“He started to sing as he tackled the thing/ That couldn’t be done, and he did it!” Montgomery recited, before recalling that he ran for city council four years ago as a 20-year-old Winston-Salem State University student.
Montgomery unseated incumbent Joycelyn Johnson in the Democratic primary four years ago by harnessing Winston-Salem State University student votes in a low-turnout contest. Johnson has announced plans to challenge Montgomery this year, setting up a rematch.
Mayor Allen Joines, East Winston community leader Marva Reid and businessman Algenon Cash were among those who appeared at the event to support Montgomery’s candidacy.
“He’s an energetic, bright young man that has brought a lot of talent to our council,” Joines said. “We’ve struggled in the vineyards, as you say, on some tough, thorny issues there, and it’s always been my pleasure to work with him. He’s been a big supporter of economic development to try to move this city forward.”
Reid, president of the East-Northeast Winston Neighborhood Association, said, “The East Ward needs a person that see their leadership as doing the people’s business. In the past, East Winston leaders were considered the swing voters or going along with the majority. But Councilman Derwin Montgomery has exemplified that he will stand up [against] injustices for us and for all people.”
Cash, a Republican, acknowledged that Montgomery “and I don’t share the same politics,” but said, “I stand here tonight in full support of this young man and his vision.”
Montgomery said it was no coincidence that he chose to launch his campaign at the Winston Mutual Building, a four-story landmark in the East Winston landscape that has sat vacant in recent years. Fifth Street Investments, a company registered by local developer Hank Perkins, bought the property last September.
“Six months [into my term] that’s when they made everybody move out,” Montgomery recalled. “The company went into receivership. Everybody was afraid that it was going to be demolished. It was important to preserve the building because it had so much symbolism in representing African-American entrepreneurship.”
Montgomery said the 2013-2014 annual budget recently approved by city council includes a provision to move the Winston-Salem Police Department’s crime-prevention unit into the second floor of the Winston Mutual building.
“It’s going to say to the entire community that this building is back in use, and we’re going to put tenants in it,” the councilman said.
The candidate built on the theme of his surprise win four years ago.
“We showed this community that things can be done that we think cannot happen," he said. "We continue to look at all the obstacles that we face in this community. We have done great work over the past four years. We have worked with the mayor and the rest of the council to try to bring more jobs to bring more jobs to Winston-Salem and to create an environment that is open to businesses to grow and develop. We try to nurture that same environment when it comes to small business and small-business development."
Montgomery said one of his priorities is matching people who are looking for work in the East Ward with employers who are trying to fill job positions.
“As a council member it’s not written in my job description that that’s something that I’m supposed to do," he said. "But the community needs individuals that will do that type of work. We need individuals to continue to move forward to connect the dots for neighborhoods that have felt separated from what is happening in downtown Winston-Salem and across the entire city."