been a defendant in a federal lawsuit filed by 39 black officers, along with the city of Greensboro, former Chief David Wray, former Deputy Chief Randall Brady and Officer Scott Sanders. Wade was added to the lawsuit in both her individual and official capacities because of her alleged release of confidential information about the officers. A federal judge turned down a motion by outside counsel to dismiss a claim against the city in an order filed last month. The city’s argument had been premised on the notion that Wade exceeded her authority as a council member when she took the action. The Brooks Pierce law firm’s defense of Wade in the lawsuit is among a number of matters in which the firm is billing the city up to $300 per hour, according to a recent letter from law partner George House.

Two years after Wade won her seat, conservatives consolidated control on the council with the election of Bill Knight as mayor and Danny Thompson at large. Wade and her three fellow conservatives have worked in the past two years to overturn another legacy of the Holliday era that took place in 2006.

That year, the council closed the White Street Landfill to household waste. The four conservatives have taken a series of votes this year to reopen the landfill. That effort appears to have put the conservative consensus at risk of unraveling, with a backlash gushing out of predominantly black east Greensboro and washing across the rest of the city.

In the past two elections, Wade has spent thousands of dollars on campaign consulting services from Bill Burckley, a former council member. Wade’s inaugural campaign, in which she unseated former District 5 representative Sandy Carmany, featured a series of cartoon attack ads in the Rhinoceros Times, including one that characterized the incumbent as dithering as problem with gangs mounted.

The year after Wade took office, a street organization known as the Latin Kings that was targeted by the Greensboro Police Department’s gang enforcement unit publicly accused the squad of harassment. Its leader, Jorge Cornell has emerged as a community activist over the past three years and the Latin Kings have filed a Title VI civil rights complaint against the department.

Cornell is now a candidate for city council challenging Wade for representation of District 5, which covers the southwest portion of the city. Another challenger is David Crawford, a perennial candidate for local office with a history of erratic campaigning.

Cornell and Crawford are both challenging Wade on her support for reopening the White Street Landfill, which lies in northeast Greensboro. Yet, Wade’s strong name recognition coupled with her opponents’ baggage and lack of political experience make her a tough candidate to beat. And Sal Leone, an at-large candidate, said he has found that many District 5 residents agree with Wade’s position on the landfill.

Wade rarely makes public comments outside of city council meetings. Even there, some citizens have complained that she didn’t provide an explanation for her support of reopening the landfill or her motion to select a vendor that was not the lowest responsive bidder. Wade has declined to comment on the decision to YES! Weekly and the News & Record, expressing concerns that both newspapers would misrepresent her position. The candidate also declined to be interviewed for this article.

On the dais, Wade is known for tough questions of staff, vigilance against tax or water rate increases, skepticism of government in general and insistence that her district receive equal services. Wade’s advocacy for her district, has led her to challenge on occasion funding received by downtown and east Greensboro, prompting rhetorical skirmishes with both District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny and District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small.

An example of Wade’s skepticism towards active government and public spending cropped up during a discussion about a $5 million weatherization grant from the US Department of Energy preceding her vote in opposition in the fall of 2010.

“The people that really need the help are not going to get it,” she said. “They’re going to be taken advantage of and told to go get a loan to upgrade or retrograde or save energy or whatever and they’re not going to be able to be able to pay their loan back. They’re not going to save enough money to pay the loan back, and the only ones I see benefiting are the ones that are going to get the jobs for three years.”

More recently, in a remark during a briefing session, the councilwoman dismissed a repeated call by her colleagues to allow the city to bid against private industry to operate the White Street Landfill.

“We all know private industry is more efficient and does it better, because the city is going to pay you whether you’re good you’re not good or whatever,” Wade said. “Now, I’m going to say that when you work in private industry, if you’re not producing at a certain amount you’re not going to be there very long.”

Notwithstanding the controversy that sometimes surrounds Wade on citywide issue such as the landfill and the replacement of the city manager, Wade has cultivated a loyal cadre of political supporters and constituents in District 5.

Tony Wilkins, a former executive director of the Guilford County Republican Party and sometime aspirant to city council, is volunteering on his third campaign for Wade.

Asked what attracted him to Wade’s candidacy and what has sustained his support, Wilkins answered succinctly: “Her deep roots of conservatism.”

“Trudy Wade is a true conservative in a truly conservative district,” Wilkins said. “She’s highly thought of by her constituents…. I consider her an excellent representative.”

Wade has pressed the case for keeping water rates law in the past two budget cycles. In 2010, the council voted to cut taxes, but Wade voted against the budget because she didn’t think the decrease went far enough. During the adoption of the current budget, Wade voted with the majority to keep the tax rate even, and cast decisive votes to block an effort by Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Vaughan to restore pay for sworn, reserve officers and reinstate funding to the Greensboro Partnership to support economic development.

“I think she is truly a friend to the taxpayer,” Wilkins said.

Wade led an effort to rescind a 2010 water rate increase through funds from a lawsuit settlement with communications giant MCI. The reductions were broadly supported by council, with only political foes Bellamy-Small and Robbie Perkins voting against them.

Wade’s district arcs around the southwestern corner of the city, with the affluent Cardinal and Grandover neighborhoods forming bookends, but also includes low-wealth and racially diverse neighborhoods straddling High Point Road. It’s the only district that doesn’t reach into the core of the city.

Wade has taken a skeptical position on the activities of Downtown Greensboro Inc., casting the only dissenting vote in September 2010 in a motion to approve a budget for downtown services financed by a special tax district. In the midst of discussion on the item, Wade interjected a motion to study the feasibility of placing a police substation on High Point Road. Dianne Bellamy-Small, who represents District 1, asked for her cooperation in studying the feasibility of deploying additional police resources more generally. Wade rebuffed the overture, and the downtown support budget was eventually passed.

Wade has also questioned the expenditure of city funds to maintain the Downtown Greenway, which will eventually pass through every district except District 5. Wade has suggested that the funds would be better spent on improving streets, particularly Merritt Drive, a major traffic artery in her district. The project is sufficiently important to her that she has posted a schedule on her campaign website.

That’s not to say that the council woman is uniformly hostile towards downtown interests.

In 2010, Wade cast the lone dissenting vote against maintaining the municipal service district tax rate for the College Hill neighborhood in District 4, where a high portion of the housing stock is rented to college students and young professionals by landlords. This year, a group of property owners that included landlord Rick Sandler came before the council and requested that the special tax rate be reduced, and Wade voted with the majority to approve the rate cut. At the following meeting, officers of the neighborhood association expressed dismay that the action had been taken without their being consulted.

Sandler also came to council to request that council exempt properties north of Fisher Avenue from the Downtown Design Overlay, a set of guidelines to encourage pedestrian-friendly design. Wade supported the exemption of the properties, which are in an area ripe for redevelopment.

Wade also voted in favor of a teen curfew after 11 p.m. in downtown Greensboro that was proposed by Matheny and supported by developer Roy Carroll, along with leaders of Downtown Greensboro Inc., Action Greensboro and the Cemala Foundation.

Wade receives high marks for constituent services, particularly on public safety and transportation matters.

“It’s probably her response to their concerns, whether they’re big or small,” Wilkins said. “She will respond to everybody who has some inquiry of her, no matter whether the issue is big or small.”

For example, series of serious traffic accidents, including one fatality, took place at the intersection of Pinecroft and Darden roads. Tico Wallace, a local realtor who leads the Lamrocton community watch, and other residents contacted Wade. Within a week, Wallace said, city crews had trimmed back the trees at the intersection and put up signs.

“She has just been unbelievable as an elected representative,” Wallace said. “She actually calls the community watch leaders and asks us if there’s any issues going on, and if there’s anything that she should bring up at the meetings.”

On citywide issues, Wade has not always won.

During the second meeting of the current council, Matheny and Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Vaughan broke ranks with the conservative faction to support a plan to use hotel-motel funds to complete the Greensboro Aquatic Center. Wade, Thompson and Knight also failed to block a $5 million federal grant for weatherization activities.

But more often, Wade has been on the winning side of important votes. Detractors of the council’s conservative faction, chief among them at-large Councilman Robbie Perkins, contend that it is Wade rather than Knight that is providing leadership for the group.

Wade has voted with the majority to move speakers from the floor to the end of meetings, to have the city attorney report to council rather than the city manager, to deny a request to hire a federal lobbyist on the city’s behalf.

And, on the landfill Wade has been a part of a slim majority that has pushed through a process to reopen the White Street Landfill through 4-3 votes. Wade and her fellow conservatives were able to prevail because of the recusal of Vaughan, whose husband works for Waste Industries, a company that submitted a proposal to operate the landfill. Now that the company is no longer under consideration, a judge has ruled that Vaughan can vote, and has signaled that she will block any move to reopen the landfill.

The vote to decide whether to award a contract to Gate City Waste Services to operate the landfill comes up on Tuesday. Notwithstanding the challenging turn of events, Wade has shown herself to be someone willing to play hardball.

In August, Wade told Vaughan during a council work session: “If you vote against Gate City, we’re going to have a very serious problem picking anyone but Waste Industries because that would be the only way you couldn’t vote on it.”

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