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Meet the candidate: Stephen Valentine

Editors’ Note: Eleven candidates — all Democrats — are vying for five seats on the Durham County Board of Commissioners in the March 5 election. No Republicans or Libertarians have entered the contest, so the March 5 results will determine who sits on the commission. The 9th Street Journal is speaking with each candidate in the race. In coming days, we’ll bring you profiles of all 11 candidates. 

Stephen J. Valentine is a decorated U.S. Army veteran. He’s also passionate about gun reform. 

“As a person who handled firearms in the military, I can say unequivocally that everyone in society should not have a firearm, particularly of the automatic variety,” says Valentine, 54, who is running for a seat on the county commission.  

Valentine is the only candidate on the county commissioner ballot with a background in the armed services. He joined the army in 1998 and was in combat from 2003-2004. It’s his career in the military — an institution commonly associated with American patriotism and warmongering — that reinforced his passions for gun reform.

However, his stance on firearms began in his childhood growing up in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. “I can remember growing up and seeing people that I know who were victims of gun violence in the streets, and so I’ve always been a person who’s been against large swaths of our society using firearms,” he says. 

If elected to the Board of County Commissioners, Valentine would work to counter gun violence. “I actually consider myself to be the most progressive candidate in this race, even with the military background,” says Valentine. He would choose “peace over war 10 out of 10 times.”

Aside from gun violence, the Durham Public Schools budget crisis is another battle facing the Bull City. Valentine hopes that school board members can reach a resolution quickly.

“It pains me just to see the children out of school,” he says. 

Currently, DPS is $9 million short as the system looks to fund pay raises promised to classified workers through the end of the year. One place the school board could turn for assistance is to the Board of County Commissioners. However, Valentine says the board has a variety of considerations to weigh as they think about the long-term effects of covering the missing funds —  including the county’s bond rating.

The veteran’s proudest military accomplishment is rising to become a major after enlisting in the U.S. Army as a private. In addition, the county commissioner hopeful earned the Bronze Star Medal during Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

His resume also boasts experience as a social worker. Before entering into combat, Valentine oversaw military programs dealing with child abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and mental health. “I know something about social services and being able to provide services to vulnerable populations in a way that someone else generally wouldn’t,” says Valentine. He hopes to translate this experience to improve Durham residents’ quality of life. 

Valentine received his Juris Doctorate degree from North Carolina Central University School of Law in 2009. He currently serves as the director and supervising attorney of the NCCU Veterans Law Clinic, which handles cases of veterans seeking compensation from the federal government. 

His clients include veterans injured in combat who may be entitled to compensation. Spouses of deceased veterans, too, can come to the clinic for help claiming benefits. 

In addition, Valentine serves on the Durham City-County Planning Commission, which inspired his decision to run for county commissioner.  Valentine previously ran for election to the U.S. House to represent North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District, but he lost in the Democratic primary on May 17, 2022. For this race, he’s received endorsements from the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and INDYWeek. 

The planning commission deals with many issues relating to development. “But, there’s still a large number of our citizens who are being left behind. Particularly, communities of color,” says Valentine, “So as I continue to hear that over and over again, I decided to throw my name into the hat.” 

Durham City Council member Nate Baker served with Valentine on the planning commission. “He came with high standards for development in Durham,” says Baker. “He’s very good at standing on his principles.”

During a September meeting, Valentine walked out in a gesture of solidarity with Durham’s sanitation workers petitioning for fairer wages. “I think he cares a lot about affordable housing and social justice and inclusivity and equity,” continues Baker, who joined Valentine in withdrawing from the meeting. 

The veteran fears that the current trajectory of development in the county is unsustainable, especially when it comes to the skyrocketing costs of homes. In December 2022, Valentine voted against a package of amendments — the Simplified Code for Affordable Housing (SCAD) — that would loosen building and zoning regulations. He objected to the fact that the legislation came from developers — from those being regulated.  

Universal preschool is also on his agenda. He plans to enhance early childhood education in Durham by securing permanent funding for what is now a pilot program. Valentine hopes to bring the Durham H.E.A.R.T. (Holistic Empathetic Assistance Response Teams) into schools as well, in order to reduce the burden on social workers. 

Valentine and his wife, Valarie, have three kids, all of whom attended Durham Public Schools. Although the candidate has no prior experience holding a local government position, he’s not a stranger to service. 

“Yes, it is true that I’m new to politics, but not to public service,” says the veteran. “I’ve been serving all my life.”

Above: Photo of Stephen Valentine by Abigail Bromberger — The 9th Street Journal