Hartsfield campaigning hard for DA, getting voters to the polls is key

Denise Hartsfield addresses the crowd during her 100 Women in White Fundraiser.

Hartsfield campaigning hard for DA, getting voters to the polls is key
October 19
13:55 2022

After serving the citizens of Forsyth County for 20 years as a district court judge, on the same day she announced her retirement, Denise Hartsfield announced that she would be running for Forsyth County District Attorney. Earlier this week The Chronicle caught up with Hartsfield while on the campaign trail to discuss her decision to run, her plans if elected and much more. 

While speaking to volunteers and other supporters at her 100 Women in White Voter Rally and Fundraiser on Sunday, Oct. 16, Hartsfield said she isn’t seeking office for any personal gain but to help move Forsyth County forward and bring the human aspect back to the district attorney’s office. 

“I’m not doing this for fame, I’m doing it because I love this city. I’m doing it because I love Forsyth County,” Hartsfield continued . “I’m doing it for the little girls everywhere. I’m doing it for folks who believe violence is a natural occurrence and that’s the way life should be. I’m doing it to change that perspective.”

A native of Winston-Salem, after high school Hartsfield attended Spelman College, where she graduated in 1976 with a degree in English. Hartsfield returned to Winston-Salem after undergrad and earned her law degree from Wake Forest University. After she passed the bar, Hartsfield worked as an assistant county attorney here in Forsyth County. Before becoming a judge, Hartsfield also served as assistant district attorney and she also worked for the Legal Aid Society of Northwest NC, a statewide nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people.

In 2002 Hartsfield was elected to serve in the 21st Judicial District when Judge Roland Hayes decided not to run for re-election. During her tenure, Hartsfield made it her mission to help young people throughout the community. For years, she led the juvenile drug treatment center and the juvenile court. She also helped launch several initiatives geared toward ending violent juvenile crime. 

Earlier this year an official portrait of Hartsfield was unveiled during a special session in Courtroom 4J, making her the first woman to have a portrait to hang in the Forsyth County Courthouse. 

When asked why she decided to run for district attorney after such a noteworthy career as a judge, Hartsfield said she started thinking about it the moment she saw incumbent DA Jim O’Neil speak at Donald Trump’s rally at Smith Reynolds Airport in 2020. “The moment for me was when I heard him at the airport … Dr. Angelou told me a long time ago when somebody shows you who they are, you better believe them,” Hartsfield said. 

If elected Hartsfield said her goal will be to return the DA’s office back to the “Office of the People.” She said currently the DA’s office is run more like a private law firm. 

Hartsfield also discussed the need to put more focus on unsolved homicides and the rise in violent crime. She specifically mentioned a backlog of nearly 70 unsolved homicides that dates back to 2014. 

“I think the courthouse as it stands, particularly that office, is ran like a private law firm and the DA’s office, no matter how much it is entrenched in investigation, law and order or whatever you want to call it at the end of the day, it’s the people’s office too,” she said. “This is a public service job, it may be different than a judge or a commissioner, but anytime the people vote for you it’s a public service job.” 

In recent weeks supporters of Jim O’Neil have used television ads to question some of Hartsfield’s decisions in the past. One ad goes as far as calling Hartsfield dangerous. 

Hartsfield said she knew the attacks would come. In 2012, Hartsfield was suspended for two months without pay. “I knew it was coming. I was just wondering why it came so late,” Hartsfield continued. 

“If I’m so dangerous, if I’m so bad, if I’m just this horrible person that has committed all these infractions, why did I win three more uncontested elections? No opposition and I was the highest vote getter every time.” 

With Election Day less than three weeks away, Hartsfield said instead of getting into a back-and-forth with O’Neil through commercials, her team is turning its focus on getting voters to the polls during the early voting period. Hartsfield said Republicans are banking on this being an off-election year. 

“I really think the Republican Party is banking on the fact that this is an off-election year and that Black people in particular are not going to come out to vote, they’re banking on that,” she continued. “Early voting is the key. This is a blue county, the numbers do not lie … if anybody that’s a Democrat loses in this county, it’s because we didn’t get out and vote.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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