In a different time and place, critics of Greensboro politics would often grumble — legitimately — that the city was being run by a group of middle-aged white guys in a smoky back room.
Not anymore. Last week, voters elected eight women and one man as their new City Council.
Specifically, they elected five white women, three black women and one black male. Which is to say, not a single white male. For the first time. Ever.
Among the 38 candidates who filed last summer, 22 were male. As of Nov. 7, the last man standing was District 3 Councilman Justin Outling, the council’s youngest member who at age 34 won re-election to his second full term and may very well be mayor one day. If he settles for that. For now, the mayor also is a she. Nancy Vaughan handily won her third term, meaning the state’s three largest cities — Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro — all elected women as their mayors.
Voters throughout the city also elected the first openly gay council member. Interactive Resource Center Executive Director Michelle Kennedy edged at-large incumbent Mike Barber. Kennedy said in a pre-election interview that she didn’t believe the council needed “clear-cutting” but that it could benefit from more diversity. “Greensboro is not working well for everybody,” she said of the city’s majority nonwhite population. “It needs to come to grips with that.”
Meanwhile, in District 5, challenger Tammi Thurm ousted Tony Wilkins, the lone Republican on the nonpartisan board and the council’s most conservative member.
I’m anxious to see how a female-dominated board governs. If empirical data are any indication, they’ll be an improvement. “According to decades of data from around the world,” The New York Times reported in a 2016 story, “women govern differently than men do in some important ways. They tend to be more collaborative and bipartisan.”
A study by the American Journal of Political Science also found that female members of in Congress tend to sponsor and co-sponsor more bills than their male counterparts — and to bring 9 percent more in federal funding to their home districts. A variety of studies, the Times notes, “have found the biggest gender differences appear during behind-the-scenes work” — “that women interrupt less (but are interrupted more), pay closer attention to other people’s nonverbal cues and use a more democratic leadership style compared with men’s more autocratic style. The result is that women build coalitions and reach consensus more quickly ... .”
“Women share their power more; men guard their power,” Michael A. Genovese, director of the Institute for Leadership Studies at Loyola Marymount University, told the Times.
So maybe in this politically polarized climate, women leaders are a part of the cure for what ails us. Even so, some fear that the council may take a hard left turn away from businesses. I don’t know about that.
First, to broad-brush this council as oblivious to the needs of business is to ignore who sits on it. For instance, Nancy Hoffmann is a retired corporate recruiter and a real estate investor who, if anything, has been criticized for her pro-business leanings. The same has been said of Outling, who is a corporate attorney. And don’t forget, Marikay Abuzuaiter was a longtime restaurateur, and newcomer Thurm has extensive business experience. Finally, most newly elected council members seem to recognize the power of jobs to solve all kinds of problems.
A local developer, Marty Kotis, said last week that he views the new council with an open mind.
“I don’t feel any less represented as a white male because there’s not a white male on the council,” Kotis said. What concerns him more than gender, Kotis said, is where each council member stands on the issues.
Kotis added that he believes Wilkins may have been hurt by his own party. By trying to make this nonpartisan race more partisan, Kotis said, the Guilford County Republican Party may have cost Wilkins votes among Democrats in his district.
“It was not a wise move,” Kotis said.
As for whether women are more collaborative than men, that perception may have gotten more of them elected, Kotis said.
“Maybe there is a belief that women are more personable and less likely to go on Twitter.”