Today: on to questions four through seven from last week's City Council candidate forum.
Question 4: What are your plans to promote racial harmony in Durham?
- Parrish: Noted that people should start with an open mind and appreciate each others’ characteristics. No one chooses where or to whom they are born, and we have to remember each of these people is an individual, and no two people are alike. Pointed out that human beings by their age of accountability, around 12 or 13, start to make up their minds about people, and that’s a universal; stated that people need to be aware of this and think about the early roots of prejudice and racial challenges.
- Peterson: Stated concerns that most of the economic development money that the City and County are spending have been poorly directed. Noted that local government had given $30 million “to nothing but white companies, and you can’t even encourage those white companies to hire your local men -– and many of them are going to be African-American men –- I have real concerns about that.” Stated that more funds needed to be going to African-American companies and small businesses.
- Williams: Stated that "I’m about the truth," and demurred on the question, stating that he didn't want to comment on this question because he did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
- Ali: Noted that we should acknowledge the past of racial injustice throughout this country, then find ways move awareness forward by working on trust. Noted that we need to build trust by acknowledging that there has been past discrimination, and that if we invest in Hope Valley, the City also needs to invest in Holloway Street.
- Brown: Pointed out his background as an "old civil rights advocate" who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. when the civil rights leader was in the Triangle; "We came over on different boats, but we’re in the same boat now." Stated that the only way he could see for moving forward was by seeing unity and togetherness. Pointed out that the City does not do that by running a campaign of wedge issues that divide the community, including the Latino population, which he noted was new to Durham. Highlighted the presence of a City department focused on issues of equity and noted the department had received an award recognizing it as the top such department in the southeastern US.
- Harris: Noted that he recognized the legal separation of church and state, but that he was a Christian, and that the only commandment Jesus left was to love one another. Stated that we need to put religion back in the school system, put religion back in the government, and promote the love for one another to improve racial harmony.
- Parrish (Follow-Up): Added her preference for keeping resources local, and stated that when but when we have companies coming in to build offices and facilities in our community, she wanted to see the City follow-up to see that they hire local Durham residents.
- Peterson (Follow-Up): Noted that she had been going downtown to witness construction projects and invited the audience to come down at 7:30 and see who has those jobs – tax dollars are putting up those buildings, including the parking deck at American Tobacco, she noted. Stated that just because one brings up race doesn’t mean that one is prejudiced. Expressed that we can no longer allow Durham's young black men to end up in the County jail, and her concerns that the County wants to spend millions to expand the facility. Closed by stating that it was not racist to raise these issues.
BCR's analysis: This question brought up some of the real divisions among the candidates, particularly in terms of some of Victoria Peterson's answers. Peterson has complained vocally about the racial composition of construction work in the Bull City before Council, and used the question as an opportunity to continue her focus on the issues surrounding black males in the community. At the same time, the concern about recent investment in the city is by its nature divisive -- as Brown pointed out, with a comment that seemed to be referring as much to Thomas Stith's robo-calls as to Peterson's answer. (Personally, I'm more interested in a developer's track record than their race; given the outcome of the Hesters' projects at Phoenix Crossing/Phoenix Square and Rolling Hills, I'm not sure I'd want to see their desired $25 million+ investment in streetscape benefiting their properties as opposed to investing in incentives for Golden Belt.) Harris' answer was short and direct, and while I personally disagree with him, there is something refreshing about a candidate's willingness to speak his mind on a controversial subject.
Question 5: Yes or no: Given the city’s plan to end homelessness in ten years, how do you propose that the city revitalize rather than demolish our abandoned housing? Will you work to provide incentives to people who agree to owner-occupy these old houses?
- Peterson: Stated that yes, we need to sell these to residents for $1 to benefit people who’ve lived in the community for years but can’t get loans. Stated that she is a visionary for the poor and working poor, and that such a voice does not today exist on Council.
- Williams: Noted he had read in the paper that there are many vacant houses in District 1, and that the owners/landlords have the nerve to ask the City for money [to demolish them]. Noted that if they own their property, they should be required to keep it in good condition. Stated that they can’t keep it up because they charge too much rent, and yet the owners don’t want to sell them. "At least they don’t want to fix it up for me, I’ve tried."
- Ali: Noted this was an issue NIS is currently working on, and pointed out that he did believe that NIS was underfunded to address the issue. Expressed the concern that blight begets blight, and there needs to be a strategy to eliminate blight and induce people to come back to these neighborhoods, which are integral to our character. Noted the need for a plan to bring back investment for the community.
- Brown: Stated that this is an issue the Council had faced on the four years he'd been on Council. Some vacant homes in some neighborhoods harm that area, Brown said, when they become dens of crime and prostitution and act like a cancer coming into that neighborhood. “I’m a preservationist, but I hope I’m a realist too, and not every old home can or should be saved,” Brown said. Noted there was a property the City was looking at in Cleveland-Holloway and hoped the City had reached a compromise to allow this to become home to a new owner who would renovate it.
- Harris: Stated the answer is yes, he does support people moving into these homes and renovating them. Noted he sits on the committee to end homelessness in ten years and he supports that program, but one reason communities become blighted is crime. We can’t work in a silo, Harris stated, but instead have to make the community safe so people will want to move there.
- Parrish: As long as the houses are not substandard, Parrish stated she would support taking funds from the City, hiring people who cannot get jobs, and have them fix up the houses. Noted it would be cost-effective and would provide job opportunities; pointed out that Jack Kemp had come up with a plan to give people their houses through a program like this, and that she would support something like this for Durham. When people own property in a community, Parrish added, they take pride in it.
BCR's analysis: It was interesting to see the mix of candidates who supported receivership programs, versus those who did not talk about receivership and other empowerment programs per se (leaving unanswered, at least in Ali's case, whether repair and restoration were priorities versus teardown.) To Brown's credit, he was direct in stating his support for using restoration and demolition where appropriate, showing the mastery of the subject you would expect from his Council and non-Council work. Parrish's position, as with an earlier question, showed more openness to a government program expansion than one might expect from the 'conservative' label self-affixed to her campaign.
Question #6: Much of Council’s work is done through subcommittees. Which subcommittee would you actively serve on, and why, and what would you accomplish?
- Williams: Noted that he cannot answer that question now; if he was voted onto Council, he said, he would want to look at what subcommittees exist and decide which one he would want to be on.
- Ali: Noted he had strong interest in job creation and workforce development as well as community and economic development. Stated his interest in being positioned where he could make an impact in aiding the development of the community.
- Brown: Pointed out that there are no longer subcommittees on City Council, and that the Thursday work session had taken there place. Pointed out as incumbent his existing roles as Council liaison to the Carolina Theatre, Workforce Development, Durham Crime Cabinet, and his role as the treasurer of the Triangle J Council of Governments.
- Harris: Stated his main interest would be participating on the Joint City/County board to improve communications, along with his interest in the work done by the Crime Cabinet and Planning Department.
- Parrish: Noted her interest in crime, planning, and finance as focal points for City government.
- Peterson: Mentioned that for several years she had attended all the Crime Cabinet meetings along with the workforce development meetings and many of the Partners Against Crime groups. Noted that she does work with ex-offenders and also goes to many of the Council's work sessions. Stated she differed from other candidates because she also attends County Commission meetings on a regular basis.
Question #7: What do you see as being the most important need for the City of Durham?
- Ali: A re-establishment of trust with the community, and a sense of accountability. Noted that many events have led to people questioning the City government and officials; stated the City needs to react more quickly to issues, and then start to be more proactive about keeping issues from happening.
- Brown: “We cannot be a great City unless you are a safe city, so crime would be my first priority.” Noted that Durham now has a new police chief and he looked forward to the positive changes he is going to make as he builds on Chalmers’ record. Also expressed his satisfaction that the Council not only added thirty police officers but also increased their salaries to keep officers from being cherry-picked by other departments after Durham invested in their training. “Crime is the noose around Durham’s neck that still continues to haunt us.”
- Harris: Reiterated his concern over communications and the need to be honest and open with citizens, which could help build some of the trust and build some of those bridges needed to the community. Noted that we can also address some of the other issues within the administration through an environment of openness and trust.
- Parrish: Stated that the government needs to really serve the people, but that too often in Durham there had been an attitude that the people serve the government, and that needed to be reversed, Whether on crime, jobs, environment, or any other issue, pointed out the need for an attitude change.
- Peterson: [Asks for repeat of question] Emphasized that we need to empower our young African-American men in this community and help them to get to the next level. Noted that when you look at the black community in the inner city, you see a run-down community, while in other parts of Durham she doesn't see boarded up houses or gravel streets, and she does see streetlights. Asked how we get Durham to see that instead of asking for another theater downtown, we need employment centers to get African-American males trained and employed. Expressed concern that African-American males need to come back and take care of their women -– we don’t need women walking the streets.
- Williams: Stated that we need to stop going out of our city and finding someone else to run our city, and that it sends a message that we have no one in this city educated enough to run Durham. Stated he would be a reliable, accountable city councilor, who’d live among the citizens, and give time to the voters of Durham. Expressed concern that politicians often say one thing to get elected, then relax on the job.
BCR's analysis: No real surprises here. Peterson and (assuming, as it appears, his was a reference to the Lopez over Hodge choice for D.P.D. chief) Williams approached issues of race; Ali and Parrish focused on more accountability and responsibility given government gaffes; Brown took a pinpoint look at crime; and Harris came back to the issue of communication.