Competition thickens race for Winston-Salem's Northeast Ward

Jemmise Bowen
Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke is the one incumbent member of Winston-Salem City council who has remained silent on whether she plans to seek reelection. The longest serving member, Burke was first elected in 1977 when Mayor Allen Joines was a member of city staff.

Meanwhile, other political aspirants have burnished their credentials and decided, whether Burke wants to stay or go, now is the time for them to make their play.

Brenda Diggs, a retired banking executive with experience on the United Way board and the city's police retirement commission, entered the race with a flourish when 18 people accompanied her to the board of elections for the opening of filing on July 5. At the age of 65, Diggs is seasoned but not significantly younger than Burke.

Today, a second candidate, Jemmise Bowen, joined the race.

A shelter monitor with the Salvation Army, Bowen is a member of Forsyth County Senior Democrats, but at the age of 43, she's too young to hold voting privileges in the caucus. She's also a member of the Democratic Women caucus and represents Forsyth County on the 12th Congressional District Executive Committee. She learned how to run campaigns through the Congressional Black Caucus Leadership and Political Bootcamp in Maryland.

Bowen said she spoke with Burke before telling family and friends of her plans to run.

"I was looking for some kind of response," the candidate recounted. "I didn't expect her to be mean about it. She told me: 'Okay.' That was basically it. I told her what I wanted to do with my platform. She didn't say she's not running; she didn't say she is running. I have tremendous respect for her. She's been serving for, what, 30-plus years? That's most of my life."

Bowen credited Burke with bringing recreation centers and walking trails to the Northeast Ward, along with improvements to Patterson Avenue.

Bowen said she would like to broaden council's focus from downtown to the many neighborhoods that make up the eight wards.

"I support downtown, but I think there are things we can do on a neighborhood level to help bring value back into our community," the candidate said. "I think when we look at the economic issues, we have unemployment that's been cut. These are desperate times. I think it's time to wake our neighborhoods up. It's time to start working together and knowing each other. It's going to take a lot of footwork, and I don't mind that."

Bowen said that having interacted with community and business development staff to help a 95-year-old neighbor make improvements to her house, she would like to see that department receive more resources to do its work.

"[Director] Ritchie Brooks and his crew, they're a great group of people," she said. "They need more staff. How can we bring the staff in when we have the budget we have? They need help. I think they are a critical part of this community. Like the fire and police departments, they serve a role to make it enticing for people to come here."

Part of the candidate's political education has come from spending time with senior Democrats.

"Outside of them being a great group, you're always learning something when you're sitting around with a group of seniors," Bowen said. "We're dealing with a group of people who have a set income. We have to understand that the price of their medicine is increasing, but their income is not. I know what my parents say, but when I listen to a roomful of people discussing their issues, it brings a lot of light into what I'm looking at in the Northeast Ward. There are a lot of seniors in the Northeast Ward."

Bowen said she wants the city to diversify its strategy for creating new jobs by balancing the tech positions being developed at the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter with more traditional manufacturing and transportation jobs.

"We have talent in this city," the candidate said. "I just believe it is untapped. There's more that we can do. I just hope the citizens of the Northeast Ward agree with me. If they're going to agree with me, I hope they understand they have work to do, and so do I."

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