Last Friday was the filing deadline for Winston-Salem’s 2013 municipal elections and with the final primary slate set things are heating up in Winton-Salem’s South Ward. Incumbent Molly Leight finds herself challenged by community activist and organizer Caroyln Highsmith in the Democratic primary with the winner of that contest going on to face Republican Nathan Jones in the general election.
Both Highsmith and Jones have previously been involved in write-in campaigns in 2009 and Jones made a failed bid for State Senate in 2010. Highsmith was also recently involved with the Minister’s conference of Winston-Salem & Vicinity’s efforts to educated Forsyth County homeowners on the 2013 property tax devaluations which sent ripples of fear and concern throughout Winston-Salem, including in the South Ward. “I have been on the ground with the re-appraisal issue.” Highsmith told CCD. “I can be a new voice and leadership for the South Ward. I am on the ground with the people every day. There are simply some special interest with too much power on the City Council.”
The challenger has a Master’s in History from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a Master’s in nursing from UNC Chapel Hill. Highsmith worked at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center for 20 years before she “semi-retired” in 2009 to act as a caregiver to her mother. She is currently the President of the Konoak Hills Community Organization and has worked closely with the South Winston-Salem Coalition on issues ranging from public safety (working directly with the WSPD) and she told CCD that she simply wants to continue the community work she is already doing, but on a higher level. “If you had told me in 2007 I’d be here today I’d say you were crazy.” Highsmith said laughing.
Carolyn Highsmith is facing off in the September 10th primary against Molly Leight who has represented the South Ward on City council since 2005. “As I have ever been.” Leight told CCD, “I am pledged to protect the neighborhoods of the South ward. Not only public safety with the police force and the fire department, but also protect them from incursions like inappropriate zoning.”
Mrs. Leight is a graduate of Salem College and she retired from the Baptist Hospital Bowman Gray School of Medicine. She is a member and past president of the Winston-Salem Neighborhood Alliance. Leight was a former board member with Rebuilding Together of Forsyth County and has been the chairperson of the Old Salem Landscape Restoration Committee. She has served on the board of the Gateway YWCA and sits as a board member with the New Winston Museum. Councilwoman Leight is also an ex-officio with the Old Salem Board of Trustees. In initial discussions about what she wanted to stress in her 2013 platform, Councilmember Leight told CCD that the areas of Peter’s Creek Parkway that are between Academy and downtown are of special concern for her as an area in dire need of redevelopment. “We need to create more multi-purpose areas closer to the city.” She said. “This has to be done before the business 40 shutdown.” Leight suggested that that part of Peter’s Creek be turned into something more resembling a boulevard in hopes to better control traffic and encourage positive economic development.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face off against 40 year old Nathan Jones. “It is not just in the South Ward.” Jones said, “But throughout City government, but the has been years of the same philosophy followed by failure. They think money fixes everything.” Jones is a consultant who advises companies about their employee benefits programs. He grew up in Davidson county, but has lived in Winston-Salem for most of his adult life having done both his undergraduate and graduate work at Wake Forest University including an MBA. He and his wife Monica have three boys and have been involved in their community. Mr. Jones’ main focus in the current election is what he sees as City mismanagement and waste. “”I want to let Winston-Salem be what Winston-Salem can be.” he said. “We are following way behind and have been squandering opportunities for the last decade.”
The South Ward has long been a lock with Democratic candidates, but changing demographics and the growth of suburban neighborhoods in what were once rural parts of the ward has changed the field some what. Both Highsmith and Leight are well liked by Democrats, but that primary could come down to turnout. While Leight has many of the active, established upper middle-class Democrats as allies. Highsmith is closer to street level and direct community activism. She has been involved in a hands on way with issues in the South Ward far away from downtown where the difficulties and challenges are more pronounced than closer in to downtown. The primary will hinge on voter turnout and September 10h will provide a clear picture of exactly how this contest will play out.