Mediocre turnout leaves outcome of city council election uncertain

Throughout the day, voter turnout at polling places across Greensboro has appeared to track closely with performance in the last municipal election two years ago. That observation is based on a sampling of precinct reports by Guilford County Board of Elections Deputy Director Charlie Collicutt.

Turnout across the city consistent with numbers in 2009 without a significant bump in east Greensboro would tend to benefit conservative candidates. After all, 2009 was the year that mayoral challenger Bill Knight came out of nowhere and upset incumbent Yvonne Johnson.

District 4 incumbent Mary Rakestraw, part of the conservative coalition, spent the day at Christ United Methodist Church, a precinct she narrowly carried in the primary. She appeared to be relaxed and enjoying herself, noting that she had seen a lot of neighbors.

“She’s almost our Howard Coble,” said Loretta Calhoun, a campaign volunteer, alluding to a sense of familiarity that voters have about the candidate.

“In our district I voted for the lesser of two evils,” said Tim Pabon. “The one that I decided to vote for was Rakestraw. The other one seemed too far out there.”

Pabon said he dislikes the bickering on city council and that it often seems like a body suited more for a small town than a large city. Along with Rakestraw, he cast his vote for the rest of the conservative slate: Bill Knight for mayor, and Chris Lawyer and Danny Thompson for at large.

At Claxton Elementary, a traditionally high-turnout precinct that leans conservative, at-large candidate Wayne Abraham and a passel of volunteers for other progressive candidates expressed disappointment at reports of mediocre turnout across the city.

“This one is up in the air,” Abraham said.

Florence Gatten, a retired member of council, brought her granddaughter to the polling place to offer candy and encouragement to poll workers and precinct officials. She embraced Abraham.

She said she believes the mediocre turnout is explained by a sense of discouragement and fatalism in the electorate. She said she would like to see some change on council, although she doesn’t think about the election in terms of conservatives versus liberal.

“I think this is a key election,” she said. “I’m disappointed if it turns out that turnout is low. There are a lot of new faces, people who are very capable. Change is good. I’m always hoping to see some turnover. There is a lot of talent in this city. The assignment will be tough.”

At 6 p.m. about 530 people had voted at Bluford Elementary, a traditionally high performing precinct that is considered a bellwether in elections because it typically sets the high water mark for District 1. The vote count in the precinct topped out at 560 two years ago. Considering the evening rush before polls close at 7:30 p.m., performance at the precinct should exceed the 2009 benchmark.

The voters in Precinct G74, whose polling place is Bluford Elementary, tend to be more elderly, and District 1 challenger Donnell “DJ” Hardy said he knew he had to work for some of their votes.

"I knocked on a lot of doors in G74," said Hardy, who ran unsuccessfully as an at-large candidate two years ago. "I learned how diverse the viewpoint is. There are a lot of people who are scared about where we're headed on a national level. Then they turn on Channel 13 and wonder about what's going on with the city council. If there's some fluke that helps us make it through, it might be that a lot of people are ready to try something new. It used to be, 'Thank you, goodbye.' Now, it's, 'Now, what are you trying to do, young man?' There's more acceptance this year."

Hardy said his campaign team worked hard in Precinct G56, which was transferred from District 5 to District 1 in redistricting this year. Many voters there appear to be loyal to their former representative, Trudy Wade. The Hardy campaign also expended significant effort in Precinct G51. He said he was heartened to find that early voting numbers in both precincts were up.

Based on the performance of Luther T. Falls Jr., Bellamy-Small's general election challenger in 2009, Hardy declared Precinct G75, which votes at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, to be "an uphill battle."

"We looked at the numbers in 2009," he explained, "and [Bellamy-Small] walloped him."

By 6 p.m., Hardy had pushed on to a new polling place, and Bellamy-Small was standing on the sidewalk outside of Bluford Elementary to appeal directly to the last wave of voters.

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