Now that Congressional districts for the upcoming election are finalized, following disputes over North Carolina’s election maps, candidates are jumping into the race to represent North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District. Eight Democratic candidates and two Republicans will be on the ballot in the May 17 primary as they vie for the seat that has long been held by U.S. Rep. David Price.
Looming over the primary is Price’s decades-long legacy in Congress, where he used his academic expertise in congressional politics to expand public transit, highlight affordable housing needs and draw federal funds to the district for an EPA research campus. With the senior congressman’s departure, the race is competitive for the first time in years. Politicians, scholars, activists and a former American Idol contestant among those battling to represent a district that includes Alamance, Durham, Granville, Orange and Person counties and part of Caswell County.
Here’s a look at the contenders competing in the May primary to succeed Price.
Nida Allam (Democrat)
Twenty-eight-year-old Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam, the youngest in the race, says her generation understands the urgency of solving today’s political crises. Allam was a field organizer and later the North Carolina political director for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. She was also third vice-chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party for four years and was elected to the Durham County Board of Commissioners in 2020.
When Rep. Price announced his retirement, N.C. Sen. Valerie Foushee, 65, received a mass of phone calls encouraging her to run. Foushee worked at the Chapel Hill Police Department for 21 years and was elected to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board in 1997. She also served on the Orange County Board of Commissioners before being elected to the state House. She has been a state senator for eight years and currently chairs the N.C. Senate’s Democratic Caucus.
Ashley Ward sees major holes in Congress: there are few members who specialize in climate policy, and very few with working-class roots. She said she would carry both of those missing elements to D.C. Her top issue is climate change. She works in the water policy program at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, and has also worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Clay Aiken, 43, gained prominence as an “American Idol” fan favorite. But before the show, he worked at the YMCA, where he became interested in children with special needs. These days, Aiken says his life centers on his organization for children with special needs, the National Inclusion Project. The program works with organizations to include children with disabilities in recreational programs, like camps.
Stephen J. Valentine, 53, is a social worker, lawyer and veteran and directs the Veteran’s Law program at N.C. Central University. He served in the military for 21 years, and later served in the State Department under the Obama administration. Valentine’s agenda includes support for a living wage, universal preschool, free community college, support for veterans and cancelling student debt.
Richard Watkins (Democrat): Watkins, 32, received a Ph.D. from UNC-Chapel Hill in microbiology and immunology with a specialty in virology. He is the CEO and founder of The Science Policy Action Network, Inc. Watkins supports Medicare for All and a universal basic income. Some of his top issues include climate change and cybersecurity.
Crystal Cavalier (Democrat): Cavalier, 44, used her master’s degree in public administration to work with military families at Fort Bragg as a family readiness support assistant. She also founded the NC Democratic Party’s Native American Caucus, Murdered Indigenous Women Coalition of North Carolina and Seven Directions of Service, an Indigenous-led advocacy organization. Preserving rural environments and protecting women’s rights are among Cavalier’s top issues.
Matt Grooms (Democrat): Grooms, 39, is a nurse and graduate student from Greenville, N.C. He works as a nurse at a mental health hospital. His top issue is improving water quality in North Carolina. Grooms would also like to increase funding for social security and police departments, and to support development in minority and low-income neighborhoods.
Robert Thomas (Republican): Thomas, 53, wants to reinvigorate plans to build a wall along the border between the United States and Mexico. A supporter of Second Amendment rights and of former President Donald Trump, he is angered by Democrats’ treatment of former president Donald Trump.
Courtney Geels (Republican): Geels, 31, is a nurse who is critical of vaccine mandates, of conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border, and of what she views as the federal government’s excessive spending. A conservative Christian, Geels opposes legalizing abortion and teaching critical race theory in schools.
Above: Photos courtesy of Nida Allam and Sen. Valerie Foushee
Stephen J. Valentine, 53, a candidate in the race to represent North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District, has made a career of service as a social worker, lawyer and veteran. He served in the military for 21 years, and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He later served in the State Department under the Obama administration.
Valentine, originally from Pottstown, Pa., moved to Durham in 2005 to attend law school at North Carolina Central University. His agenda includes support for a living wage, universal preschool, free community college and cancelling student debt. Currently the director of the Veteran’s Law program at NCCU, he would also strive to provide more support for veterans.
Serving in the military convinced Valentine that no civilian needs an assault rifle. He would work to ban those weapons. He would also work to address root causes of the opioid epidemic and of crime, which, he said, is a “microcosm of some of the other social ills that plague us, like unemployment.”
Valentine also wants the government to incentivize greater use of sustainable energy, and supports restructuring the tax code to be less burdensome to low-income individuals.
The only candidate who is at once a veteran, a social worker and a lawyer, Valentine says his combination of skills would propel him towards successful service.
“When my nation called, I answered that call,” he said.
Editor’s note: Read more about the contest in North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District here.
“It’s funny to me that I’m still stuck in so many people’s minds sometimes as the 24-year-old from ‘Idol,’” chuckled Clay Aiken.“The more important thing to me that came out of ‘Idol’was the ability it gave me to talk about issues that were important to me and bring attention to those.”
Aiken, now 43, may have gained prominence as an “American Idol” fan favorite. But before “Idol,” he worked at the YMCA, where he became interested in children with special needs. These days, Aiken says his life centers on his organization for children with special needs, the National Inclusion Project. The program works with organizations to include children with disabilities in recreational programs, like camps.
Now, Aiken wants to use his platform for politics.
“I was waiting and expecting someone who would jump in who would have some sort of powerful statewide voice or the proven ability to bring attention to issues, because I don’t think people in this district really realize how much David Price has done over the past 35 years,” Aiken said.
The source of Aiken’s name recognition differs from that of U.S. Rep David Price, but he believes he can bring the same benefits to district residents. If elected to represent North Carolina’s 4th District in Congress, Aiken would ensure the district maintains access to infrastructure funds and housing funds, especially as housing prices skyrocket.
He would also reform education funding. Title I, which supports underfunded schools, has “incentivized school districts to create high poverty schools” in order to get more money, he said.
This is not Aiken’s first run for Congress. He said his commitment to fairer election maps prompted him to run in 2014 against Rep. Rennee Ellmers (R) in North Carolina’s 2nd District. Aiken views the issue of voting rights as urgent, and would vote for both the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the more sweeping H.R.1, which would reform voting rights and election administration.
“We need to accept as much progress as we can make in this area right now, because we can’t really wait anymore,” Aiken said.
Aiken laments how Democrats waited to act on other pressing issues such as climate change, gun violence and police brutality.
“I think Democrats have a tendency, over the past four years, to be a bit superficial when it comes to making progress,” he said. “I’m all for symbolic victories, but symbolic victories don’t do much to save anyone’s lives and protect people.”
Editor’s note: Read more about the contest to represent North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District here.
Ashley Ward sees major holes in Congress: there are few members who specialize in climate policy, and very few with working-class roots. She said she would carry both of those missing elements to D.C. if elected to represent North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District.
Ward’s family roots in Durham go back nearly 100 years. She grew up attending Durham Public Schools, followed by Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, N.C., and returned to school at 30, spending the next 10 years at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill getting her bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D.
Ward’s personal experiences inspire her support for Medicare for All and for small businesses. Her child has a chronic health condition, and her medical bills are enormous despite insurance, she said. Her father and brother operate a small business, and she is bothered by the burdensome tax rates small businesses face, while large corporations pay little.
Her top issue, and the focus of her career, is climate change. She works in the water policy program at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, and has also worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where she learned to build coalitions between people with drastic ideological differences to combat climate change.
Ward may not be a politician, but she does not shy away from policy details. In particular, she wants to see specific policy initiatives that will translate the principles of the Green New Deal into action.
“A lot of the policies that we currently have in place around resilience and adaptation no longer meet this moment,” she said. “So we need to go back and revisit those policies that we currently rely on.”
Ward would rethink the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the federal flood insurance program and the Stafford Act, which outlines federal disaster responses.
“Of course I would love to see big, comprehensive legislation on climate change,” Ward said. “But, we can’t wait until we have huge, mega bills to pass. We have to take action right now in the areas in which we have consensus.”
Ward also wants to see more federal support for community colleges, including funds for more vocational training to help ease labor shortages.
On crime, Ward proposes programs that embed social workers and mental health counselors with law enforcement.
While schools shootings are tragic, Ward notes that gun violence frequently manifests in domestic violence and suicide. She advocates comprehensive gun control legislation including more background checks, waiting periods, red flag laws and closing loopholes to gun ownership.
Back in the 1970s, Ward’s mom made bread in a coffee can because she did not have a bread pan.
“I have school loans and medical debt,” she said. “I’ve wondered at times how we’re going to buy groceries or raise our kids and participate in field trips and all those things.”
She knows her story is common.
“I don’t think that my life story is exceptional,” she said. “My life story is an exception for Congress, and that, in fact, is a problem.”
Editor’s note: Read more about the race to represent North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District here.
When U.S. Rep. David Price announced his retirement from Congress, N.C. Sen. Valerie Foushee, 65, received a mass of phone calls encouraging her to run to represent North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District.
“I didn’t decide to enter the race until I saw some of the others that had entered the field,” she said. “And so it made me consider it, at the urging of people that have served for more than 20 years. I do believe that I have, by way of experience, something that others are not able to offer.”
Foushee worked at the Chapel Hill Police Department for 21 years and was elected to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board in 1997. She also served on the Orange County Board of Commissioners before being elected to the state House. She has been a state senator for eight years. Currently chair of the N.C. Senate’s Democratic Caucus, she is most proud of the legislation she championed to end child marriage.
When Foushee was growing up in segregated North Carolina, her parents worked multiple jobs at a time rather than rely on government assistance, she said.
“They decided to rely on educating their children,” she said. “Education has opened doors and it has assured me that I can do anything within reason in life, given access and opportunity.”
As a result, education is one of Foushee’s top issues. If elected, she would advocate for universal pre-K and eliminating student debt.
Voting rights and protecting American democracy also sit at the top of Foushee’s agenda. She said she will do everything she can to end gerrymandering.
On crime, Foushee supports a national standard for policing that would enable officers to establish trusting relationships with their communities. Foushee believes that North Carolina’s Senate Bill 300 is a start towards criminal justice reform, but that more needs to be done. She does not support defunding the police, and instead says departments should be funded adequately. She also favors hiring more social workers to work alongside police officers, as the Chapel Hill Police Department did when she worked there.
“When I hear people talking about defunding the police, I wonder if that’s what the criminals are saying,” she said.
Foushee would also prioritize efforts to advance towards Medicare for All and to improve the Affordable Care Act. Whether or not she wins the election, she said she intends to remain active locally.
“If it is nottheir desire to serve as an elected official, I belong to four service organizations,” she said. “I will always serve in some way.”
Editor’s note: Read more about the contest in North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District here.
Twenty-eight-year-old Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam, the youngest in the contest to represent North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District, believes her youth is not a disadvantage, but rather one of her greatest strengths. Her generation understands the urgency of solving today’s political crises, she said.
“Every step of the road, I have been told I need to wait my turn,” Allam said. “Waiting your turn continues to lead to the issues that are impacting me and impacting people in the community, to be left unaddressed. And we can’t sit around and wait our turn. We need to step up and take action because our generation needs to be heard.”
A personal trauma drew Allam into politics. In 2015, three of her dearest friends were murdered in a hate crime in Chapel Hill. Civic-minded Muslim college students with professional aspirations, they were gunned down in their home. Yet police initially labelled the murder as a parking dispute, and while the shooter eventually was found guilty of murder, he was never charged with a hate crime. Allam, who is also Muslim, concluded that communities of color are ignored by institutions in power, and entered politics to give minorities “a seat at the table.”
Allam was a field organizer and later the North Carolina political director for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. She was also third vice-chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party for four years and was elected to the Durham County Board of Commissioners in 2020.
If elected, Allam would invest in job creation and education to address the root causes of crime, and continue Price’s legacy of expanding public transportation. Gun control legislation will languish in Congress, she said, until Congress acts to reduce the influence of big money on politics.
“First and foremost, we really need to address the corruption that exists,” she said.
Allam also would fight for a Green New Deal.
“We have less than 10 years to deal with irreversible damage of climate change, and it’s going to be our generation and our future generations that have to deal with that,” Allam said.
“And so we need that sense of urgency going to D.C. We need people with lived experiences of what the effects of gun violence and white supremacy in this country are to be leading us in D.C.”
Editor’s note: Read more about the race for North Carolina’s 4th Congressional here.
The flashing lights of the police car caught me by surprise.
It was dark out, and my friend had asked if he could turn the music louder. I said yes – I, too, like my music loud. But as I continued down Chapel Hill Street, enjoying the rap music, I saw the lights flash in my rearview mirror.
“Am I being pulled over?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
For what? I wondered.
It seemed an odd time for me to get pulled over. For many weeks, I had been doing investigative reporting about a presentation on traffic stops given to the Duke football team by the sheriff’s office. The timing seemed ironic after I spent the last three months talking to players, legal experts, team representatives and the sheriff’s office, to piece together what happened at the meeting and to ponder what it meant about the fraught relationship between police and Black people.
Five Black players had told me they were bothered by the presentation because they felt the Durham Sheriff’s Office was justifying traffic stops of Black men. Law professors told me the sheriff’s office had used misleading statistics and told an incomplete story.
I, myself, had never been stopped – until this moment, which happened to be a week beforethe article came out. I am a white 20-year-old from Los Angeles. My friend in the front passenger’s seat is a 6-foot-1 Black man. “I’ve never been pulled over before,” I said to my friend as we waited for the police officer to walk up to the car.
“Really?” he asked. “Wow.” He had been stopped several times.
I asked him to tell me what to do, because he would know better than I did. I never got a lecture from my parents about being stopped by the police. My parents don’t have to worry about my life in a situation like this.
You might expect a cop to come to the driver’s side first. Instead he went to the passenger window, where the Black man was sitting. My friend rolled down the window.
Looking past him, the officer told me I was going 11 miles over the speed limit. I gave him my license and braced for a scolding when I added that it was a friend’s car and I wasn’t sure where the registration was. He said that was fine, and walked to his police car with my license.
I got a text message from the owner of the car, a friend from Duke, that her registration was in the glove compartment. I told my friend in the front seat to grab it for me, but he said it would look suspicious.
“Alright, then I’ll grab it,” I said, as if that were any better. He repeated himself. I stayed still.
I was texting my friends in a frenzy, but I was most worried about my mom’s reaction to whatever ticket I was about to get.
“My mom is going to slit my throat,” I said. I wanted to take that comment back the second it slipped out.
“I’m sure she’ll be happy you’re safe,” my friend said with a reassuring tone.
What he said next underlined the utter ridiculousness of my comment.
“I’m just trying not to get shot.”
He was right – I was not the one in danger. I started to say something else, but he stopped me because the officer was walking back towards us. I prepared for a citation, a ticket, a fine. I had my phone ready in case I needed to call the owner of the car.
Once again he came to the passenger window.
“Here’s your warning,” the cop said, and handed me a single piece of paper. “No charges. You’re just in our system.”
(“You really got off scot-free,” my friend would later tell me, noting that he got pulled over for speeding in January. He got a ticket.)
I took the paper. It was my friend, not me, who said, “Thank you, sir. Have a good day.”
I started the car and drove away.
At top, photo of Charlotte Kramon by Simran Prakash – The 9th Street Journal
On a Monday morning last October, Duke football players shuffled into the team meeting room. Mondays are usually their day off, but they had guest speakers arriving bright and early.
Representatives from the Durham County Sheriff’s Office delivered a message that would leave many of the players offended and unsettled: Cops are more vulnerable than Black men. So, behave.
The sheriff’s representatives showed the players a PowerPoint presentation that contained misleading statistics and an incomplete account of legal rights at traffic stops, according to legal experts. A copy of the presentation was obtained by The 9th Street Journal.
The incident provides a glimpse into how the office, led by Sheriff Clarence F. Birkhead, conducts community outreach. In this case, Birkhead and other officials angered a group of mostly Black college athletes.
The 9th Street Journal interviewed five Black players who provided details about the meeting and said they and other teammates were bothered by the presentation because it distorted the facts of police shootings in which Black men were unjustifiably killed.
Police misconduct has been a serious problem throughout the nation, leaving civilians dead and injured. Of the 13 fatal shootings by police in Durham and Raleigh from 2013-2020, nine victims were Black men, according to an analysis by Indy Week and data compiled by The Washington Post.
Players told The 9th Street Journal the sheriff and his representatives seemed out of touch.
They were particularly bothered by one slide about police encounters nationwide. “In 2019, police fatally shot 9 unarmed blacks and 19 unarmed white males,” the slide read. “By contrast, a police officer is 18 ½ times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male is to be killed by a police officer.”
“What it felt like (the presentation) was saying is that it’s more dangerous for white men in America than Black men in America,” said sophomore James Hopson II. He added that to him, the sheriff’s office implied “it’s more dangerous for the killers than the people who are getting killed.”
“They’re telling us to stay calm,” junior Jacob Monk said. “They’re talking about how cops are very nervous when they do these things. But you’re the one with the gun.”
Said sophomore Isaiah Fisher-Smith, “It sounds like an excuse to be more trigger-heavy.”
Birkhead had no apology for the presentation in a statement to The 9th Street Journal.
“The relationship between the black community and law enforcement has always been strained,” wrote Birkhead, who is Black. “The presentation was not intended to assign blame to either law enforcement or citizens. Rather, the presentation was intended to spark a dialogue between police and citizens…The presentation is something we have shared before and this is the first time we have received feedback like this. We felt then, and still feel now, the subject matter is the reason several players in the audience might have concerns.”
* * *
The football team invites three to four guest speakers each semester, such as deans or career advisors. According to Birkhead, Will Cole, the team’s director of player development, invited representatives from the sheriff’s office to speak.
Cole told The 9th Street Journal that the team envisioned a presentation about traffic stops and invited Birkhead because he is Black and has had a “long-term relationship” with Duke. (Birkhead is a former Duke police chief.) “We just wanted to bring him in to inform the guys for educational purposes of the kind of police encounters that come up with students,” Cole said in an interview.
The week before the Oct. 18 presentation, one of the coaches announced the sheriff was coming to promote “building relationships” and “community engagement,” according to sophomore Khilan Walker.
The players were already annoyed about having to wake up early on their day off. They were even less enthusiastic when they heard they would be lectured by a cop.
Some hoped the conversation would be productive. Others were skeptical. Hopson and others said that Kevin Lehman, chief of staff for the football team, told the team that since Sheriff Birkhead is Black, the players might be able to “relate” to him.
* * *
At the start of the meeting, Cutcliffe introduced the speakers. (Cutcliffe declined to comment for this story.) Birkhead delivered some brief remarks and Lt. Eric Carpenter, who is white, replaced him at the podium and began the 30-minute presentation with a set of statistics.
The statistics immediately bothered the players. There they were, a group of mostly Black men, dragged out of bed on a Monday morning only to hear a cop suggest that they were threatening. They traded glances that communicated their shock. Why are we here? they wondered.
The players said the presentation made traffic stops of Black men seem dangerous – for the deputies.
“We’re nervous,” a speaker from the sheriff’s office said, according to several players.
Monk said, “They’re telling us to stay calm. On the next slide, they’re talking about how cops are very nervous when they do these things. If we’re unarmed, why do we have to stay calm when you’re the one with the gun?”
“They painted themselves as victims,” DeWayne Carter, a junior and one of the team captains, said. “They didn’t even give us a chance to give them a chance.”
Carpenter’s presentation used statistics that presented a biased account of racial patterns in traffic stops, the players said. As he continued, many members of the team lost interest.
“When it got to that point, everyone had zoned out,” Monk said. “No one was locked into the meeting anymore, because we honestly felt disrespected.”
“I felt like it was a shot at us,” said Hopson. “It feels like less value (was being) put on our lives. That’s what it felt like.”
Eventually, Carpenter gave the players a chance to ask questions. For the most part, they were silent.
“I felt like it would be pointless to interact, because this is how (law enforcement officers) truly feel,” said Carter.
* * *
The PowerPoint used by the sheriff’s office presented a one-sided view of traffic stops.
Players said they found the presentation disturbing from the first slide. It said that during a “12-month period” with “over 375 million contacts” between police and the public, “only 2% experienced threats or use of force from police. Handcuffing was (the) most prevalent type of force.”
Carter said he found that number alarming, even if the sheriff’s office did not intend it so.
“I’m no mathematician, but 2% of 375 million is a lot of people,” he said. As he looked around the room at his teammates, their surprised faces indicated they agreed.
The next slide attempted to explain and minimize police shootings, saying that “in 2019, police fatally shot 1,004 people, most whom were armed or otherwise dangerous.” It said that those fatally shot included “9 unarmed blacks and 19 unarmed white males.”
The slide also said, “By contrast, a police officer is 18½ times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male is to be killed by a police officer.”
The slide attributed the data to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a federal agency. But identical wording appears in a 2020 Wall Street Journal opinion column titled “The Myth of Systemic Police Racism” by Heather Mac Donald, whose analysis cites Washington Post data and other sources. Mac Donald is a conservative political commentator and author of “The War on Cops.” Jeff Sessions, who served as attorney general in the Trump administration, once called her “the greatest thinker on criminal justice in America today.”
Birkhead did not directly address The 9th Street Journal’s questions about the wording being identical to Mac Donald’s or the source of the data on the slides. He again referred to the statistics as coming from the U.S. Justice Department.
Frank R. Baumgartner, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told The 9th Street Journal that the statistics in the PowerPoint “seem designed to suggest that it’s reasonable for a police officer to treat you differently based on your race and gender.”
Baumgartner analyzed 20 million traffic stops in North Carolina for “Suspect Citizens,” a book he co-authored,and found that Black people are about twice as likely as white people to be stopped by officers while driving on highways, and approximately twice as likely to be searched.
The presentation’s characterization of police as vulnerable confirmed his suspicions about the inner workings of law enforcement: “They put it right there on the PowerPoint, that they’re scared of Black men.”
He found the presentation “a complete overstatement of the risk to the officer at a traffic stop.”
* * *
The football players said the deputies emphasized their own rights when searching vehicles but said little about the rights of the people they stop. Law professors who were told about the players’ accounts and provided a copy of the PowerPoint said the players received a skewed perspective on racial dynamics at traffic stops, their own rights, and how they should interact with officers.
For example, the Durham City Council in October 2014 implemented a mandate that requires city police officers to provide a consent form before searching a vehicle, which explains the extent to which an officer may search. Baumgartner said consented searches in the city decreased afterwards, falling by 95% by the end of 2020.
The PowerPoint did not mention this form, which presumably could be relevant for a Duke student who is stopped near campus.
Another piece of advice from the PowerPoint reads, “Be honest with the officer. If you really didn’t see the stop sign, or were unaware of the speed limit, let the officer know. Being honest about any situation never hurts.”
But a defense attorney might disagree with that advice. Duke School of Law Professor Lisa Kern Griffin said if a law enforcement officer stops someone, they should pull over, keep their hands on the wheel and provide requested documentation such as a driver’s license. However, they should not answer probing questions or try to offer excessive explanations about their situation without talking to a lawyer. “Try to stay calm, to be polite.” However, because the outcome of police stops is unpredictable, it is “better to stay silent.”
Professor James E. Coleman Jr., a Duke School of Law professor, agreed. He said he was troubled with the tone of the presentation.
“I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with the football team, or Duke, inviting police officers to come talk to students about issues like this,” Coleman said.
“What concerns me about the presentation is that it seems to have been set up to suggest that the police have reasons to stop Black people more often than white people; that they have reason to fear Black people more than they fear white people, and that, therefore, Black people being killed is not a reflection of racism, but a reflection of how dangerous they are, and how legitimate it is for police officers to be quick to use their deadly force…
“What they ought to be doing is addressing those issues and trying to train their forces so they stop doing these discriminatory traffic stops—and they stop killing Black people.”
* * *
The day after the presentation, Cutcliffe summoned the players into the football meeting room once again.
The players gathered inside, some wondering if he would apologize or address the sheriff’s presentation that left them so angry.
The head coach was angry, too – at the players.
He said the players were disrespectful. They seemed tired. They were eating. Phones were going off. He caught some eye rolls. Their masks were too low.
The players were disappointed in the coach’s reaction, they told The 9th Street Journal. But no one spoke up. The team was struggling, having lost four of its seven games.The players wanted to focus on football.
“I felt like saying something to the coach, but I didn’t feel like my voice would be heard,” Hopson said.
* * *
On the day of the meeting, Duke Football tweeted a picture of the unmasked Lt. Carpenter at the presentation with the caption: “Thankful for the @DurhamSheriff Department every day, but especially today. They took time this morning to stop by our team meeting to educate us and give helpful tips on how to interact with law enforcement.”
Carter and a few other players emailed the social media team to say the tweet was distasteful and to ask them to take it down. The team deleted the tweet, but several students, professors and community members were already outraged by it. The tweet had gone viral, accompanied by an onslaught of angry comments.
“Duke Football has a long history of engaging with organizations to speak with student-athletes on various life-skills topics,”Art Chase, Senior Associate Director of Athletics/External Affairs for Duke Athletics, said in a statement to The 9th Street Journal.
“This specific presentation was designed to provide a deeper understanding of North Carolina laws (and their own personal rights).”
“We greatly value the perspectives of our student-athletes, and, as our programming continues to evolve, will seize the opportunity to further evaluate our speakers, topics and formats,” he added. “We were in unison with the student-athletes that specific images of the presentation were insensitive as the posted content did not properly provide the full context of the event, and thus, (the tweet) was removed.”
Cole, the team’s director of player development, said, “I can see and understand the frustration…I know it’s an uncomfortable conversation. But I thought the meat of the presentation was great stuff. I thought you could have easily walked away from there gaining information.”
* * *
The players had mixed feelings about online reaction to the presentation, which was overwhelmingly negative. Some wanted to join the criticism on social media, while others did not want to jeopardize their standing on the team or inflame further controversy during a difficult season.
Carter said he understands that often, when police interact with civilians they are “obviously” scared.
“But at the same time, you’re the ones with the power,” he said. “Whenever I get stopped by police, I literally will sit there and not move, hands the wheel, do whatever I’m instructed, all the windows down, because there’s just that innate fear, already.”
Photo at top: The Durham County Sheriff’s Office posted this photo of the meeting with Duke football players on its Facebook page. Players said the sheriff’s representatives presented a distorted view of traffic stops.
For Rep. David Price, there will never be a perfect moment to retire.
“I don’t think it’s ever a safe time to step down,” he told The 9th Street Journal. “If you’re looking for closure, this isn’t the job for you.”
Imperfect as it may be, Price’s time to bow out of politics has come. He announced on Oct. 19 that he will not run for re-election after a 24-year career serving North Carolina’s 4th District. As his career comes to a close, Price reflected on his accomplishments and offered his thoughts on the future of America’s political institutions.
He had expected to retire earlier, but the 2016 presidential election halted his plans, he said. After spending a decade and a half helping other countries bolster democratic institutions through the House Democracy Partnership he founded, his own country’s democratic norms faced a new threat: Donald Trump. He couldn’t leave, he decided, and instead spent much of the next four years working with other Democrats to restrain Trump.
Price also postponed his retirement because he anticipated Democrats winning back the House in 2018. With his party in control, he became the House’s Transportation and Housing Appropriations Subcomitte’s chair and discovered a “long list of things” he could do as a leader.
“It has been very satisfying to serve in leadership roles and end up getting a lot of things done,” he said.
Price has a simple recipe for success: He gets things done without fanfare. He first ran for office after watching Democrats get crushed in the 1984 election. He was serving as the state’s Democratic Party Chairman at the time, and when his party lost three congressional seats and a Senate race, he wondered — if the candidate’s he worked for were losing, could he win?
It turned out he could. He was first elected as a representative in 1987.
Of the hundreds of pieces of legislation that have passed through Capitol Hill while he’s been in office, Price said he is proud that he helped enable students to deduct loans from taxes through the Education Affordability Act. He also highlighted how he expanded federal teacher training programs with the Teaching Fellows Act and required political candidates to say, “I approve of this message,” in ads with the Stand By Your Ad Act.
Locally, Price’s fondest wins include helping to bring an Environmental Protection Agency hub to Research Triangle Park, expanding inner city rail in the Southeast, and elevating the issue of affordable housing.
Price strived for political change through institutional efforts such as campaign budget reform and improved the budget process as a leading member of the Appropriations Committee. On an individual level, he tried to lead through cooperation.
“You choose the way you conduct yourself everyday,” he said. “In your leadership positions, you can either put fuel on the fire or you set another kind of pattern where you can, cooperating where it’s possible to do so. I’ve tried to do the latter.”
Cooperation, however, has not always been feasible, Price added. While he has facilitated bipartisanship through efforts such as the House Democracy Partnership, he has also tried to recognize its limits and not “fetishize” it. Most recently, he refused to compromise with undemocratic components of the Trump-wing of the Republican party.
“There are times when you need to stand your ground and fight either individually, or as a party,” he said. “You cooperate where you can, you fight where you must. And there’s a real political art in deciding which is which.”
While Price feels more comfortable retiring during a Biden presidency, he still worries about pervasive threats to democratic institutions from colleagues who are seduced by tribal politics and care little about making democratic institutions work. He won’t cooperate with colleagues who refuse to accept election results and want to restrict fair elections, he said.
“We’re in a new territory here with respect to the future of democracy and the ability to make a peaceful transition of power, and to recognize a legitimate election,” Price said. “Who ever thought we’d be worried about that in the USA?”
In the eyes of his colleagues
Asher Hildebrand, Price’s former chief of staff, believes Price is “somebody who probably doesn’t get as much respect as due.”
That’s partly because he worked as a budget appropriator, a gig that receives little public attention, said Hildebrand, who now works as a professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. But that was the least of Price’s concerns, he added. His goal was to legislate effectively. He wanted his staff to push him into unfamiliar policy territories. Price “valued policy entrepreneurship,” Hildebrand said, so he encouraged even his youngest interns to provide substantive input on pressing decisions.
“His ability to maintain that sense of possibility, hope, and optimism for the future, despite the world burning around us, stands out as remarkable,” Hildebrand said.
Price’s Congressional expertise made him a particularly effective legislator, Hildebrand added.
“There’s really nobody else in Congress today who understands how Congress as an institution functions and understands the vitality of the legislature as a key part of our democracy,” he said.
Even now, Price’s experience and expertise carry weight. Folks across the political spectrum should listen to him when he shares concerns, Hildebrand said.
State Sen. Wiley Nickel, who is running for Price’s seat, said Price is known as the “policy guy.”
The representative excels in the art of cooperation, Nickel said. “He is someone who avoided partisan political games” and has always “focused on making relationships with his colleagues rather than jumping in front of an issue and grandstanding,” Nickel added.
What comes next
The race for Price’s seat will be competitive. Regional political heavyweights like Durham Democratic state Sen. Mike Woodard and former state Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr. told The News & Observer that they’re considering running. Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam announced she’ll run on Monday.
In his bid for the seat, Nickel hopes to continue Price’s legacy of policy-oriented public service focused on what he calls “dinner table issues” that matter most to the district’s families. Some of the core policies he plans to run on are universal health care, universal pre-K, and climate change.
The primary will take place on March 8, 2022, and the general election will take place on Nov. 8th, 2022. The filing deadline is Dec. 17.
Price said he has not yet planned what he will do post-retirement: These last 14 months in office have his full attention. He still has to fight for Biden’s reconciliation bill, and his committee already wrote a budget appropriations bill that is awaiting senate approval. He will also continue to work on local policy projects such as housing and transportation.
Political uncertainties will loom over his activity up until his final days, but Price knows he will have to move on.
“This political juncture is more of an unknown quantity, but at some point, one has to pass the baton, despite whatever is ongoing,” Price said.
Ahead of the impending handoff, Price hesitates to determine own legacy. That is something he would prefer to leave to others, he said. Still, he has some thoughts about how he wants to be remembered.
“I hope I’m thought of as an institutionalist who has contributed to this institution,” he said. “There’s a mixed report card, I would say, about how this institution is faring. And I’ve tried to be part of the solution. But if there’s anything that’s a work in progress, it’s that: democracy.”
At top: U.S. Rep. David Price represents North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District, which includes Durham County. Photo courtesy of Rep. David Price.
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?”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
At top: Signs promoting Durham mayoral candidates are popping up around Durham. 9th Street photo by Josie Vonk.