George Hartzman has made it his business to make politicians uncomfortable.
Regular government-television viewers know him for his aggressive speeches before the City Council and his accusations that local elected leaders have been bought by business interests.
His supporters think he’s a hero for poking the establishment.
...Hartzman has carved a niche for himself as a government watchdog.
...Hartzman, 46, is a conservative when it comes to city spending, but he is more liberal on social issues...
...A married father of two who lives in an 1,800-square-foot home in the Lake Jeanette area, Hartzman entered the local political scene four years ago as a blogger.
He was fired from his job at Wells Fargo last year after publicly accusing the company of misleading customers about fees, insider trading and securities fraud.
He now teaches financial ethics courses through his continuing education company and runs his own investment advisory firm.
He wrote self-published books of meandering musings, , [which are used in CPA and attorney ethics classes], some of which were written from his backyard hot tub. (“Think: What to do Now,” by George Hartzman. Chapter 4: “There are no straight lines. Stability destabilizes. Non-random events cause random effects.”)
He drives a Jeep with a race car engine and is a regular at the Bench Tavern on Lawndale Drive.
Despite his background in finance, Hartzman is not the business-suit type.
His regular uniform: a pair of khakis, an oversized, untucked button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow.
He says he quit wearing ties when he stopped stealing for a living.
He is never without his [flip flops], which he’ll often take off while teaching a class or speaking before a group.
His feet tend to cramp when he stands for too long.
Rooting out city graft has become his hobby.
...He researches the connections between people doing business with the city and council members.
At a typical council meeting, he may speak a half-dozen times on different items, flashing lists of campaign contributors for the TV audience.
His overarching complaint — that the city’s politicians are far too cozy with the real estate development community and certain members of the Greensboro elite — is a common one that will appeal to some voters.
...His accusations anger council members, who argue that the connections between their campaign contributors and their votes on city business are incidental.
“I can run the city better than them, and I am proving it at every meeting,” Hartzman said.
His delivery — rapid-fire points occasionally punctuated by a roar of laughter — sometimes leaves the audience giggling or applauding.
He loves it.
“I’m having a blast,” he says. “I am telling the truth. I am doing the right thing. I am trying to fix something everyone knows is broken.”
But his approach doesn’t always win him friends.
About 75 residents sat in a circle in the Peeler Recreation Center gym on a night in August, trying to work out their differences about a city-owned shopping plaza.
Some of these folks — mostly residents of northeast Greensboro — have been trying to get a grocery store there for years. But neighbors were at each other’s throats over a controversial deal, brokered by former County Commissioner Melvin “Skip” Alston, to have a developer buy the plaza.
...In the middle of the tension, Hartzman interjected that the project was Perkins’ way of paying off Alston, a power broker in the black community and a member of African American political action committee, the Simkins PAC.
“It shouldn’t be about Robbie Perkins trying to line Skip Alston’s pockets,” Hartzman called out.
Groans rose up from the crowd.
Alston yelled that Hartzman should show some respect.
...If Hartzman sensed the crowd’s hostility, he didn’t let it show. After the meeting, he was chatting with strangers and handing out his business cards.
“They need to be uncomfortable. There is no other way to tell the truth,” he said. “If you want to fix Greensboro, you have to tell people what they don’t want to hear.”
Billy Jones, an east Greensboro resident and fellow blogger who supports Hartzman, said Hartzman’s style is designed to disrupt the status quo in order to change the conversation.
“We go into these very controlled situations ... where you are not supposed to take control of the conversation,” Jones says. “You are very limited to what you can say and what you can do, so you have to go about things in a way where you have to take control.
“You have to do things in such a way that allow you to take control of the conversation, if just for a minute.”