Greensboro NC News-Record: Doug Clark: Race becomes an issue in High Point ward election

Greensboro NC News-Record: Doug Clark

Race becomes an issue in High Point ward election

There’s an undercurrent in High Point’s Ward 2 City Council race: Beat the white guy.

He’s Pride Grimm Jr., one of five candidates running for a seat from the east-central district. The other four are black, as is a fifth who filed but quit his campaign.

Ward 2 was drawn explicitly for the purpose of electing a black representative, and it always has. Ron Wilkins, the longtime councilman for Ward 2, is retiring this year

Let’s do the math: With six names on the Ward 2 ballot, someone theoretically can receive as little as 17 percent of the vote and win.

Consider again the voter registration numbers for Ward 2, by race: 65 percent black, 30 percent white, 5 percent other or no response.

Suppose voters follow race: Grimm gets 30 percent. Maybe the other candidates divide the black vote. In that scenario, Grimm wins. For the next two years, the white minority candidate represents one of High Point’s two black-majority wards.

Grimm says they’re “trying to play the race card,” adding: “If that’s all they have to stand on … I think the people of Ward 2 are definitely smart enough to see past that.”

Grimm says race doesn’t come up when he campaigns door-to-door whether the residents are white or black. He’s visited black churches and been greeted with “nothing but openness and acceptance.” He lives in a mixed-race neighborhood where people get along fine.

“I don’t see a bunch of racism in Ward 2 except from the people I’m running against,” Grimm told me, excluding Jerry Mingo.

I hope he’s overstating the situation, although racial politics can turn ugly.

I understand the background. Before the ward system, black candidates seldom stood a chance of winning a High Point City Council seat. Most other offices were out of reach, too. Forty years ago, or even less, black voting was suppressed.

But times are changing for the better, as the likely election of Barack Obama as president will show.

High Point has changed, too. It’s been nine years since Al Campbell, who is black, won an at-large City Council seat with well over 60 percent of the vote. He lost the 2003 mayor’s race to Becky Smothers, but Becky Smothers beats everyone.

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