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Posts published by “Charlotte Kramon”

Election season is here, and candidates want your vote. Do signs matter?

Clusters of campaign signs across Durham vie for people’s attention. Some display slogans or a picture of the candidate, but all were designed to capitalize on the split second of attention they receive from voters.

Mayoral candidate Elaine O’Neal’s signs are the simplest, with a light blue background and “O’NEAL” in large white letters. Javiera Caballero, who suspended her mayoral campaign on Oct. 11, hired a local designer to create her signs based on input from her supporters. They say “VAMOS BULL CITY-JAVIERA FOR MAYOR” in white lettering with a purple background. (Caballero’s campaign materials always have a purple theme). 

Ward III City Council candidate AJ Williams’s signs are decorated with several colors, slogans such as “Honor the Legacy”, and a photo of himself. They differ from the other simpler signs. From the start of his campaign, he saw yard signs as key investments. “Yard signs are a way to really maximize your ability to be seen across the city, even if you can’t knock every door, or make every phone call,” Williams said. “Durham is a city of over 300,000 people and the truth of the matter is, you’re not going to be able to contact all 300,000.”

Williams believes his nearly $5,000 investment in signs paid off in significant ways. People recognize him from his signs, even when he wears a mask. The vibrant graphic, combined with the image of his face, was intended to stand out. “I’m glad we made the decision to really do something different,” Williams said.

Durham voter Jimmy Lamont wishes more signs had photos of the candidates. He voted in the primary because his son knows one of the mayoral candidates. He’s unfamiliar with many of the other candidates, but he thinks adding pictures to campaign signs would help. “I don’t know none of these people,” Lamont said, gesturing toward the signs.

In the book “Winning Elections: Political Campaign Management, Strategy, and Tactics,” Becky West of Campaigns & Elections advised candidates to use simple yard signs and logos that emphasize their names. She added that signs should include minimal colors and bold lettering so that voters can see the candidate’s name. “Plan for simplicity,” she wrote. “An effective logo needs only the candidate’s name, the office sought, and possibly a simple graphic symbol.”

Signs may not be the decisive factor in a campaign, but they have a measurable impact. One study found that signs “had an estimated effect of 2.5 percentage points.”

Zach Finley, Javiera Caballero’s campaign manager, explained that campaigns try to place signs in strategic locations to “get the most bang for your buck.” Areas like intersections have high traffic rates, making them optimal locations for signs. He added that engaged supporters “really enjoy” putting signs up in their yards.

The cost per sign depends on various factors, but usually hovers around $2-$2.50. Finley said that Caballero’s campaign signs were more expensive than average due to their unique colors and material. Her campaign spent $2,433 on yard signs. O’Neal’s campaign spent $4,239.

Many Durhamites say that while signs boost visibility, candidates should prioritize engaging with constituents in more meaningful ways. “I had a hundred and something signs,” said Jan Oartie, who previously ran for Durham Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor. “But it’s more about me going out to meet people. I’d go to a farmers market and give out water. I’d be downtown when they had events.”

Charlitta Burruss, who lost her bid for Durham mayor in the recent primary, sees signs as expensive and unnecessary. She believes that candidates waste money on signs without showing voters that they’re willing to tackle important issues. “When I say ‘know’, I mean not just your name,” Burruss said. “I mean know who you are …  What is your agenda — your real agenda?”

Instead of spending money on signs, Burruss’s campaign strategy centered on news coverage and word-of-mouth. She relied on being a familiar face in Durham after years of working and volunteering in the city. “I feel like I market myself in many different ways,” Burruss said.

Signs may be a crucial tool for candidates lacking name recognition, but some believe that voters should get to know a candidate in other ways, too. Geneva Ennett, a Durham judge, said that candidates should have several years of experience working in the community so that voters are familiar with their names and what they plan to do in office. Still, “[signs] do make a difference,” she said. “They really do. They trigger people’s memories.”

John Weisman, who voted in the primary election at the Durham County Library, is not swayed by signs. Weisman prefers to read profiles, newspapers, and questionnaires and attend candidate forums. However, he does notice when opposing candidates have more signs around the city than his preferred candidate. “It’s more of an observation than a worry,” Weisman said. “There are segments of the voting population who are influenced by different things, so you need multiple strategies.”

Weisman can’t put up his own signs because he lives in a condominium. However, his friends display them in their front yards to show solidarity and boost their preferred candidates’ visibility.

 Still, Durham voters ultimately support candidates who are integrated in the community, understand their struggles, and strive for solutions. “Everyone gets these signs,” Oartie said. “But are you out there in the community?”


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

The 9th Street Journal will continue to cover the city elections. Check in with us for more candidates profiles, campaign coverage and other important updates. You can submit questions and news tips to our staff by emailing or

At top: Signs promoting Durham mayoral candidates are popping up around Durham. 9th Street photo by Josie Vonk.

Just one in 10 Durham voters cast ballots in municipal primary

When Durham held its municipal primary election last Tuesday, most registered voters didn’t show up. 

Just one in 10 registered voters cast ballots in the Oct. 5 primary, in which candidates running for mayor and two City Council seats competed. The 10.02% turnout rate is in between the turnout rate for Durham’s last two municipal primaries. 

An even smaller 8.96% turned out in 2019, when Durham Mayor Steve Schewel was running for re-election. In 2017, 13.47% of registered voters cast primary ballots. 

Duke public policy professor Mac McCorkle expected turnout to be low, he said, because local elections in Durham are not partisan. Voters are less concerned about preventing threatening opposition candidates from winning, said McCorkle, a former Democratic consultant. 

“Durham, being a one party town, is overwhelmingly Democratic,” he said. “You’re not going to get partisan conflict that you would in other races.”

There were also few policy conflicts to activate voters, he said. McCorkle named crime as the main area of difference among candidates, but said even “moderate verses progressive battles” still fall within the Democratic party. 

“That’s not a recipe to get lots of engaged voters out in a race,” he added. 

The absence of voters troubles McCorkle. 

“There’s this question about, “Gosh, is this democratically legitimate? This is so low,” he said.

Since 9th Street spoke with McCorkle, mayoral candidate Javiera Caballero suspended her campaign, citing wide margins in the primary. Although Caballero’s second place primary finish advanced her to the general elections, she was far behind  former judge Elaine O’Neal in votes received. Caballero’s campaign suspension means the primary effectively determined the outcome of the mayoral election, which O’Neal is now poised to win. 

Durham County elections director Derek Bowens said that local elections typically don’t get many voters. 

“I think low turnout is in part attributable to less national and state visibility and limited third party outreach,” Bowens wrote in an email to The 9th Street Journal.

When Durhamites voted in the March 2020 primary, which included heated races for president, senator and governor as well as several local elections, 39.97% of registered voters cast ballots. 

National elections receive more media coverage and there are more efforts to engage voters through tactics such as canvassing and TV advertisements, Bowens said. He expects turnout for Durham’s Nov. 2 election will be similarly low.


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

The 9th Street Journal will continue to cover the city elections. Check in with us for more candidates profiles, campaign coverage and other important updates. You can submit questions and news tips to our staff by emailing or

At top: A Durham voter casts a ballot at Lakewood Elementary in the Oct. 5 municipal primary. 9th Street photo by Josie Vonk.

Meet Durham mayoral candidate Rebecca Harvard Barnes

When mayoral candidate Rebecca Harvard Barnes talks about Durham, her eyes widen and her face lights up.

She’s not a seasoned politician like other candidates. She’s never even held public office, and most of her work has been faith-oriented. So why is she running? 

“I absolutely love Durham,” Harvard Barnes said. 

The 52-year-old candidate was prompted to run after seeing an onslaught of political, economic, and health crises afflict the city. She wants to win, but even if she doesn’t, she hopes her long-shot candidacy inspires people to get involved. 

“I want to lead by example. I want to show people that what they can do is get up and do something,” she said. “My ‘doing something’ is running for mayor.”

If elected, Harvard Barnes would use continued investment and creative policy to address affordable housing. Climate change and racial equity are among her other top focuses. 

Despite her lack of political experience, she thinks she’s ready to lead Durham. Her father, Joseph Harvard, pastored the city’s First Presbyterian Church, and she’s worked in churches as a lay minister on-and-off for 20 years, most recently educating kids and teenagers. She has also worked for Habitat for Humanity, a Christian nonprofit that builds homes for underserved communities and advocates for just housing policies. 

Harvard Barnes said she has a knack for “building bridges, bringing people together, and helping people work through differences they may have.” She would facilitate smooth conversations between different parts of city government because of her experience navigating the many sects and departments of churches, she added. 

When finances got tight during the pandemic, she obtained a real estate license and joined a firm that she hopes can help her advocate for affordable housing. 

“I wear a lot of different hats. I carry a lot of different bags,” she said.

A vision for Durham

Harvard Barnes graduated from Durham public schools and admires the city’s “incredible array” of nonprofits, communities of faith, and civic activity. Still, problems like poverty, food insecurity, racial inequity, and development need to be addressed, she said. 

The candidate wants the city to continue investing in affordable housing. She also wants the city to construct market-rate housing while preventing for-profit developers from pricing out lower-income residents. Other cities would help inspire her policy. 

“I’m a firm believer in not having to reinvent the wheel,” she said. “There are so many programs all across the country where affordable housing has been addressed in creative ways. We’ve just got to look at them and make some decisions based on what’s been successful.”

Climate change preoccupies her. She thinks of overflowing landfills and global warming often.

“I lose sleep over it,” she said. She believes current national and international emission reduction goals aren’t ambitious enough, and would amplify Durham’s climate change initiatives as mayor.

Harvard Barnes said she hasn’t made many campaign materials because she doesn’t want to waste resources, but does proudly display a handmade flag on her home. 9th Street Journal photo by Josie Vonk.

The proud Black Lives Matter supporter said climate change intersects with many issues, including racial injustice, citing studies that show predominantly Black areas of town are hotter. 

Durham has already experimented with reparations, an idea Harvard Barnes is open to despite saying it is not a “cure-all.” 

She’s thought over initiatives related to police reform and addressing poverty and gun violence, but her primary plan is to listen. That, she said, is what people need to do “in order for there to be any kind of equity.” Although she has several ideas about how she would approach policy, Harvard Barnes stresses her openness to ideas. 

She also understands, however, that her chances of success in the October primary are slim. Nevertheless, she sees her campaign as a vehicle for awareness. She said she won’t waste resources on signs and stickers, but plans to wear a sticker that says, ““I’m Running for Mayor!,” so people will talk with her and engage with local politics. 

Win or lose, Harvard Barnes will keep advocating for Durham. She encourages others to do the same.

”The decisions made by the city you live in affect your life and affect the lives of people around you,” she said. “ That’s the reason I’m doing what I’m doing…to wake people up.”


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

The 9th Street Journal will continue to cover the city elections. Check in with us for more candidates profiles, campaign coverage and other important updates. You can submit questions and news tips to our staff by emailing or

At the top: Mayoral candidate Rebecca Harvard Barnes poses with flowers in front of her home. 9th Street Journal photo by Josie Vonk.