L's Restaurant and Lounge candidate event, a set on Flickr.
District 2 candidate Jim Kee addresses voters at L's Restaurant and Lounge, as mayoral candidate Robbie Perkins and at-large candidate Marikay Abuzuaiter converse.
Marikay Abuzuaiter, an at-large candidate for Greensboro City Council, was right at home among the after-work crowd at L’s Restaurant and Lounge on Randleman Road. For four years, her family property management business maintained an office nearby before they had to downsize.
She told the crowd about her two previous attempts to win a seat on city council.
“In 2007, I ran in the at-large race; I lost by 110 votes to Mary Rakestraw,” Abuzuaiter said. “In 2009, I ran in the at-large race. I lost by 300 votes to Danny Thompson. So I’m not going to come in fourth again. I’m going to come in for one of those three at-large seats. Let me explain something to you: I was brand new in 2007, so that was pretty good. 2009 Danny Thompson went to east Greensboro and told 5-, 6-, 700 people that he would never vote to open the landfill. Well, what happened when he got on council? He was the main one wanting to get the landfill open.
“So, I am calling him out. Because if he had not been at east Greensboro and made that promise, I would have been on your city council and we would have never gotten the votes that they wanted to open the landfill.”
Saundra Adams and Gail Foy put together the candidate forum for Abuzuaiter and four other candidates at L’s. Adams is a regular at the restaurant, whose menu boasts, “Food so good you’ll slap your mama,” and thought the $2 fish special on Tuesday nights would provide a good forum for people to get acquainted with the candidates, and that the politics, in turn, might bring some new business to the restaurant.
Foy, who works with the East Market Street Merchants Association, said Dianne Bellamy-Small was invited because she represents District 1, where the restaurant is located, and Jim Kee was invited because he represents District 2, where many of the restaurant’s customers live. Mayoral candidate Robbie Perkins and at-large candidates Abuzuaiter and Yvonne Johnson were invited because they are “well known in the community.”
“In my opinion, the council is not working well right now,” Foy said, while preparing to introduce the candidates. “I believe in sustainable economic development. I believe if the landfill opens, it will impede that.”
Perkins received a warm welcome.
“We want to try to create the kind of jobs that are going to be a living wage for people because it’s awfully hard to live off of minimum wage,” he said. “You can’t work enough hours in the day to get by off of that. So we’ve got to create the kind of jobs that are going to pay reasonable money so that you can support your families and keep a little bit for retirement. Folks, it’s a hard environment. By pulling together and working together as a team, we can win this game.”
Kee spoke about his efforts, alongside Perkins, to keep the White Street Landfill closed and to bring economic development to east Greensboro.
“We need to interact more with North Carolina A&T to create more jobs,” he said. “You’ve probably heard about the nano-science and engineering building over there. We need to expand upon that park. Robbie and I have talked about that: We need to create a road from Lee Street all the way over to Wendover Avenue and up to Cone Boulevard. It will be like a Holden Road for east Greensboro. The connectivity and mobility of east Greensboro is very, very difficult. We have to have free-flowing access to the major highways and the airport.”
Other candidates were also drawn to the event. Jorge Cornell, leader of the North Carolina Latin Kings and a candidate in District 5, greeted Kee. On the campaign trail, Kee has expressed support for the gang unit and made a point to note that an opponent’s supporters have called for the unit’s disbandment. This evening, Cornell was intent on making it clear there was no ill will between the two, and Kee suggested he concurred, stating that he considers Cornell a businessman rather than a gang leader.
C. Bradley Hunt II, one of Kee’s opponents, showed up at the event and spoke to customers.
The candidates fielded a few questions from the audience. One man, who identified himself as an ex-offender, asked them what they would do open up job opportunities to people whose employment options are hindered by their criminal histories.
“It is a tough, uphill struggle, number one,” Perkins said. “Number two, we’ve got to encourage people to be open-minded, and say, ‘You’ve got to give somebody a second chance. This person’s going to work hard. Take a chance and let them move through.’ That’s something that we’ve got to facilitate…. By the same token, when you get that job, you’ve got to perform as well.”
Kee said, “We may need to look at giving tax breaks to companies that hire ex-offenders.”