DD Adams: The 3-Term North Carolina Councilwoman Who’s Aiming For Congress

Denise D. Adams is running for Congress in North Carolina’s 5th District

Councilwoman Denise Adams

In our current political climate, having a home-grown politician who is the granddaughter of farmers and has herself spent Summers working on North Carolina farms, is a great source of comfort and relief for much of the population of district five.

Denise D. Adams (DD) has been, and continues to be, a committed servant of her community. Having served as Council Member for the North Ward of Winston-Salem since 2009, DD Adams is very familiar with the issues concerning the constituents of District Five. DD serves on many committees and has led lots of initiatives to keep the city greener, while in turn providing jobs for the community.

DD proclaims the desire to impact the quality of life for all people is the fire that drives her. DD has served on the board of many local and state organizations including NC League of Municipalities, Arts Council, First Tee of the Triad, Forsyth County Community Garden Extension.

The Mayor of Winston-Salem, Allen Joines has endorsed DD Adams as his choice for Congress. He cites how many years he has watched her work and how strong her work ethic is.

DD Adam’s opponent, Republican incumbent Rep. Virginia Foxx is endorsed by the NRA. Foxx has voted for 93% of President Trump’s agenda, and is also a huge proponent for Betsy DeVos’s Educational ideology. Early voting for District Five has already started, and the primary date of the election is May 8th.

I sat down with DD Adams on April 10th to talk about her run for Congress and how she plans to take on the issues of our time.

The full video of our interview is below, along with a transcript which has been lightly edited for clarity.

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Shannon Bearman: Well, good morning and welcome.

Denise D. Adams: Good morning.

SB: We are here to talk with you about your run in District 5 in North Carolina against Virginia Foxx, you ready to get started?

DD: Ready, ready!

SB: Okay, uh, what inspired you to run for office?

DD: You know to be quite honest with you if you ask anybody that knows me they’ll tell you I’ve been planning this since I was probably in junior high.

I always knew I would run for Congress. It was a natural ascension, path for me. I ran for the state house district 67 then in 1990. I was in a runoff situation, but I didn’t call for it because the guy’s, you know, ideology wasn’t that different from mine. Plus, my momma told me if I wanted those extra 100 votes I would have worked harder. And I’ve run three times for the city council here in Winston, and I’ve been elected — I’m in my third term. So I want to do what I’ve done for the citizens of Winston-Salem as well as the citizens across the state, because I’m on a lot of boards and commissions and things, so it’s a natural Ascension. It’s like preparing for a job a promotion to go do more for the people that I care about.

SB: Right, what experience can you bring to Congress?

DD: Oh. I spent, well, my political career spans over 30 years maybe? The first campaign I ever worked on was Jesse Jackson’s back in 84 and, I’ve worked on everybody’s campaign ever since: like Governor Hunt, Roy Cooper, Elaine Marshall, Hillary Clinton Barack Obama, Debra Rawls, Kay Hagan, you name it, my mayor Allen Joines, and Martha Wood the first woman and only woman mayor of Winston-Salem — my list is extensive.

But I’ve also spent 40 years, almost 40 years, in manufacturing. I was a Teamster for 10 years. When I got out of college in 76 there was a big recession, so the jobs that people like me thought they were going to be able to have weren’t there. So my sisters worked in the brewery, Schlitz, and they got me a job, and I worked my way up to management. I was there for 18 and a half years. I was at Siecor, now Corning, for a year and a half, fiber optic cable. And then I went on to Johnson Controls as a supervisor in shipping, a process quality engineer, and a high-performance team manager.

What I bring to the table is, I know how to work well with others. You know when you’re little, your mama sends you off to school, Daddy, says go play well with others. I work well with others and I know how to get things done. That’s what I’ve spent my career doing. Looking at problems or issues and finding the root cause of solutions preventive and corrective actions and continuous improvement.

That’s a lot. [laughs]

SB: It’s all good. For the next 5–10 years or so, what do you think the nation’s top priorities should be?

DD: First of all is health care. If we don’t get the cost of health care and make it accessible for everybody, it’s just going to continue to spiral. You’re going to have spiraling health care costs, costs that nobody can pay for and you’re going to have a very unhealthy country. And that’s not good for any of us because people can’t have a quality of life if they’re sick; if they have a pre-existing condition. Children can’t go to school and learn. People won’t be able to go to work because they’ll be home sick. Our elderly people will not be able to have a quality of life and they’ll just be sick.

So what I see is that being the first priority for me is health care for all. Single Payer. Expand Medicare and Medicaid. Just like in business and manufacturing, again in my career as a process quality engineer, you get a group of people at the table, and you figure out how do you exceed your customer expectations, what’s the problem? You keep asking why and throwing things out until you figure out what we need to go work on to make it better. I really don’t think we’ve had those kinds of conversations and I’m ready to go have those kinds of conversations. I believe that, you know, America realizes that if people aren’t allowed to be healthy, talking about employment and quality of life and opportunities and education, is somewhat of a moot point.

Because you got to be healthy in order to even do all those other things. You got to be.

SB: Any other priorities?

DD: Education. I believe that. I know the federal government doesn’t have that big of a role in education and what role they do have, they kind of, send it down to states, the capital, the legislature, and they delve out whatever the funding is to different school systems. We have, unlike a company or business I understand that everybody learns differently, but we need to make sure Pre-K is free as well. People that are working poor, working parents, single, middle-class, whatever that drain on whatever little income they have, to try to ensure that their children are ready for school, is something that they can no longer bear. Because it’s becoming so expensive. I believe that, again, if we allow every child to have pre-K that we will see an astronomical growth in our country so far as people being educated, knowledgeable — being able to go and pursue the careers and quality of life that they want.

I believe that community colleges, vocational schools, should be free because the states, the taxpayers, we are already paying for it. North Carolina was the first state to have a community college system. We had the best, still do. But everybody’s not going to go to a four-year college. Everybody should have choices, again, to be able to pursue a quality of life and something that will provide opportunities and resources for their families.

I believe that public and private universities, not private, public universities should have a very minimal cost to attend. If you pass all of the requirements to get in then you shouldn’t have to worry about these, you know, tremendous amounts of cash that you’ve got to come up with, which we all know that grants and scholarships are very hard to come by. And if you’re poor, you’re not likely to get any of that. So I’d like to see that happen: free pre-k, free community college, vocational schools, and minimal costs of public colleges and institutions.

SB: What components of the criminal justice system do you think need to be reformed?

DD: What part of it doesn’t [laughs]. I mean, I’m just being real. I mean, again, what we’ve done in America. We were the blueprint for all of the countries of democracy. You know, we separated ourselves from Britain and England and the Crown. We left and came over here. We created the 13 states and the United States and the Constitution and all these great institutions.

But the one thing we somehow failed to believe, that everything occasionally needs to be updated. Everything occasionally needs to be reviewed to see if it still applies to where we are now. Every business and Company in the world does that. Every institution, whether universities, education, government we do that. But our judicial system and reform, you know, we continue to lock up the poor, and the least of us, and minorities.

We continue to incarcerate people who may have mental health issues that we don’t want to pay or find the funding of health care to help address those. We allow people to be incarcerated waiting just to get a court date. Because maybe they didn’t do anything, but our judicial system keeps them there until they finally just give up, and they say okay, I’ll take the plea.

We have a lot of minorities, African-Americans incarcerated for marijuana or cannabis, which I believe needs to be decriminalized and it needs to be legal. There are economic opportunities that everybody can benefit from, not just the 20-something states that made it medical and the others that made it available for recreational use, but there are medicinal purposes for people that are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and pain — whether older people, cancer people, and all kinds of things.

But I believe with the judicial system comes reform as to how we do policing. I think we need to bring our public safety officials and others to the table and let them also hear from us as to what they can do, what they think they can do, better and what we can provide them in order to be able to do their jobs better.

Right now, we are suffering in America with — even here in my city, we are having a hard time placing people as public safety, police. It’s all over the country because right now they feel like they’re under attack. And it’s because of the training again that they’ve been through, that we don’t update it according to the world that we live in. We continue to educate our children, same way in education. What I was taught way back, it’s not the way you teach kids now. So I think one of the issues is we…like I was an Auditor compliance person for Johnson Controls. Part of my responsibility was to constantly review policies, procedures, process charts to see if they were still applicable to what we were trying to do and I think we need people in Congress to be able to do that as well.

SB: If elected, how would you ensure that health care is accessible to all your constituents?

DD: Well right now in the 5th district, we don’t even have urgent care or hospitals in every county. People have to drive 70-80 miles to get health care at a hospital or urgent care facility. I would work again with the people like here in the district, the hospitals — we have two major hospital providers — because I’ve worked with them in getting other things done here in the city.

I believe, again, the thing that we’re missing is we are not willing to have those conversations, those tough conversations, and it’s a public-private partnership of how I can make this a win-win for you as well. I plan to have those conversations with the hospital providers and medical insurance providers in the 5th district or the state.

And the first priority of the people of the 5th are telling me is they want access to health care. So I’m going to work to try to provide those urgent care facilities in those areas that don’t have anything. And, again, I’m going to be a congressional woman that tries to work with the state. Hopefully, we’re going to flip our state house, and we’re going to expand Medicaid and I’m going to do whatever I need to do in the federal- level to ensure that that happens for every American.

Like I tell people: the ACA was a stepping stone to get us where we should have been 20-30 years ago. Was it perfect? No. But did we need it now? Yes, in order to get us to have those conversations and to put forth something that can at least give people an opportunity. It’s like a product launch, again, manufacturing. I got to see if this works in its present state. We saw there were issues but that doesn’t mean we can’t fix the issues because now we know what’s broken, what we can fix, what we can make better, and I believe that I can do that in DC.

SB: During your career, you have worked to raise wages for your public servants. How do you plan on doing that, if elected, for your constituents?

DD: Well, like I tell people, I was a Teamster back in the 70s, and I was making great wages then as an hourly employee running a machine, a filling machine. And I believe one of the things we’re going to have to do; I know a lot of people in my state and others, don’t like unions. Well, make no mistake: It was the unions that brought the middle-class to the table. It was the unions that caused corporate America and private industry to have to raise their salaries and wages to compete with what they were doing.

And I believe we’re going to have to bring them back to the table, even though they’ve been a little MIA well, you know, they had to have a little time out too in some areas. But I think all of them, as well as people like me, are ready to bring them back. I believe that right here in Winston-Salem, I asked for a disparity study to see where our salary gaps were and where we were not hitting the minimums, mediums, max.

We got a consultant; we got it. I knew it wasn’t going to be good. I think all of us knew it wasn’t gonna be good. Because what companies and municipalities and others have been doing is they balance their budgets off the backs of the working people. Not necessarily the salary management, it’s the working people, okay. So we got the consultant, they put us on a performance improvement plan — that’s basically what it was. And right now we’re in the middle of raising the salaries and getting the 15 dollars by 2021. I know that a lot of people want this to happen overnight — I’m just gonna be honest, that’s not going to happen like that.

You got people that have been working in jobs, let’s say somebody came in and it took them five years to get the $15. They went and got some trainings, some re-certifications, education — and they are at $15 dollars. Well, then someone comes in, they just been here a year, and they’re supposed to get the $15. I’m not saying they don’t deserve it; it’s just that you got to look at the compression, the process, steps, hat have to happen so that you don’t have a workforce that’s angry. Because you started paying the people who hadn’t been there committed to the cause, did all of their body of work to get their salaries up. So, you have to do it in progressive steps. Again, process improvement, continuous improvement, corrective, preventive action.

So, that’s what we’re working on in Winston. We’re on the budget now like most municipalities. And we’re now at the point where we got to pay the last group. We had to do it in phases. We’re going to do the last group, or others, to bring them up and get them within the $13 range so we can move on to getting them to 14 and then to 15. And I’m willing to go up in DC. I’m willing to work with anybody to get us to $15. But I also recognize that when you talk about small businesses, they can’t go to $15. We’re gonna have to help them with some incentives, some resources, some public-private partnerships to get them where they need to be. Because make no mistake: This country is still built on the backs of small business and if we’re going to tell them we want you to get the $15 we got to have them on a pathway to success to get there. Meaning, if we do that, their business will grow, and they’ll hire more local people in their communities and be sustainable.

SB: So if you were elected, what would be the first actions you would take for your constituents?

DD: Health care [laughs]. Health. You know, we got an opioid situation. We got a, in my district, an aging constituency. We got a lot of children that have issues that, because of poor economic conditions. It would be health care. I just believe that health care is the linchpin to a quality of life. How can I enjoy my quality of life if I’m not healthy, you know?

SB: Is there any thought that you have about protecting our nation better with gun legislation?

DD: I think that we are all right now at a situation, like I tell people, we’ve had events and tragedies for a very long time. But I think we were at a tipping point, America. And I believe that it did, and it will, take our young people, our youth, to get us to have these tough conversations that we as adults have failed to do for them.

I’m all in. I believe that we need to close the gun show loopholes. I believe that we need to do away with the bump stocks and the high-capacity magazines. I believe that, you know, just like I drive my car and I have to get my license and I have to take drivers ed before I can even get the license, get the permit before the license. I have to take a test. I have to register my vehicle. I have to have insurance. I have to keep that insurance paid. Every year I have to go in and pay my property taxes on the vehicle — register it. Why wouldn’t I do the same for a gun? I have no problem with that.

I have no problem with making sure that our children are safe and others in public spaces. Making sure that we understand that you just can’t, again, this goes back to health care. You can’t lock up or discriminate against people who have mental health issues. Because maybe they didn’t get the help that they needed because it wasn’t there. I believe that we need to look at it just like we did with 911. If you see anything, say something — see something, say something. We got to get that mindset when it comes to our safety as Americans. We gotta educate people, maybe a 1–2–3 assessment of how you know, something is not right, it feels different. Maybe I need to call somebody. We need to educate people so that people don’t get caught up in wanting their neighbors to be locked up because they mad at ‘em for some reason. It’s got to be a way we do this, that’s not harassment, that works for all of us.

I know it’s going to take time, but we’re at a point right now where we can do this by creating some enforceable laws, and some resources, and education, and development. And one of the things I keep hearing is about supporting reasonable limits of what people can’t just carry guns in public spaces. You know? Doing away with the AR-15s and things like that. And again, like everybody says, promoting gun safety just like we do automobile safety and other things that we do.

SB: That concludes the questions that I have for you. I want to know if there’s anything you’d like to add.

DD: Well, I want people to understand that voting is only a piece of our democracy. There are pieces that go with it that if we don’t engage in all of it, eventually we see a breakdown of the system. Again, that’s what I did for Johnson Controls. I audited their quality systems; whether it was payroll, engineering, human resources, all of it.

Like for instance: people will vote for the presidency. Then they don’t go to midterm elections because they don’t understand, and I’m gonna give them that benefit of the doubt that they don’t understand that midterm elections are just as important, if not more important than that election. Midterm elections help determine the checks and balances of our democracy. The Census: right now the Census is a year and a half away, most people don’t even know it, and already folks are trying to put things in the system that will keep people from being counted — just like voter suppression keeps people from voting.

I want people to understand that everything about your life is political, has to do with politics. And I need you to participate in the census. I need everybody to be counted. If the government sends that survey form to your house, if they call you on the phone, please answer the census — we count it. Because your education institutions, government, judicial institutions, how we craft laws and regulations your representatives to Congress the Statehouse. Even your City Council and your city council members — my districts are drawn based on the population counts of the Census. So I want everybody to go vote because your vote is your voice, and I also want you to be counted. That’s what I want people to know.

SB: Well, thank you so much for taking the time again to talk with us, it was a pleasure.

DD: Thank you so much for everything that you do in trying to ensure that everybody is engaged in some format or other. Love it!

SB: And best of luck to you out on that candidate trail, too.

DD: Yes, dear we got uh, I think twenty eight, twenty seven more days ago, so let’s go get this!

SB: All right take good care of yourself.

DD: I will bye

Interview // Elections / Interview / North Carolina / Politics