Last week, Howard Clement was getting most of the love (or is it love?) from other candidates, standing for most of the week as the only candidate for this fall's municipal election that had opposition from other candidates; he's expected to have three opponents at least by the week's end.
(Bill Bell did attract a past opponent, Steven Williams, for the mayor's race late last week, although the odds of anyone making a serious dent on Bell seem slim.)
That changes this week, with Donald Hughes set to enter the Ward 1 race against Mayor pro tem Cora Cole-McFadden.
While Hughes is a newcomer to local electoral politics -- he'll turn 22 just a few weeks before the election -- his entry into the Ward 1 race has been one of the most handicapped, and watched, events of this political years.
BCR first heard the rumors of a possible Hughes run late in 2008; the UNC Greensboro graduate worked as an intern for Charlotte/Triad-area Congressman Mel Watt and was en route back to the Bull City, where he attended Eastway Elementary and Hillside High before heading off to Greensboro for college.
And Hughes confirmed in an email this evening that he'll be throwing his hat into the ring this week. A Facebook event invitation indicates that Hughes will hold a rally kicking off his campaign this Wednesday morning at 10:30am.
Some circles of Durham politics are doubtlessly going to evince some level of curiosity over Hughes' family political ties; his mother, Jackie Wagstaff, was a frequent and often-controversial member of City Council and the school board in years past. Wagstaff herself lost a re-election bid for Council in 2001 to Cole-McFadden -- the very candidate her son finds himself challenging eight years later.
Wagstaff then served several years on the school board during a period marked by significant conflict among the board, before coming in third place and losing her seat in a 2006 election.
But Hughes has struck his own path in Durham politics, working this year as an intern for the Durham Committee, frequently toting video cameras and the like to County Commission meetings and the like. And he's been speaking out more and more frequently at public meetings, often appearing before or after Committee chief Lavonia Allison.
In a May meeting to discuss the controversial school board cuts, Hughes spoke out against teacher and teacher assistant cuts -- "These are the people that deal directly with our children, with our students. We cannot stand for this." -- while also calling for greater energy efficiency in buildings and eliminating fleet car privileges for DPS leadership.
Hughes was also outspoken in wanting a clearer sense of which schools were feeling the impact from the cuts. "We have to have this data disaggregated," Hughes said.
"When we're cutting 192 teachers, we need to know where those children are coming from. Are they coming from our most at-risk, low performing schools?" Hughes added.
Hughes also appeared at the April 13 Board of County Commissioners meeting, supporting fellow Committee partisans' stand on the controversial boundary change discussion involving Jordan Lake.
"It seems like we're ultimately telling the people of Durham that we want to turn away a possible opportunity to expand our tax base by not letting this project through," he said.
Noting that Durham does not currently get its drinking water from Jordan Lake, Hughes noted that the project would "bring jobs at a time when this economy is suffering."
"I would not stand up here and support any project that would cause my drinking water to be harmed," he added.
And Hughes has more generally been doing a Ward 1 circuit in recent months, from the PAC1 Coffee with Council meeting to the Cleveland-Holloway home tour and beyond, establishing a strong public presence.
The location of Hughes' kickoff -- an unloved former Winn-Dixie sitting abandoned across the street from Eastway -- is a great symbol of the unrealized promise, and economic pain, of East Durham. Eastway and the residential revitalization behind it show what renwal can look like in the Bull City, even as the lack of a grocery store in East Durham between The Villages and Los Primos has stood as a sign of the district's economic challenges.
Look for responsible economic development and neighborhood revitalization to be a plank of Hughes' campaign, along with support for vo-tech educational centers, public safety, and green/sustainability issues as critical planks in his platform.
While it's too soon to have any definitive sense of what impact Hughes' entry into the race will have -- other than it being the most watched-for move in Durham politics this season -- on the surface, the most interesting question it raises is which candidate will receive the Durham Committee endorsement in Ward 1.
Cole-McFadden got the nod from the Committee in 2005 over Victoria Peterson, but it's by no means clear that that's a pattern that will repeat itself this year.
Meanwhile, Cole-McFadden is likely to find herself under even more scrutiny in this, her second re-election bid. Some progressives who have long supported the mayor pro tem have felt her moving in a conservative direction on land use and development; others have argued she lacks independence from the mayor in her political decision-making.
At the same time, she's attracted scrutiny over media reports of a supposed role in the termination of the former manager of the private company contracted to operate DATA, allegedly telling the firm that they needed an African-American and not a white manager in Durham. The matter arose in a lawsuit filed by the former manager, who was eventually dismissed.
All of which, in short, has the potential to create a localized perfect-storm in politics.
Could grassroots campaigning from a fresh face help lead to a possible Committee endorsement -- even the Ward 1 seat itself?
Will Hughes be able to create his own profile in Bull City politics and avoid backlash from voters making inferences to his mother's political past?
And perhaps most intriguing -- will a challenge to Cole-McFadden lead still another candidate to enter the race and have a chance at winning victory? (A harder outcome to imagine given the presence of a primary election, which would preclude a three-candidate general election that would provide the greatest odds of such an outcome... but in Durham politics, anything's possible.)