Last week’s candidate forum at Congregational United Church of Christ marked District 3 incumbent Zack Matheny’s first foray into the campaign, and challenger Jay Ovittore, who has been talking to community groups for more than a month appeared to relish the opportunity to be in the same room with his opponent.
“There’s a few things I want to accomplish on council, and that’s if you will elect me to be your council man,” Ovittore said. “First and foremost, we need to move speakers from the floor back to the beginning of the meeting. I made that promise in other interviews and other forums. That will be the first motion I make as a council member. My job as a councilman? First and foremost is to represent you the citizens in this city, and then secondly to do the city’s business. It’s not the other way around.
“Second thing I’d like to do is repeal the teen curfew downtown – it’s hurting our small businesses and our downtown nightlife – that was instituted by our current councilman in District 3,” Ovittore added.
An audience member also challenged Matheny on the curfew, which affects young people under 18 years old after 11 p.m.
“I find it hard to believe that very many businesses downtown – which it is the businesses that told me to create the curfew in the first place – I find it very hard when people 16 and under are supplying that much business for those businesses, because the curfew starts at 11 p.m. Now, during the school year, I got to be honest with you – I’m not going to be anybody’s parent – but I don’t think a 14-year-old needs to be downtown at midnight. And if they’re hurting the businesses downtown, what businesses are they? Because most restaurants are closed after 11 o’clock. The food’s cut off. They can’t buy beer, can they? And you get free refills on Coca-Cola. So, are they really hurting that much business?”
Matheny lead the effort to implement the curfew last year based, in part, on prodding from Downtown Greensboro Inc. Matheny said he also received encouragement from the police department.
“I was meeting with the captain of my central division yesterday at the Green Bean, at a small business in downtown Greensboro,” Matheny said. “And I said, ‘Captain, there’s a lot of talk about this curfew. Y’all are the ones that told me, with the business owners, to put the curfew in. In your professional opinion as the captain of this division, what do you want me to do?’ ‘Keep it.’”
Speaking before council in November 2010, police Chief Ken Miller offered measured support for the curfew proposal, citing his experience with an under-16 teen curfew that was applied citywide in Charlotte.
“My concern is – I have to police the entire community, not just downtown,” Miller said at the time. “And I have to manage police relationships with diverse communities. And as we implement ordinances that are enforcement based, there’s generally a more in-depth process of analysis and understanding that goes into them before you’re voting on them. This one’s moved very fast, but it is limited to the downtown.”
Later, the chief added, “I am comfortable with the downtown provision, but I’m not comfortable with the process we went through to get there.”
In other comment, Miller expressed both support for the concept and concern about the process of arriving at a decision.
“Well, both the truancy and the late-night activities really ought to require some thoughtful analysis,” he said. “I think, in terms of our strategies and our approaches. The curfew – and I’ve heard the comments here earlier today, but my experience with applying curfews has not been heavy handed in my prior jurisdiction. And we just didn’t have any backlash from it. We were able to take kids off the street and get them home. And we think, Charlotte-Mecklenburg felt, reduced victimization and some late-night crime.”
During his exchange with Matheny last week, Ovittore said he had spoken with business owners at the southern end of Elm Street near the Green Bean and M’Coul’s, adding, “They are seeing a loss in business.”
An audience member asked Ovittore and Matheny what council could do to provide training and employment to young people so that they’re not tempted to engage in criminal activity.
“I can’t tell you how long ago it was, but a bond passed by the voters of Greensboro for, I believe, a skate park or a teen center in downtown Greensboro,” Ovittore said. “That bond needs to be put into action. That money needs to be allocated for that teen center-slash-skate park…. And as far as jobs go, taking some of the incentive money we throw around to real estate developers and putting it into a fund for small businesses that apply for grant money from the city that are looking to expand their businesses that don’t necessarily have the money to do it right now but would hire more people if they did have the money, I think that’s a wise investment for our city.”
Parks and Recreation Director Greg Jackson said the city is currently planning to build a skate park, which was approved by voters as part of a 2006 bond referendum, at the Hilltop Recreation Center and Park in the southwest corner of the city. As to a downtown teen center, the city recently closed the Folk Teen Center on Clifton Road. Jackson said that while the city plans to continue teen programming at other facilities, there is no bond funding currently allocated for a downtown teen center.
Matheny indicated that he does not believe it is the city’s role to create employment opportunities for youth beyond supporting small businesses.
“From a council perspective, in reality, what can a council do to help youth become workers?” he said. “We can’t really do a whole lot, in reality. What we can do is focus on the small businesses, which the small businesses can hopefully hire youth. That’s the reality. We can continue to have outlets for them to go to such as our parks and rec department, and we can have things which council can support, the city can support. We can have outlets, but as far as income-producing outlets, I think the main thing city council can do is focus on the small businesses….”
Zack Matheny said he asked his family recently if he should run again.
“My wife, who I love dearly, looked at me and said, ‘Well, if you don’t run – you love the city of Greensboro – you’re not going to sit still and sit idle, so you might as well go ahead and run again.’” Matheny said. “My 10 year old, the wise person that he is, looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, you should run again.’ What would he know? Why should I run again? He said, ‘Because I get to see you in the newspaper and on TV.’ You do think about it. He is my stepson, but he’s every bit my son. And you want your kids to look up to you. And you realize that what I do is important. And he realizes that what we do and the decisions we make and how we carry ourselves are important. It’s important for me to look up to me. It’s important for me to represent my citizens.”
Matheny outlined a stance on economic development that featured flexible standards for incentives.
“Jobs – we’ve got to think out of the box,” he said. “We’re in an environment we’ve got to throw the box away, as Dr. Nido Qubein said over in High Point. We’ve got to do everything we can, whether it’s lower the minimum wage, higher wage, in the city of Greensboro, outside of the city of Greensboro. We got to figure it out and we got to work together.”
Ovittore sought to differentiate himself from Matheny by establishing distance from the real-estate industry, whose members have contributed lavishly to the incumbent’s campaigns over the years.
“I am first and foremost a citizen of Greensboro,” Ovittore said. “I am not owned and operated by real estate developers. I will not take money from real estate developers. I will not give them a larger seat at the table than any other person sitting in this room today.
To see the next round, attend the Greensboro Neighborhood Congress' district candidate forum tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the Nussbaum Room in the downtown public library.