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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?”

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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 jacob.sheridan@duke.edu or julianna.rennie@duke.edu.

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

Meet the seven candidates running for Durham mayor, including Bree Davis, Daryl Quick, and Jahnmaud Lane

By Julianna Rennie and Jake Sheridan

There’s one week left for Durham voters to cast their ballots before the primary election on Oct. 5. The outcome will determine the two finalists in each of the four City Council races. 

There are seven candidates vying for the mayor’s seat. Durham’s current mayor, Steve Schewel, is not seeking reelection. 

The 9th Street Journal recently profiled some of the candidates. Check out our stories on City Council member Javiera Caballero, former judge Elaine O’Neal, housing advocate Charlitta Burruss, and youth minister Rebecca Harvard Barnes

Here’s what you need to know about the remaining three candidates: Bree Davis, Daryl Quick and Jahnmaud Lane.

Bree Davis

Born in sunny South Florida, Bree Davis comes from a family of changemakers. Her father worked as a Baptist minister and coordinated outreach for Haitian and Cuban refugees. 

“This is kind of my legacy,” she told the 9th Street Journal.  

After moving to Durham 12 years ago, Davis experienced houselessness, food insecurity, and underemployment. As a single mom and bisexual Black woman, Davis says she knows what it feels like to fall through the cracks.

If elected, Davis promises to make sure that all Durham residents benefit from the city’s recent economic boom. 

“The goal has been achieved, but now we have to pick up the folks that have been left behind,” she said.

Her other policy priorities include affordable housing and community safety. In her INDY Week candidate questionnaire, Davis wrote that she would fully fund the Durham Police Department while exploring alternatives to policing through Durham’s new Community Safety Department. 

Davis currently works as a research coordinator for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She started her own social media consulting company, Social Media Phobia Solutions, in 2011. She’s also a collage artist and filmmaker

Daryl Quick

Daryl Quick is pledging to “make a better Durham by getting back to the basics.”

Throughout the campaign, Quick has talked openly about his experiences growing up in public housing with family members who struggled with drug addiction. 

A native Durhamite, Quick hopes to inspire children experiencing poverty to dream of running for public office.

His platform addresses violent crime, social services, and infrastructure.

Quick promotes his campaign heavily on his Facebook page. In a Sept. 8 post, he wrote, “No more status quo! No more gentrification! No more low wage paying jobs! No more kids can’t play! No more walking past a homeless person downtown!”

Jahnmaud Lane

Jahnmaud Lane isn’t just a rare Durham Republican: He’s a highly followed conservative commentator. 

His Facebook page, “Mind of Jamal,” has over 300,000 followers. The clips regularly stretch over an hour. 

In his videos, the adamant Trump supporter pours over a range of far-right topics. He recently criticized coronavirus vaccines and workers’ unions, decried calls for national political unity, and urged his followers to “break out the Old Dixie” because “this union stuff aint working.” Lane often speaks in front of a Confederate flag. 

He streams videos on YouTube, too, but the apparently associated “MindofJamal” Twitter account has been suspended. 

Lane did not reply to a call requesting an interview. He described himself as a former “no-good, piece-of-trash drug dealer” in an interview with The News & Observer

The article noted that he was charged in 2001 with a misdemeanor for resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. Two years later, he spent over a year in a state corrections facility for assaulting and seriously injuring another person, the article added. 

In the News & Observer piece, Lane also acknowledged that he attended the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol, though he said he didn’t enter the Capitol building. 

On Lane’s campaign website, his platform focuses on addressing a rise in violent crime. He would like to pay police officers more. His other policy ideas include building more affordable housing and more intensely inspecting public housing facilities for tenant damage.

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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 jacob.sheridan@duke.edu or julianna.rennie@duke.edu.

At top: Bree Davis is one of seven candidates running to be Durham’s next mayor. Photo provided by Bree Davis.

Burruss banks on ‘boots on the ground’ experience in her mayoral campaign

As mayoral candidate Charlitta Burruss showed us around her neighborhood, Edgemont Elms, she stopped at the road in front of her house and pointed to the ground where bullet shells had strewn the street the night before. 

“I picked up 15 shells from this parking lot,” said Burruss, shaking her head. 

Having served on the resident councils of several Durham Housing Authority communities – she previously lived in Calvert Place – Burruss is familiar with the gun violence and affordable housing crises facing the city. 

Through her campaign, Burruss hopes to encourage others from low-income neighborhoods to run for political office. She said people like her, who have relationships with residents of Durham’s often-overlooked communities, have an important perspective to share. 

“We don’t consider people who are actually boots on the ground, that are actually in the community and making a big impact,” Burruss told the 9th Street Journal. 

In June this year, after hearing gunfire every night from her home in Edgemont Elms, Burruss organized a community barbecue, inviting district police and local families to spend time together and build relationships. In addition to her resident council responsibilities, Burruss is a member of the Residential Advisory Board of DHA and chairperson for the Consumer Family Advisory Committee of Durham.

In 2018, she received a Neighborhood Spotlight Award for her community outreach effort in Durham, which included organizing food and toy donations and community events. 

This campaign marks Burruss’s fourth attempt at running for political office in North Carolina. She was a candidate for mayor of Monroe in 2007; town council in Marshville in 2011; and city council in Durham in 2019, receiving 1,258 votes. 

Born in Washington, D.C., in 1959, Burruss comes from a family of preachers. After working many different jobs to support her son, Burruss decided to pursue higher education in her late 40’s, receiving an associate’s degree in Human Services from South Piedmont Community College in 2004 and a Bachelor of Sciences in social work from Gardner-Webb University in 2006. 

Though she has never held a political office, Burruss is an experienced community leader; she said her roots in the community give her an advantage over other candidates. For example, Burruss has become frustrated by what sees as broken communication channels between DHA residents and local government officials. In her experience, the local government makes a dangerous presumption that all DHA residents have access to  computers and internet required to find information about affordable housing and employment opportunities.

“Durham officials don’t realize not everybody can afford internet access, and older people are not using computers,” said Burruss. 

Alternative methods of communication, such as electronic billboards and posters containing updates from the local government, could be a better way to reach those without internet access, she said. 

Patching the communication gaps between low-income residents and the Durham mayor’s office, Burruss said, is a vital prerequisite to addressing the issues she is most passionate about — crime, affordable housing, and employment. 

Addressing crime and poverty would be Burruss’s main priority as mayor. She believes investment in education and parental support in communities with high crime rates can help break this cycle. 

Burruss does not support defunding the police in Durham. Rather, she believes police officers should be retrained to better communicate with residents and those with mental health conditions. She also supports paying police officers more so they don’t leave to find work in counties offering higher salaries.

She says her experience as a liaison between local residents, police, and the Housing Authority positions her well to improve city relations as mayor. If elected, Burruss plans to spend time in Durham, speaking to people “on the ground” to inform her policy decisions. 

“If I were in the mayor’s chair, you’d be able to put your hands on me,” said Burruss. 

At the top: Mayoral candidate Charlitta Burruss serves on the resident council for her neighborhood, Edgemont Elms. 9th Street Journal photo by Josie Vonk.

Mayoral candidate Javiera Caballero envisions a Durham for all

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.”

Javiera Caballero became the Durham City Council’s first Latina member when she was appointed to fill a vacancy in Jan. 2018. 9th Street Journal photo by Josie Vonk.

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.”

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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 jacob.sheridan@duke.edu or julianna.rennie@duke.edu.

At the top: Mayoral candidate Javiera Caballero poses in her campaign t-shirt. 9th Street Journal photo by Josie Vonk. 

Durham primary early in-person voting begins, but slowly

But for the chatter of employees running one of Durham County’s five early voting locations, it was mostly silent outside Durham County Main Library Friday morning. 

Every once in a while, a Durham voter made their way down the steps of the newly renovated building, but it seemed that few people were voting in person. Only ten voters made the trek in an hour.  

Nellie Bellows turned out to vote because her husband told her to get it out of the way, she said. But she hasn’t really been hearing much about the elections from her friends. She cited COVID-19 and the isolation that has followed as a possible reason why people have not heard much about this year’s municipal election.

Early voting for the primary began Thursday and will run until Oct. 2. There are five early voting locations: Durham County Main Library, North Regional Library, South Regional Library, East Regional Library and North Carolina Central University’s Turner Law Building.

Durham residents will be voting for contested races in Wards I and II during the primary. They’ll also cast ballots to elect a new mayor to replace Steve Schewel, who announced earlier this year he will not be running for a third term. Seven candidates are vying for the office. The top two vote-getters in each primary race will move on to the Nov. 2 general election. 

Ashley and Cody Strahm, a married couple from Duke Park, went out on the hot, cloudy morning to cast their votes. The couple is passionate about local elections, they said, and heard about early voting through a neighborhood group email list.

“Everyone knows the national elections are important, but not everyone knows about the local elections, and we love Durham, so we think these elections are important because we want to continue to see it go in a positive direction,” Cody said.

Some citizens don’t feel there’s as much at stake in local elections since many of the candidates identify as Democrats, he added.  

“I think we all are progressive, so lots of people probably think there’s less on the line,” he said. 

When Duke graduate student Hananiel Setiawan visited the library to vote, he lamented how little his classmates knew about local elections. Ever since he moved to Durham for school in 2017, he has participated in every election. 

“People just take it for granted. Of course, there’s this Duke bubble, and some people don’t really think about Durham,” he said.

He said Duke’s Graduate and Professional Student Government, a group he is a part of, hopes to raise awareness about local government this year. They plan to invite the winners of the mayoral primary to come speak at one of their meetings.

Through two days of early voting, 648 early voting ballots had been cast, according to the Durham County Board of Elections unofficial count. That number falls well short of the over 27,000 ballots cast in the first two days of early voting for the high profile 2020 general election. 

During early voting, Durhamites can go to any site and register to vote through same-day registration and update their names and addresses if need be.

If you want to register, you will need to bring valid identification, including a North Carolina Drivers license, a government photo ID, or a document that proves the name and address of the citizen.

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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 jacob.sheridan@duke.edu or julianna.rennie@duke.edu.

At top: A sign marks the Durham County Main Library early in-person voting location, where a few voters cast their ballots in the municipal primary Friday morning. 9th Street Journal photo by Rebecca Schneid.

Durham elections: O’Neal, Caballero split endorsements. Who’s backing who?

The Durham mayoral race is heating up, and two candidates are emerging as front-runners after winning key endorsements. 

Former judge Elaine O’Neal has been backed by the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, Friends of Durham, and former Mayor Bill Bell. 

City Council member Javiera Caballero has received support from Mayor Steve Schewel, the People’s Alliance, and the Durham Association of Educators. 

Durham’s political action committees (PACs) endorsed different candidates for City Council in Ward I and Ward III. The PACs act as trusted advisors for many Durham voters. Some also raise and spend money to promote candidates through ad buys, signs, and mailers.

Since 2017, the People’s Alliance PAC has spent nearly $240,000 to support chosen political candidates, according to watchdog database Transparency USA. The Durham Committee has dished out over $165,000, and Friends of Durham has expended nearly $20,000. 

Seven candidates are running for mayor, and three City Council seats are up for election. The primary election is Oct. 5. After that, the top two vote-getters in each race will face off in the Nov. 2 general election. 

The People’s Alliance

People’s Alliance PAC coordinator Milo Pyne said many members who attended a 400-person online endorsement meeting Sept. 1 wanted the organization to support O’Neal, but the group ultimately chose Caballero in part because of “continuity.” 

“We agree with a lot of what the current council has done and the initiatives they’ve taken,” Pyne told The 9th Street Journal, pointing out that Caballero would be Durham’s first Latina mayor if elected. 

The group set continuity aside in the competitive City Council Ward I race, however, endorsing community organizer Marion T. Johnson over incumbent DeDreana Freeman. Freeman received the People’s Alliance’s endorsement during her successful 2017 City Council campaign. 

“DeDreana has a good record of service, but our members just feel like it’s time for a change, and that Marion has a unique set of experiences working with the community,” Pyne said. 

The People’s Alliance also endorsed incumbent Mark-Anthony Middleton in the Ward II race, as well as community organizer AJ Williams in the Ward III race.

While major endorsements are split so far in Ward III, the two candidates — AJ Williams and entrepreneur and former Durham Public Schools teacher Leonardo Williams — won’t be squaring off in the Oct. 5 primary. Their names will appear on the ballot for the Nov. 2 general election.  

The Durham Association of Educators

The Durham Association of Educators, a local affiliate of major state and national level teachers’ unions, similarly endorsed Caballero for mayor and Johnson in Ward I. 

The association’s endorsement press release cited Caballero’s experience working with schools and uniquely specific education plans. It also praised Johnson’s “deep understanding of how white supremacy drives the educational outcome gap” and her advocacy for collective action in schools. 

The group backed AJ Williams for Ward III, but didn’t endorse a Ward II candidate after two of the three people running didn’t respond to questionnaires and interview requests. 

The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People

The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People endorsed O’Neal in part because she was born and raised in the Bull City.

“She understands the history of Durham,” committee chair Antonio Jones told The 9th Street Journal. “She understands how Durham has grown. She understands who’s been left out of that growth.” 

Jones said the committee backed Freeman in Ward I because of her track record on equity and expertise in land use. 

The committee endorsed Middleton in Ward II and Leonardo Williams in Ward III.

Friends of Durham

The Friends of Durham — a bi-partisan, Durham-focused PAC made up of community members and business people — endorsed the same slate of candidates as the Durham Committee.

O’Neal’s experience sentencing and offering guidance to people who came through her courtroom qualify her for mayor, Friends of Durham Chair Alice Sharpe told The 9th Street Journal. The group endorsed Middleton for Ward II and Leonardo Williams for Ward III. 

For the contentious Ward I race, Friends of Durham is supporting Freeman.

“We think she has shown an ability to focus in on issues, and she has grown into her council position,” Sharpe said. 

Durham for All

Durham for All, a progressive group of multiracial organizers and activists, is backing Caballero for mayor. The group cited her efforts to expand access to local government by pushing for city materials to be in Spanish in its endorsement page

In Ward I, Durham for All endorsed Johnson. 

“As the current chair of the Participatory Budgeting Steering Committee, she has organized to expand democratic, grassroots decision making in Durham,” the group wrote. 

Durham for All endorsed AJ Williams for Ward III, crediting his work organizing for community-based alternatives to policing, as well as his willingness to fight for workers’ rights and against developers that contribute to gentrification. It did not make an endorsement in Ward II. 

Former Mayor Bill Bell and Mayor Steve Schewel

Durham’s two most recent mayors split their endorsements. Bill Bell, who served as mayor from 2001 to 2017, endorsed O’Neal. 

“She knows Durham and its people but, just as importantly the people of Durham also know Elaine,” he wrote in a statement posted on O’Neal’s Facebook page. 

Schewel called Caballero brave, kind, wise, whip-smart and collegial in his Facebook endorsement. 

“Her work ethic is daunting. Her care for the people of Durham is immense. Her vision for our city is radically inclusive, and she has shown that she knows how to make that vision real,” he said. 

Schewel also endorsed incumbent Middleton in the Ward II race. 

City Council member Charlie Reece told The 9th Street Journal he endorsed Javiera Caballero. 

“She is smart, she is strong, she is courageous, and she is ready to lead as mayor on day one,” he said. 

Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson said she endorsed Caballero for mayor, Johnson in Ward I, and AJ Williams in Ward III, but is not making an endorsement in Ward II. Current Ward III City Council member Pierce Freelon endorsed AJ Williams in the Ward III race . 

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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 candidates profiles, campaign coverage, and other important updates. You can submit questions and news tips to our staff by emailing jacob.sheridan@duke.edu or julianna.rennie@duke.edu.

At the top: A sign encourages Durhamites to vote in the 2019 city election. 9th Street Journal photo by Cameron Beach. 

This story was updated to include Durham for All’s endorsements.

Pierce Freelon joins Durham’s City Council

After months of waiting, the City Council filled its vacant Ward 3 seat, appointing local artist and activist Pierce Freelon.

Sworn in today, Freelon was selected in a 4-2 vote Monday, taking the position left empty when Vernetta Alston was appointed to the NC House representing District 29 in April.

Freelon pointed to poverty as one of the biggest challenges facing the city in his online interview with council members last week. “Poverty is a policy choice,” he said, tying violence, crime, the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on Black, Indigenous, and communities of color and a shortage of affordable housing to poverty.

He said Durham must acknowledge the city government’s historic role in zoning and development that harmed communities of color and push for inclusiveness, such as multi-class, inter-generational involvement in city decisions. 

Freelon also said he favors alternatives to reducing gun violence beyond policing, such as more counselors, vocational training, and recreational opportunities for young people.

During the interview, Freelon said his budget  priorities include ensuring no city workers will be laid off because of the pandemic, supporting Durham as a cultural and artistic center, and continuing the COVID smart response of the current council. Freelon also drew parallels between COVID-19 and the racism experienced by communities of color. 

“Because when you’re black and you get hit by the storm, it’s not just the rain and the wind, it’s the tempest of racism,” said Freelon. “When you’re black and brown and there’s a virus, the diagnosis itself can be dire, but it’s the plague of white supremacy and poverty that exacerbates the havoc that black folks are experiencing,” he said.

Five finalists addressed council members last week, including Anita Daniels-Kenney, Leonardo Williams, Sarah Sinning, and Shelia Huggins.

Council members DeDreana Freeman and Mark-Anthony Middleton voted for Daniels-Kenney, a clinical social worker who for many years has worked to expand mental health and addiction treatment, among other things.

With a 4 to 2 vote, Pierce Freelon was appointed to represent Durham’s Ward 3 on the City Council.

During the council interviews, Middleton questioned Freelon on his residential status. The two went back and forth for about four minutes, with Middleton asking whether Freelon moved to Ward 3 this year to seek the appointment. Freelon said he has lived at his current address since March of this year. He also said he’s lived in the ward for a total of 10 years at various times.

After the first vote, Schewel gave council members the chance to make the vote for Freelon unanimous. Middleton and Freeman did not respond, producing an awkward silence.

Schewel praised Freelon after the vote. ”Pierce Freelon emerged as the council’s choice because he is generous, brave, straightforward, incredibly knowledgeable on the issues that face us, and a powerful voice for the new generation of Durham,” he wrote in a press release.

Freelon’s appointment comes after two unsuccessful runs for office in Durham in the last three years. Schewel thwarted the first in 2017 when Freelon finished third out of six Democratic candidates competing to succeed former Mayor Bill Bell. In March, Freelon finished second to Natalie Murdock in a primary race for the District 20 state Senate seat.  

Ward 3 stretches north and south on the western side of Durham, from below Route 54 to above Interstate 85. Although Freelon ran on the principles of black liberation and reparations, the ward, which includes Duke University, is majority white.

Freelon, 36, is a Durham native and the son of the late architect Phil Freelon, who spearheaded the design of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and Nnenna Freelon, a Grammy-nominated jazz singer.

A musician, he is founder of the digital maker space and creative center, Blackspace, whose artistic workshops offer youth of African descent “a breathing space to manifest their dreams by any medium necessary”.  He and his wife, Katye Proctor Freelon, have two children.

Freelon’s appointment runs through 2021. If he wants to remain on the council, he’ll need to run for re-election in November.

9th Street reporter Cameron Oglesby can be reached at cameron.oglesby@duke.edu

At top: Pierce Freelon wore an agbada, a robe worn by men in parts of West Africa, when sworn in a new City Council member on Friday. He is facing his wife, Katye Proctor Freelon. Photo courtesy of the City of Durham

Displaced McDougald Terrace residents make City Council members listen

On paper, the agenda for Tuesday night’s City Council meeting seemed to do a lot of good.

Sister Cities of Durham, a non-profit connecting Durham to cities around the world, announced its upcoming trip with two City Council members to its new Sister City, Tilaran, Costa Rica. 

City Council Member Charlie Reece stood to recognize the upcoming Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, a tribute to Japanese Americans who challenged forced internment during World War II. 

But for people evacuated from McDougald Terrace, the unsafe public housing complex, the agenda was lacking. For one, they weren’t on it. And Costa Rica and the 1940s are vastly remote from their plight.

“I know there are several people here who are interested in making comments regarding the situation at McDougald Terrace,” Mayor Steve Schewel said early in the meeting. “That is not on our agenda.” 

Schewel said he would talk with any residents who wanted to discuss the status of the housing complex, some of whom spoke to Council members on Jan. 6, after the meeting.

Council Member Mark-Anthony Middleton soon reported his understanding that McDougald residents will not return home as quickly as some had hoped. “It’s going to be at least a couple more weeks,” he said.

Before Schewel could move to the “priority items” on the agenda, residents and supporters erupted, shouting that the mayor should change the agenda.

“They’re eating like peasants!” one yelled.

“Y’all let us eat macaroni and cheese cups every day,” McDougald Terrace Resident Council President Ashley Canady yelled as she stormed toward the exit. “We tired, we fed up, and we are tired.”

After residents left the meeting room in a rage, Schewel requested that the glass doors separating the council chambers from a lobby be closed. The mayor then pushed on with the meeting.

Residents circled Canady in the lobby, while local news cameras recorded. “You think we want to live like this? We don’t want this, we didn’t pick this,” she yelled.

When Canady broke down into loud sobs, a small group of women comforted her. Young boys and girls ran restlessly around the lobby and other residents shouted at council members through the doors.  

“I should be able to cook a home cooked meal for my son,” McDougald Terrace resident Shimey Harvey said, choking back tears. 

Even if Harvey had access to a stove rather than the microwave in the motel that she and her son have been temporarily relocated to, the food stipend provided by the DHA isn’t enough, she said, and everyday tasks have become so much harder.

For Harvey, that means calling in a favor from her friend who works as an Uber driver to take her son to school. She then uses part of her food stipend to cover the cost of gas of picking him up at the McDougald Terrace bus stop at the end of the day and driving him back to the motel. 

“That’s where my little money that they give us goes to. Gas and fast food,” she said. 

Canady’s sobs did not last long. Soon she was leading chants in the lobby. “Enough is enough,” residents and their supporters yelled, raising their fists.  

“Our babies living in hotels, while you fly your ass to Costa Rica,” one protestor cried. 

After a vote to alter outdoor lighting rules about an hour into the meeting, Schewel relented.

“I’m going to reverse my previous decision. I thought that a meeting afterwards would be suitable to have a good discussion with folks but apparently, they don’t think so,” the mayor said before inviting McDougald residents and protestors back. 

Each was given two minutes to speak, the standard time for public comments during Council meetings. Some residents used the opportunity to complain about their children’s lack of access to healthy food. Others focused on their children’s inability to be active inside the hotels. 

“My kids keep thinking we’re going home, then they hear that we have more weeks to be in a hotel? I’m tired of it, my kids are tired of it,” one mother said, adding she’s fearful her family will get “put out” if their playing disturbs others.

The mental health of children and their parents should be a primary concern, resident Laura Betye said. “We have an emergency situation on our hands,” she told Council members. “We desperately need mental health counseling.”

Some who had visited their McDougald Terrace apartments said they were disappointed with the lack of renovation progress. “I have holes in my walls, mold. How can you say you’re gonna fix something and you’re not even gonna fix the foundation?,” one woman said. 

After listening, Schewel spoke. “I can really appreciate that this uncertainty is really difficult to live with. I understand that and I really feel for each of you all who are in that situation, that’s a terrible situation,” he said.

Schewel then thanked the residents. “I appreciate you all being here… and appreciate your patience, and appreciate your sense of urgency as well,”  he said.

During her time on the podium, Canady made it clear that she is out of patience. 

“If I have to disrupt every city function, every county function, I want all the smoke. I want it,” she said. “Because if they disrupt our lives, we about to disrupt theirs.”