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Posts tagged as “Leonardo Williams”

Proposed social district in Durham would allow you to carry open alcohol

Leonardo Williams was pleasantly surprised one evening when, while vacationing in Savannah, a bartender let him know that he could enjoy his drink outdoors. Sipping leisurely as he browsed through the Historic District’s array of shops, the Durham city councilman was struck with an idea. 

I thought it would be, you know, just something cool to have in Durham,” Williams said. “I think it’ll be appropriate with our local culture here.”

In social districts like the one in Savannah, Georgia, people can consume alcohol outdoors and on city streets within defined boundaries. After Gov. Roy Cooper signed House Bill 890 last September, these districts are now coming to North Carolina. Supporters say social districts bolster local economies, drawing customers to breweries and other businesses that rely upon foot traffic. 

They’ve already popped up in Greensboro and Kannapolis. And on July 5, the Raleigh City Council approved a pilot social district along Fayetteville Street, which is expected to kick off August 15. Now, Durham may be next.

“I’m sure many of you can’t wait for this to happen in Durham,” Williams tweeted on July 6 in response to the news about Raleigh. “I’m with you and good news, it’s hopefully coming soon. We provided this as a legislative ask and are now in the process of making it policy for Durham.” 

Downtown Durham, Inc., a nonprofit working toward downtown revitalization, is leading his initiative. DDI leaders recently visited the Downtown Greensboro social district with city officials, where they gained valuable insight. For instance, Greensboro authorities report that litter has not been an issue as feared. DDI also collected ideas for graphics and signage, which would identify participating businesses and the boundaries of the district. 

DDI President and CEO Nicole Thompson hopes to see Durham’s social district cover most of downtown. The current proposed map draws borders at Foster Street to the north and Highway 147 to the south. The district’s eastern and western edges would lie along Wall Street and S. Buchanan Blvd., respectively.  

“Our restaurants are spread out through that entire district, so [we’re] not wanting to prohibit or limit businesses being able to take advantage of this,” she said. Thompson added that hours would likely follow Raleigh’s model, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m daily. 

In addition to requiring cities to set aside specific hours for social districts, House Bill 890 mandates clearly labeled cups and imposes drink size limitations. Patrons may not bring their own drinks into the district. 

DDI has reached out to local business owners to better understand their feelings and concerns. A March 2022 survey of 93 business owners revealed that nearly 80% endorsed a downtown social district. In a second survey that went out to the public, responses were similarly enthusiastic. Of the 671 individuals surveyed who live, shop and/or work downtown, 94% said that a social district would be “a good idea for downtown Durham.”

Durham business owners, many of whom struggled during the pandemic, welcome a social district, Seth Gross, owner of Bull City Burger and Brewery. 

“The damage and destruction that happened in the previous two years, it’s going to take five or more years to try to recover from,” said Gross, who also owns Pompieri Pizza. I think it’s absolutely critical to helping our downtown.”

Chris Creech, who co-owns The Glass Jug Beer Lab with his wife Katy, was also excited about a social district. It could help brewery businesses like his own, he said, and encourage people to enjoy the scenery the city has to offer.

For example, The Glass Jug sits just across the street from Durham Central Park. “Folks could buy beer from our taproom and walk out into the park and have the beer with a picnic or doing whatever they want to do in the park,” he said. “Eating, drinking, playing games.”

The benefits may extend even to businesses that don’t sell alcohol.

Maybe people grab a drink at one of the lovely establishments next door and then come and mosey on to us,” said Megan Cain, owner of The ZEN Succulent, a plant and gift store with locations in both Raleigh and Durham. Both she and Creech hope to see the city install recycling bins and educate the public about this proposal.

Some business owners fret that social districts would make downtown unsafe for kids and families, the survey found. They worry that relaxed alcohol policies could increase bad behavior and place an additional burden on police.

“I really think it’s going to be essential for when this rolls out that we have plenty of great messaging,” Cain said. “But also plenty of great signs downtown, letting people know where the district starts, where it ends, so that we’re not having a strain on our already strained law enforcement.” 

Thompson doesn’t expect downtown Durham to morph into the next Bourbon Street. “This is not going to be Mardi Gras,” she chuckled, emphasizing that existing alcohol laws will remain in place. 

“I want to be very clear that the social district does not supersede ABC laws. It’s just allowing you to carry an open container,” she said. “So I don’t foresee the ability to carry an open container changing downtown, overnight, to a rowdy experience.” 

City staff plan to present a proposal to the city council at a meeting in August. If it is approved, Thompson thinks the Bull City could launch a social district as soon as fall

The pandemic might have dealt a heavy blow to the city’s nightlife. But by Labor Day, the plaza of American Tobacco campus could teem with people relaxing with their drinks. Checkered picnic blankets could break up the brilliant green of Durham Central Park. 

I do think that it’ll create more of a vibrant culture,” Williams said. He added, “I think it’s going to draw people from all over to come to Durham.”

Above: A proposed social district would allow people to walk around with open containers of alcohol in downtown Durham. The envisioned area would encompass the American Tobacco Campus. Photo by Ana Young — The 9th Street Journal. 

Analysis: 3 Takeaways from the Durham Municipal Election

Although the contest started with a big surprise — a top mayoral candidate suspended her campaign just weeks before Election Day — there were very few shocks at the end of last night’s Durham municipal elections. 

Elaine O’Neal, Durham’s new mayor elect, was sure to become the first Black woman to serve as the city’s mayor. Last night only made it official.

Former Judge O’Neal received 25,604 votes, or 84.69% of the total. Her challenger, City Council member Javiera Caballero, remained on the ballot after halting her campaign and won 4,385 votes, or 14.50% of the total, Durham County’s unofficial election results site showed late Wednesday.

Here are three key takeaways from Durham’s municipal election. 

1. Low election turnout from Bull City citizens once again.

Turnout is always low in Durham’s municipal elections, but this year was even worse. The number of people who voted appeared to be considerably down. As of Wednesday night, just over 30,000 ballots were counted in the mayoral race. That number could rise modestly as a few mail ballots trickle in, but won’t go up much. In the 2017 and 2019 municipal elections, around 36,000 and 35,000 votes for mayor were cast, respectively. 

There was a slow start to voting this election cycle, even in the primaries. 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 was in between the turnout rate for Durham’s last two municipal primaries. The primary showed a slight upshift in votes compared with 2019, back when Mayor Steve Schewel was running for re-election and 8.96% of Durham registered voters cast ballots. 

This year’s low turnout could have something to do with what was on the ballot. Mayoral candidate Javiera Caballero suspended her campaign, and decisive primary victories told a relatively clear story of who would win Ward I and Ward II. 

2. Incumbents dominated in Ward I and Ward II

Unsurprisingly, City Council incumbents Mark-Anthony Middleton and DeDreana Freeman won by large margins. This was expected after decisive primary wins by both candidates. 

Freeman won an impressive 71.17% of the vote against the more progressive community organizer Marion T. Johnson. Johnson was no pushover: she received a big endorsement from the People’s Alliance, as well as Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson. and led a hard-fought campaign that included call canvassing and yard signs across the city.

Still, Freeman’s work on the council, including efforts to fight child poverty and support environmental justice initiatives and small businesses owned by people of color proved robust enough to easily grant her another term. 

Middleton won a whopping 87.57% of the votes to continue as Ward II representative. He beat the decidedly more conservative pastor and former financial analyst Sylvester Williams. As a City Council member, Middleton has supported progressive initiatives like the Community Safety Department, basic income pilot program, and preservation of Durham’s historically Black neighborhoods.

3. Progressives took a hit

With incumbents and clear primary wins in the races for mayor, Ward I and Ward II, it was Ward III that truly proved the night’s most suspenseful contest. Community organizer AJ Williams and Zweli’s restaurant owner and educator Leonardo Williams both ran extensive campaigns, splitting key endorsements from throughout the city. Pierce Freelon, who was appointed to the seat in 2020, endorsed AJ Williams earlier this year. 

After a tense night, though, Leonardo Williams won by just 635 votes. 

His win followed a trend. The somewhat more moderate candidate also won in a Ward I race where both candidates campaigned hard. Same goes for the mayoral race, where Elaine O’Neal won the primary so decisively that her more progressive opponent effectively called it quits. 

In the end, the most progressive candidates lost in Durham yesterday, excluding Middleton, and a more moderate Durham won. The People’s Alliance PAC, the most progressive endorsing PAC with significant influence in Durham, endorsed Caballero, Johnson, Middleton, and AJ Williams. The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, a more moderate body, endorsed Elaine O’Neal, Freeman, Middleton and Leonardo Williams. 

Caballero had also been endorsed by Mayor Steve Schewel and Mayor Pro-Tempore and At-Large City Council Member Jillian Johnson.

Every single candidate on DCABP’s endorsement list won their election on Tuesday night. There are many factors at play in why a candidate wins: incumbency, effort in campaigning, positionality on significant issues. Yet, still, the most progressive candidates in Tuesday’s races did not come out on top.

At top, Mayor-elect Elaine O’Neal, right, campaigns outside the Main Library on Election Day. 9th Street photo by Josie Vonk.

The 9th Street Journal Guide to the Durham city election

Don’t let the headlines fool you. Although Durham’s election might look like a snooze – yes, the race for mayor is essentially uncontested – there are still three City Council races to be decided on Tuesday. 

The Nov. 2 municipal general election comes after a primary election in which just one in 10 Durham voters cast ballots. The Durham County Board of Elections reports that 6,190 voters – or, just 3.03% of registered voters – have already cast early in-person ballots in the general election as of Oct. 26.

While mayoral candidate Elaine O’Neal will likely coast to victory over Javiera Caballero, who suspended her campaign, there are three City Council seats to settle: Marion T. Johnson and incumbent DeDreana Freeman in Ward I, Sylvester Williams and incumbent Mark-Anthony Middleton in Ward II; and AJ Williams and Leonardo Williams for an open seat in Ward III. 

The races

In the race for Mayor, former judge O’Neal will appear on the ballot next to City Council member Caballero. The race, however, has been all but decided. After O’Neal won more than 68% of votes cast in the primary, Caballero announced she was suspending her campaign. 

“I congratulate Judge O’Neal on her strong performance in the primary election. I know that we share many values. She has a long record of service to the community,” Caballero said in her statement. “It is my hope and expectation that she and I will work as partners to move our city forward.”

In the Ward I race, current City Council member DeDreana Freeman is running for re-election against community organizer Marion T. Johnson. 

The two progressive candidates split several key endorsements. Freeman found support from the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, the Friends of Durham PAC and INDY Week. The People’s Alliance, the Durham Association of Educators, Durham for All and Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson are backing Johnson. 

Freeman collected 69% of the votes cast in the primary, but Johnson, who received 27% of the primary votes, has continued an energetic campaign. She spoke at a candidate forum covered by The Duke Chronicle last week, and one 9th Street Journal reporter even received a voter-aimed voicemail from her campaign soliciting support. 

The Ward II race features City Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton, who brought in 86% of the vote in the primary against Sylvester Williams, who received 9% of primary votes. 

Middleton is a major proponent of the Community Safety Department and has backed progressive ideas like a guaranteed basic income pilot program. Williams, a pastor and former financial analyst who ran unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2017 and 2019, also supports efforts to fight poverty and build affordable housing, but has more conservative ideas, including adding more officers to Durham’s police force. He has opposed gay marriage and expressed other homophobic ideas.

The Ward III race is a battle of people named Williams. Community organizer AJ Williams faces small business owner and former educator Leanorado Williams. With no incumbent running and no primary results to signal a frontrunner, Ward III is the race to watch. 

Current Ward III City Council member Pierce Freelon, who was appointed in 2020 and isn’t running to remain in the seat, endorsed AJ Williams, a progressive who works as director of incubation and ideation labs for Southern Vision Alliance and is a member of Durham Beyond Policing and other abolitionist organizations. 

Leonardo Williams, co-owner of the Durham restaurant Zweli’s, is chair of the NC Foundation for Public School Children and an executive board member of the Durham Association of Educators. Check back with The 9th Street Journal for an in-depth profile of the Ward III race coming later this week.

How to vote

Voters can cast ballots in-person on Election Day. Polls open at 6:30 am and close at 7:30 p.m. You can find your polling place by visiting Durham County’s election website here

You can also vote in-person before Election Day at five locations across the city, including the East, North and South regional libraries, the Main Library and the NCCU Turner Law Building. Hours and addresses for the early voting sites can be found here. Early in-person voting ends on Oct. 30, and early voting sites allow same day registration. 

The deadline to request a mail-in absentee ballot has already passed. Absentee ballots received after 5 p.m. on Election Day will only be counted if they are postmarked on or before Election Day and received by mail no later than 5 p.m. on the Friday after the election. Absentee ballots can also be returned in-person at the Durham County Board of Elections office or at any early voting site. 

Correction: The story was updated to clarify that Pierce Freelon was appointed and not elected to his seat in 2020

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The 9th Street Journal will continue to cover the city elections. Check with us Election Day for updates and results. 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 City Council and mayoral candidates stand in downtown Durham. 9th Street photo by Josie Vonk.