Until a few months ago, Durham City Council member Javiera Caballero had no plans to run for mayor. She was in the middle of serving her four-year term on the council when Mayor Steve Schewel unexpectedly announced he would not be running for reelection. After years of public service, Caballero decided to take her leadership to the next level.
“It created an opportunity and an open seat that I felt compelled to at least try for,” Caballero said of Schewel’s retirement. She’s motivated to continue the mission she began on the City Council to make Durham more inclusive, accessible, and sustainable. The city is on the cusp of unprecedented progress, she believes, and there’s important work to be done.
Durham’s most pressing challenge is still COVID-19, Caballero said. She and her fellow council members are working hard to vaccinate Durhamites and distribute resources to every neighborhood.
Beyond the pandemic, Durham faces a web of interlocking issues that Caballero is determined to face head-on, from gun violence to affordable housing to the need for green infrastructure.
Caballero moved from Chicago to Durham in 2010 with her husband and children. The city has transformed since then, but some of the biggest changes are still to come, including the implementation of a $95 million dollar affordable housing bond and the development of a new community safety department that offers alternatives to policing.
Caballero worked on both these initiatives as a city council member and is determined to see them through. “It’s so important that the things we’ve passed actually get implemented effectively,” she said. “I want to ensure that the work I have helped to start continues at the kind of expansive level I know it can.”
Caballero’s vision for Durham revolves around community engagement and collaboration. Both are necessary to confront challenges like public safety and affordable housing access, she said. If elected mayor, she promises to prioritize transparency and communication.
“Our systems are designed to be opaque, but we can be intentional about including folks,” Caballero said. “Democracy doesn’t work if people don’t participate.”
Caballero’s ability to connect with all pockets of the Durham community is one of her greatest strengths, said Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson, who serves on the City Council with Caballero and has endorsed her in the mayoral race. “Javiera is able to reach out into communities that have been underserved and unheard in government for a long time,” Johnson said. “She really cares about everyone who lives here.”
Caballero, whose family moved from Chile to the United States when she was young, would be the first Latina mayor ever elected in North Carolina. That representation is important, especially in Durham, where Latinos make up nearly 14% of the population. On the City Council, Caballero has advocated for improved language access programs and legal aid for immigrants.
Schewel, who endorsed Caballero for mayor last month, praised her deep knowledge of Durham and its people. “There’s no doubt at all that Javiera is deeply rooted in our community and knows the community inside and out,” he said. “She wants to make the city we love a city for all, and I think she knows exactly how to do that.”
Caballero has also been endorsed by the People’s Alliance, an influential Durham political action committee. Caballero is “policy centric and detail oriented,” the endorsement reads. Community organization Durham for All and the Durham Association of Educators have both endorsed Caballero as well.
Both Schewel and Johnson describe Caballero as extremely hardworking and productive. She wants to get things done for Durham, they said, and that will remain true whether she’s elected mayor or not.
If Caballero doesn’t win, she’ll continue to serve her current term on the City Council, which ends in 2023. She’s deeply invested in continuing the work she’s started, she said, and refuses to slow down.
“Regardless of the outcome, there’s a lot to do,” Caballero said. “In either seat, I will keep on doing the work.”
For more information on when and how to vote in the 2021 Durham city elections, check out our article on important dates and voting rules.
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At the top: Mayoral candidate Javiera Caballero poses in her campaign t-shirt. 9th Street Journal photo by Josie Vonk.