“There comes a time when opportunity connects with preparation. I feel that time for me is now.”
ON CUSP OF ELECTION, BURTON FEELS
TIME IS NOW TO REVIVE COMMUNITY
By Laurie D. Willis
Throughout certain areas of Winston-Salem, it’s been well-known for years that Dr. Tony Lewis L. Burton, III may one day run for political office.
One day has arrived.
Burton, who’s been dubbed the “dean of daycares” for the child-care facilities he operates under the Northwest Child Development Center, has thrown his hat into the ring for a seat on the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners. If elected, he’ll occupy one of two seats representing District A. Commissioners serve four-year staggered terms.
“I’ve always had a small desire to serve in public office,” Burton says. “However, it wasn’t until recently that I fully knew my time to serve would be now. I feel that the community is requiring, requesting and wanting change while building on the rich history (and) foundation that has been created within District A. There comes a time when opportunity connects with preparation. I feel that time for me is now.”
Burton, a native of Highland Springs, Va., has lived in Winston-Salem since 1989 after moving to the Twin City at the insistence of his mother and sister. His love for Winston-Salem has manifested itself in the “Mudpies” centers he operates and in the volunteer work he’s done with at-risk youth.
Before becoming chief executive officer of “Mudpies,” Burton enjoyed a career in the financial industry that netted a good salary and afforded him the ability to network among movers and shakers. Problem was, he says, the work wasn’t rewarding.
‘walk the walk’
If Burton gets elected to serve District A, he’ll have the chance to make a difference in the lives of many. His campaign manager, Kellie P. Easton, is working tirelessly to ensure the district’s residents know he has their best interests at heart.
“When we look at what’s at stake in areas in northeast Winston, Tony is the most qualified candidate on the ballot,” Easton says. “The area is in need of major development, the children and people are in need of education, training and economic-development opportunities, and the community in so many ways is in need of restoration. I know that only Tony Burton has the experience, passion, character and drive to not simply do this job, but to do it well.”
Easton, brand and business development strategist for Easton Strategy Group, says Burton’s biggest strength is his authenticity.
“People are tired of hearing the talk. They’re ready to see someone walk the walk,” Easton says. “Authenticity is key. I’m going to make sure everyone understands that #onlyTony is the real deal.”
Dr. Virginia Newell, who served on the Winston-Salem Board of Aldermen (now the Winston-Salem City Council) for 16 years, says she thinks Burton has what it takes to get elected to the board of commissioners – and to do a good job.
“When I talked to him, I was just blown away because he has similar thoughts as I have,” Newell says. “One thing I really like is that if he gets elected, he’s going to resurrect the Malloy/Jordan Library in our neighborhood.”
Newell says because of Burton’s emphasis on education, he, more so than other candidates, aligns closely with what she deems important.
“He knows you’ve got to get kids off the streets and get the parents involved,” she says. “The police can’t do it all. The things he told me he wants to do if elected … that’s what we need.”
‘restore our people’
During his official campaign kickoff last month at West End Coffee House in Winston-Salem, Burton unveiled his platform to a room full of supporters.
“I’m running because I know I’m here for one reason – to do the things that are necessary to make our students progressively equal,” Burton says “I feel that’s why God left me here, because he could have taken me a long time ago.”
Once back in 2004, doctors told Burton’s mother he might not live until the end of the week. It’s been well documented over time that Burton, a former math teacher and football coach, has shed more than 400 pounds.
“I’m here asking for your support,” Burton told those assembled at the coffee shop. “We want to improve our community, restore our people, revive our economy and re-energize Forsyth County.”
During his stump speech, he encouraged everyone to vote the May 8 primary election and said his work speaks for itself. Among those present was Ben Henderson, a former principal who years ago hired Burton to teach at Winston-Salem’s Petree Middle School, an alternative school for children in grades sixth through eighth.
“He was an excellent teacher and a great help to me in running the program,” Henderson recalls. “These were kids who came from other middle schools where they’d had trouble. We structured Petree to meet their needs and to help them achieve success.”
Burton taught at the school for several years before moving on; however, he and Henderson kept in touch.
“Over the years I’ve worked with Tony on so many projects that he created,” Henderson says. “He’s just an excellent people person.”
Henderson says he supports Burton because he thinks he’d make an outstanding commissioner.
“He’s really excellent with children, which led to him getting the job as CEO of Mudpies,” Henderson says. “I think he’s an amazing guy.”
WOULD LEAVE MUDPIES
Although Burton has put his heart and soul into Mudpies, he says he’d definitely step down as CEO if elected.
“Everything I take on, I take on with passion,” Burton says. “Serving the people of District A would, without a doubt, become my primary focus.”
Although his wife, Brittani, and his children are his biggest supporters, Burton says he’s also blessed to have solid, positive friendships with some talented, motivated and community oriented individuals who accept him as he is.
Dr. Guy Arcuri, an education consultant who taught Burton at Winston-Salem State University, says he’s not surprised his former student is running for office.
“From at-risk youth he moved his passion to B-K children (birth to kindergarten) and took that bull by the proverbial horns, too,” Arcuri says. “He sees a need, he connects with passion, forms plans, and executes them.”
Arcuri says he thinks Burton would make a good county commissioner.
“Tony welcomes good, well-intentioned input to make his decisions and is capable of carrying out his plans,” he says.
‘the real deal’
Of course, should Burton get elected, Arcuri says he’ll face some challenges.
“Since our community, like all humans, is as diverse and complicated as our issues, the biggest challenge to any political position, in my opinion, is to know which issues to address…” Arcuri says, adding he thinks Burton is savvy enough to know which battles to fight.
“Tony is best when collaborating with a group of people with a similar mission,” Arcuri says. “I’ve seen him at work as a father, husband, executive professional, community leader and friend. He’s the real deal.”
No matter how charismatic Burton may be, Easton knows mounting a successful campaign will require help. To that end, she plans to have Burton’s wife and adult children do their part for his campaign.
“Brittani is the quintessential supportive wife and dedicated mother,” Easton says. “I absolutely plan to have her stump for Tony. So much can be said about a man based upon the woman he marries, and Brittani is a good example of Tony’s strength and collaborative spirit.”
Although he’s shaking hands, making speeches and passing out campaign flyers, Burton acknowledges running for office hasn’t been quite what he expected.
“Understanding the flow of funds, the dynamics of policy and the challenges of advocacy are all in my wheelhouse,” Burton says. “And although I have, in fact, spent quite some time speaking with commissioners and other elected officials to get a sound understanding of what it’s like to run for office, I must admit running for office is not for the faint at heart. Nonetheless, this is a challenge I’m honored to take on.”
So, given that he’s pondered running for office for a while, why now?
“The last thirty years have prepared me for representing the people of District A through the jobs, educational training and volunteer work that I’ve done,” Burton says. “I’ve also been at many political and corporate tables negotiating on behalf of our youth. I’m entering this race because I feel that my work, experience and education give me an advantage to bring new, creative and innovative ideas to the board on behalf of my community.”