A High Point, North Carolina real estate and self storage owner has emerged as a driving force in local politics and an upcoming local election, even though he is not running for office himself. Sanders Dallas III, of Winston-Salem, runs a real estate and self storage business in the same space that once housed his father’s furniture store. Recently, Dallas organized a group of businesspeople from the High Point business community to discuss ways to improve the local economy. While the group has no formal name, many members refer to it as “Comeback High Point,” after the book Comeback America: Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal Responsibility, by David Walker. (Walker is an author who works to raise awareness about the U.S. economy and current national debt.)
“Comeback High Point” has regular meetings, a member list of around 40 local businesspeople, an email list for keeping in touch, and sponsors speakers on topics related to how to improve High Point. The group is more than a discussion club, though – it also strongly encourages potential candidates to run against incumbents in local elections. Consequently, it is shaking up a political establishment that is not known for embracing change.
Since “Comeback High Point” began meeting, several people associated with the group have filed to run for office in High Point’s upcoming mayoral and city council election. In particular, the group has found candidates to run against Mayor Becky Smothers and City Council members Latimer Alexander and Chris Whitley. It is unusual for incumbents in local offices to face much competition in elections. Mayor Becky Smothers ran unopposed in High Point’s last mayoral election (in 2008). But this year two people are running against her, for what would be, if Smothers is reelected, her seventh term.
One of those candidates, Jay Wagner, is the candidate Sanders Dallas supports for mayor. He is running on a pro-business, pro-development platform, and says he wants to fill High Point’s downtown, which includes many empty old furniture stores, with thriving businesses. Wagner was careful to note that he is not against selling furniture, which is the industry High Point (the “Furniture Capital of the World”) is most known for.
“That’s the golden calf around here,” Wagner said in today’s Greensboro Rhinotimes. “They built this city. Anyone who comes into High Point and says he’s against furniture market is a fool. I’m not. But we have a downtown full of empty buildings.”
The other candidates who have been associated with “Comeback High Point” are A.B. Henley, running for Ward 4 councilmember; Will Armfeld, running for at-large councilmember; Jason Ewing, running for Ward 6 councilmember; and Geoff Shull, running for Ward 5 councilmember. According to the Rhinotimes, though, only Wagner and Armfeld admit to being members of “Comeback.” Shull and Henley both say they have been to some of the group’s meetings but are not members.
Dallas denies that he is the leader of “Comeback High Point.” “I would just say I’m a person who is interested in the future success of High Point,” he comments in today’s Greensboro Rhinotimes. But according to Paul Clark of the Rhinotimes, group members and critics alike point to Dallas as its organizer and leader.