In the 1% prepared foods tax discussions, one of the more interesting aspects of the uneasy dance between Durham's elected leaders and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People has been just how much support the former would give for the measure given the opposition of the latter.
Bill Bell in particular came under some criticism from tax supporters for what was perceived as lukewarm support for the measure in his comments to the press after the General Assembly approved the measure, as in an N&O interview some weeks back. Multiple meals tax backers told BCR in the wake of those comments that it wasn't clear at all that Bell was going to stand up for the tax and that any lobbying would need to come from other parts of the community.
Bell may just be walking a politically fine line, it seems, given the H-S's report on Wednesday that the Rev. Mel Whitley -- a close backer of the mayor, and a regular voice speaking out for the economically disadvantaged PAC1 district -- is participating in a committee seeking to build support for the measure:
[A] campaign should include radio ads on local gospel music stations, posters touting the proposal in barbershops and beauty salons, and articles in black newspapers commonly distributed in area churches [according to a leaked memo authored by Whitley]....
Countering [a lack of voter awareness] will take the involvement of people with high name identification to voters, like Bell and County Commissioners Chairwoman Ellen Reckhow, he said.
They'll probably have to sit down with area ministers to explain the tax over dinner, and do likewise at a lunch or breakfast for business owners, he said.
There's a few fascinating elements to this tale -- including the fact that, to Whitley's apparent dismay, this memo leaked out to the press before a steering committee organizing in favor of the tax had formally reviewed or approved the proposal.
More interesting is what the memo calls for: the enlistment of marketing directly to black residents and thought leaders like business owners and ministers in a way that routes around Lavonia Allison's powerful Committee.
An unanswered question is whether Whitley has taken up the cause on Bell's behalf or with his urging. Given Whitley's reported close ties to the mayor, however, it's certainly well within the realm of possibility, particularly since Whitley is usually given to focus on crime-fighting and neighborhood improvement in PAC1, issues somewhat far afield from the facilities like the Civic Center, Hayti Heritage Center, and Minor League Baseball museum that would benefit from the levy.
The use of a proxy would be a natural way for the mayor to avoid
crossing swords with Allison, whose made her own opposition to the tax
quite well known -- though the proposed strategy certainly calls for
Bell to become a public proponent of the tax. It will be interesting
indeed to see how willing the mayor is to put his name out in front of
such a measure.
Meanwhile, the H-S also notes
that American for Prosperity, the Art Pope-linked group active in
conservative issues statewide, is looking to link up with the Durham
County Republican Party to help defeat the measure, a matter AFP has
taken a frown to in other N.C. counties.
(Tip for AFP: We'd suggest you first put together a search party to
find the Durham Republicans; there aren't many of them, and last I
checked, Steve Monks was still running door-to-door collecting
signatures as the Lewis Cheek spoiler....)