January 24, 2022 6:00am

January Power Poll Results

Community priorities, crime and pandemic panaceas

Photo of Mary Giunca
Winston-Salem, NC Correspondent

Thank you to the few, the brave and the proud, who gave of their time against the backdrop of a three-day holiday weekend, a bad ice storm and the January blahs to participate in this new venture in civic engagement.

We hope this will be the beginning of fruitful discussions around topics that are vital to Winston-Salem’s future. We also hope to be able to grow the database in the coming months. Please let me know of people you recommend adding to the database. I’ll need their name, position and email address for our database. Their responses will remain anonymous.

The first question about what should be the community’s top priority in 2022 priorities was an attempt to gauge which topics we might want to look at in more detail over the coming months.

There was a fairly broad split across the various options. Education topped the list with 27% choosing that as a priority, but affordable housing and voting rights/redistricting were not far behind at 23%. Economic mobility and crime reduction both garnered 14% of the votes. No one chose “I don’t know.”
This is a greater point spread than in some of the Power Poll cities that have asked similar questions as we start the new year. There's no strong consensus. I wonder if that’s because people here feel there are a lot of things that need attention.

I also wonder if the continued headlines about violence in the schools, combined with the recent embarrassing $16 million “accounting error” that resulted in teachers getting far less than the raises they were promised, pushed education to the top of many people’s minds.

John Larson, council member in the South Ward, said, “Good job creation and private home ownership are essential elements for a sustained vibrant economy and transferable wealth. Also a high quality of cultural life in this “City of Arts and Innovation” is essential for recruiting the kind of businesses that will help us achieve the above goals.”

If respondents were all over the place about the city’s top priorities, there was little equivocating when we asked what needs to be done about the city/county’s record high of 50 murders in 2021, including the fatal shooting in September of a Mount Tabor High School student that put us in the national spotlight.

A whopping 82% of you said we need to work on systemic factors. Admittedly, that’s a big category and had some of the individual factors been split off, we might have had a different spread.

However, since the Raj Chetty Harvard study on economic mobility in 2015 that placed Winston-Salem third from the bottom (above two Indian reservations in South Dakota) for economic mobility, many of the discussions in the city seem to acknowledge that the cluster of poverty, unemployment and lack of good jobs and affordable housing need to be examined as a whole.

Rep. Evelyn Terry (D-District 17) offered this comment about the snarl we face: “Our collective narrative needs shifting. We are still deeply divided as we continue to politely hustle around ensuring that things don’t explode.

“It’s challenging to coordinate compound inequality when you’re in denial about causes of its persistence.”

Rounding out the answers–14% want to hire more officers and offer them better pay. District Attorney Jim O’Neill has said in interviews that in his 25 years of prosecuting crime, he’s never seen such a dramatic reduction in officers.

The Winston-Salem Police Department currently has 436 sworn officers and the city has allocated money in its 2021-22 budget for 528 officers, said Kira Boyd the WSPD’s spokeswoman. In 2021, 69 officers left the WSPD, Boyd said.

Five percent of respondents are in favor of new law enforcement/community initiatives. The mayor has talked about CURE (Communities United for Revitalization and Engagement), which received $200,000 in the city’s fiscal year 2022 budget. CURE is an alliance of neighborhood association representatives and community stakeholders.

No one wanted to defund the police, reduce the number of guns or felt they didn’t know what to do.

Finally, I asked what forms of stress relief you’re relying on as omicron surges.

Almost a third of you, 32%, are exercising. Escapist reading and hobbies are occupying another 27%. Time spent in nature is a favorite with 14%. The remaining options: staycations, other and “I’m not worried/following my usual routine” were evenly divided at 9% each.

If the snowstorm that’s on its way tonight really does turn into something, I’ll certainly be taking a break from exercise or spending time in nature. Escapist reading of costume books is my eccentric pleasure these days. If you know what a fanchon, pelisse or redingote is, let me know and let’s form a reading club!

This is our first Power Poll in Winston-Salem, and it's still a relatively new venture across the country, but as you probably know, Winston-Salem had the country's first Arts Council and planning department, so we're not afraid to try new things. If you’d like to share thoughts, please post them in the discussion. If you have ideas for future topics, email me.

Until February, may you all stay safe, healthy and warm.

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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