GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Since 2013, Nancy Vaughan has been the face of Greensboro, its mayor through the onslaughts of economic swings, political attacks and ultimately a pandemic.

But now a man who served the past seven of those years beside her wants her job.

Justin Outling, the representative of District 3 on the Greensboro City Council since 2015, will face Vaughan on July 26 to see who will run the city at least until 2025. Early voting starts July 7, and this race could be a bit closer than when Vaughan won by about a 2-to-1 margin in 2017.

Nancy Vaughan
Justin Outling (Courtesy of Vote Outling)
Justin Outling (Courtesy of Vote Outling)

This election was supposed to be staged last November, but delayed counts from the 2020 U.S. census – which are required to set boundaries in the city’s five districts – disrupted that schedule. Council voted to hold elections for all seats on the primary date and in July.  Whoever wins will serve an abbreviated term, until November 2025.

But the delay put the city elections into a cycle that included a U.S. Senate seat along with congressional, legislative and state court races, which spiked voter participation, at least in the primary.

In a 4-person race on May 17, when about 20.45% of registered voters turned out, and those 76,236 were more than twice as many as the roughly 29,000 who voted in the 2017 city election.

Vaughan received 44.98% of the vote, which would appear a sizeable advantage over Outling’s 35.24%, but remember that each voter chose two candidates. The actual difference in ballots cast was just more than 3,900.

About the issues

Because they served together, Vaughan and Outling talk about some of the same issues when asked about their priorities. Both support the five bonds that are on the ballot with them.

Both mention public housing – Greensboro has more than 4,000 families in need of affordable housing, a figure that may nearly triple – and both mention making the city safer. The crime and murder rates in Greensboro have declined in recent years, data collected by the police department show, but they remain above national averages.

Outling said he wants to “close the gaps between Greensboro and its peer cities in North Carolina and the opportunity gap which exists between East and West Greensboro” … “making Greensboro livable for all by increasing the availability of affordable housing, improving public transportation and [to] keep tax rates stable.”

Vaughan said she wants to focus on “affordable housing” and the bond she proposed, to “ensure that our recent economic development announcements will benefit the people of Greensboro … with equitable economic growth throughout our city” and that residents “deserve to live in an environment free of fear.”

Their records

Vaughan has been mayor since 2013, but she first was elected to the City Council in 1997. After a 2-term break, she served again in 2009 before running for mayor. A former student at Fairfield University in Connecticut, she has worked in a variety of business and nonprofit roles.

Outling was appointed in 2015 to serve in District 3 after Zack Matheny’s resigned from the council. He was elected that fall to what was then a 2-year term and then again in 2017. A graduate of UNC-Greensboro and Duke University law school, he is a partner at the Brooks Pierce law firm.

He joined the council right about the time a federal judge threw out an effort in the General Assembly, led by former council member Trudy Wade, to remake the council into partisan districts that, the judge said, were designed to elect Republicans in what is a heavily Democratic city.

The City Council not long after voted to change terms from 2 years to 4 years, a step that was directed at that attempt.

Outling says he should get the job because he has been “upfront in describing my vision” and that he would “keep my word in carrying them out.”

Vaughan points to her “proven track record.” “I have the vision, ability and the relationships to keep us moving in the right direction.”

Questions and answers

WGHP reached out to Outling and Vaughan with five identical questions. Here are their responses, lightly edited, presented in alphabetical order.

Please reiterate your priorities for the city should you be elected.

JUSTIN OUTLING: In broad terms, my intention is to close the gaps between Greensboro and its peer cities in North Carolina and the opportunity gap which exists between East and West Greensboro. My specific priorities would include:

  • Building public and private partnerships (especially with our great colleges and universities) to bring better-paying jobs inside the city limits of Greensboro.
  • Seriously addressing reductions in violent crime in terms of giving the Police Department the staffing and tools it needs, addressing the root causes of crime, and building trust between communities and law enforcement.  
  • Making Greensboro more livable for all by increasing the availability of affordable housing, improving public transportation, and keeping tax rates stable to ensure the city is an affordable place to live for all.

NANCY VAUGHAN: Here are my priorities:

  • Affordable housing – I proposed the bond referendum that will be on the July 26th ballot.  In order to implement our 10-year housing plan, we need to pass this bond.  Our plan has four priorities: provide affordable rental homes, reinvest in our neighborhoods, provide access to homeownership and provide permanent supportive housing.  This bond also focuses on people making 60% or less than the average median income.  This will help with homelessness and eviction diversion.
  • Workforce Development – I will ensure that our recent economic development announcements will benefit the people of Greensboro.  We will provide the skills training necessary for our residents to successfully compete for new well-paying jobs. We will see equitable economic growth throughout our city, especially in underserved and historically under-resourced areas. 
  • Public Safety – People across our city deserve to live in an environment free of fear.  I have worked closely with the Greensboro Police Department and community groups to build relationships and trust. It is important to make sure that GPD has the tools they need and it is just as important to invest more in areas that are hardest hit by crime.

If you magically could change one thing about Greensboro, what would it be?

OUTLING: I would like to see a dramatic increase in the number of citizens who vote and participate in the processes of government. When the public doesn’t turn out to vote or follow what is happening in municipal government, it gives entrenched politicians the ability to conduct the people’s business with less transparency and accountability.

VAUGHAN: If I could magically change one thing it would be to make Greensboro the safest city in America

Why should voters support the bond referendum you placed on the ballot?

OUTLING: Greensboro has long-term needs in affordable housing, public safety, transportation and recreation which can best be met by giving the city the ability to borrow for projects which give us long-term benefits.  These projects meet needs in those areas and now it is for the public to decide whether to commit the city to this level of borrowing.

VAUGHAN: Yes, voters should support the bond package. Each item was well thought out and necessary.  Affordable housing is my priority, but I will be supporting the other bonds.  The Parks & Rec bond, which is for two special projects (the Greensboro Science Center and the proposed Windsor-Chavis-Nocho community center), will continue to build upon projects that are uniquely Greensboro.  The Science Center is a tourist destination, bringing money into our city, and continues to embody what a successful public/private partnership should be.  The police, fire and transportation bonds will help address critical needs.

In one sentence, why should voters choose you?

OUTLING: Because I have been upfront in describing my vision and plans at voteoutling.com and will keep my word in carrying them out.

VAUGHAN: The voters should choose me because I have a proven track record of success, and I have the vision, ability and the relationships to keep us moving in the right direction.