Candidate profile: Jorge Cornell

Jorge Cornell, candidate for Greensboro City Council District 5. (photo by Keith T. Barber)

If there’s one Greensboro City Council candidate with a unique perspective on the 2011 municipal elections, it’s Jorge Cornell. Despite losing his bid to win an at-large seat in 2009, Cornell, the North Carolina leader of the Latin Kings, remains undeterred.

“I learned a lot of valuable lessons [during the 2009 elections] because I didn’t really have [any] idea of how to run a campaign,” Cornell said. “It was just all brand new to me. I was here, there and everywhere instead of having a plan and executing that plan. This time, I had a head start, I’m more organized and we’re ready to go.”

Cornell said the controversy over the proposed reopening of the White Street Landfill ultimately inspired him to run a second time for city council. He said he was offended by the attitudes of city council members during public hearings on the issue. Cornell cited the landfill controversy as just one example of how Greensboro’s elected officials consistently fail to represent the best interests of the citizenry.

“That all goes down to city council not hearing the people,” Cornell said. “When you have this number of people coming down to city council telling you they don’t want it — people from different districts, not just District 2 — they’re telling you for a reason. It definitely got me going because how can you put a price on somebody’s life or somebody’s health?”

On Aug. 16, the Greensboro City Council approved a resolution to select Gate City Waste Services to operate the White Street Landfill. District 5 councilwoman Trudy Wade cast one of the four votes to approve the resolution. Last week, Gate City Waste Services notified the city of Greensboro that it was withdrawing its bit to operate the landfill. The council voted to extend its contract with Republic Services to receive the city’s solid waste at its Uwharrie Environmental Landfill in Montgomery County through the end of the year last week.

“I’m open to other alternatives as long as it’s not going to hurt the community,” Cornell said.

Bringing revolutionary change to the Greensboro City Council is a major component of Cornell’s message to residents of the 5th District.

“I want everybody to know that I’m not a politician,” Cornell said. “A politician is someone who will come in your community and tell you they’ll do this and this to make things better and then when they get into office, they don’t do nothing for your community.”

Cornell said the biggest challenge of his campaign will be convincing voters in the 5th District — young voters in particular — that municipal elections have a tremendous impact on their quality of life. He described his message to voters as one of empowerment.

“The power is in our hands,” Cornell said. “The power is when we go show up to these voting polls and vote. If you want money [to flow] into your neighborhood, you have to elect the right people into office — you just can’t turn your back. If you turn your back, then the rich [are] going to keep getting richer. The nice communities are going to keep looking prettier and our communities are going to look the same.”

Cornell isn’t just talking about making a difference in the community. He’s taking decisive action.

“Right now, I’m in the process of opening a nonprofit temp agency — it’s called Community United Staffing — in District 2,” Cornell said. “Unemployment is 10 percent [statewide] but the unemployment rate is 20 percent in that district.”

Community United Staffing will employ more than 70 people once its doors are open, Cornell said. His current endeavor reflects his firm belief that Greensboro needs to invest in small business if it hopes to make a dent in the unemployment rate. If elected, Cornell said he would propose the revamping of the city’s small business loan program.

“When you sit there and tell somebody if they have a felony they don’t qualify for a grant, you never know if they’re the next Bill Gates,” Cornell said. “As long as someone comes with a great business plan, they should be heard.”

One of the major planks of Cornell’s platform is changing the culture of the Greensboro Police Department.

“They need a lot of sensitivity training because we’re living in a two-tier citizenship — you got your upper class and you got your lower class,” Cornell said. “The way they treat people in one part of town is different to the way they treat people in other parts of the city.”

Greensboro police arrested Cornell on Aug. 1, 2009, during his campaign for city council. The incident was captured on video posted on YouTube as well as Cornell’s campaign website.

If elected, Cornell said he would advocate for the creation of a citizens review board with subpoena power to oversee the Greensboro Police Department. Cornell said he would like to see more dashboard cameras in police cars, and a more strategic deployment of officers throughout the city. Cornell said the city should invest in green jobs and the arts community to help stimulate the local economy. And although the Greensboro City Council does not directly fund the local school system, Cornell said the city should invest more resources in youth education programs through its Parks and Recreation Department.

“We’re failing them because the more we go and cut programs for youth, it shows that our future is that much more dimmer,” he said.

If elected, Cornell said he would be willing to donate a portion of his city council salary to go toward scholarships for students. Cornell said he hopes his run for city council will serve as inspiration for all citizens of Greensboro, young and old alike.

“That’s another reason why it’s so important me running for city council because it gives those in the streets hope,” he said. “Because if someone like me that can come off the streets and make it and make change, they can do it, too.”

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