Mayor Pro Tempore Vivian Burke, who represents the city’s Northeast Ward, and Southwest Ward Council Member Dan Besse are facing challengers in the Nov. 5 General Election.
Burke is facing Republican Michael Owens and Keith King, who is running as an unaffiliated candidate after garnering enough signatures to appear on the ballot.
Owens, a Greensboro native, made a bid for U.S. Rep. Mel Watt’s seat in the 12th Congressional District last year, but said he was forced to drop out of the race because of a lack of funding. The Southeast Guilford High School alumnus has since set his sights on representing the Northeast Ward.
“Vivian Burke has held the seat for 36 years,” Owens said of his motivation to run for the seat. “I think that’s reason enough.”
If elected, Owens, who is currently unemployed, said he would concentrate on supporting public safety workers and small businesses.
“I’m not a fan of corporate welfare. I don’t like when our city gives money to large companies to expand in our area when they don’t necessarily need that money to expand,” he said. “If we’re going to give a large company $5 or $10 million with the promise of 100 jobs, why not give 10 small businesses $50,000 or $100,000 and they can hire 10 employees each and get the same results?”
If elected, increasing economic growth in the ward would also be a priority for him, Owens said.
King, the owner of Kingz Downtown Market on Liberty Street, said he will also make supporting public safety workers and economic development priorities if he is elected.
“I feel like there needs to be a change in the Northeast Ward,” said King, referencing other areas in the city, such as Peters Creek Parkway, Hanes Mall Boulevard and the Waughtown Street areas, where he says development projects are currently underway. “They’re doing a lot of building to fix up the area, but in the Northeast Ward, there’s nothing going on. I feel like the people deserve better.”
As a small business owner for nearly a decade and an active member of the downtown business community, King, who also serves on the city’s Transit Authority Committee, believes he is uniquely positioned to be the voice of the people in the Northeast Ward.
“People relate very well with me because I’m on the battlefield with them everyday. I know the hardships that they’re going through right now,” “…I’m in the community, and I’ve always been in the public service jobs.”
Burke, a Charlotte native, said bringing jobs and economic development to the ward has been one of the hallmarks of her lengthy career on the Council. She cited the construction of the Wal-Mart Supercenter years ago and more recent projects such as the Brookwood Business Park off North Liberty Street as examples of her ongoing commitment to fostering economic opportunity in the area.
“I’ve seen all of these things happen and they’re just wonderful, and my footprints and hands are all over it,” she remarked. “…I continue to work very hard with the businesses and residential communities so we can continue to have a very positive and livable city and continue with the projects that I have started.”
Burke says “staying right at the grassroots” has helped her to retain the support of her constituents.
“I never leave the people,” she declared. “I’m there, available to them whether they’re in the Northeast Ward or any part of the community. As Public Safety (Committee) chair, I’m concerned about everybody.”
Besse, who has represented the Southwest Ward since 2001, has never run unopposed. Republican Donald Shaw has challenged him at every turn. Besse, a Democrat, is hoping that his constituents will again choose him over Shaw, who is campaigning against him for the fourth consecutive time. Besse, a staunch advocate of public transportation and protecting the environment, prides himself on maintaing a high level of communication with his constituents through regular emails and other forums.
“The most important thing is to communicate with the folks you represent,” he said. “I stay in touch with my constituents on a regular basis.”
On the Council, Besse, who serves on the Transportation Advisory Committee, said he fought to get the city to implement Sunday bus service, which is slated to begin in November, convert its bus fleet to hybrid-diesel buses and improve walkability of the city, by installing more sidewalks and enhancing local greenways.
“If the voters in my district like having an elected representative who focuses on communicating with them and addressing basic city needs – from strong neighborhoods to public safety to the transportation system – then I would appreciate their vote of support this election,” said the Hickory native. “I enjoy working to help make Winston-Salem a safe, healthy, clean and green and welcoming community with opportunities for everyone.”
Shaw could not be reached for comment by The Chronicle’s press time on Tuesday.
Early voting is now underway at the Board of Elections in the Forsyth County Government Center, 201 N. Chestnut St.