A record turnout—190 ardent politicos—showed up at last night's PA endorsements meeting, and after an intense two-plus hour discussion, but only one ballot round, the PAC's co-coordinator, Tom Miller, announced the chosen ones for City Council: Steve Schewel, Charlie Reece and Jillian Johnson.
Not surprisingly, the PAC endorsed incumbent Mayor Bill Bell, who is running for his final, 267th term. (OK, that's an exaggeration, but it's early.)
In their Council selections, the PA broke from the endorsements pack (yes, a terrible pun, but again, it's early). Both the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and Friends of Durham endorsed Schewel, Ricky Hart and Mike Shiflett.
Reece and Johnson are part of the new guard, candidates who have not risen through the political ranks in the traditional way. Although Reece has served in the state Democratic Party, neither he nor Johnson has been anointed in city politics through appointments to the planning commission or elections to the school board.
In her work as a community organizer, Johnson's support comes from a grassroots, street-level constituency. As I wrote earlier this week, it is similar to the bloc that buoyed Sendolo Diaminah's school board campaign, one in which he defeated a well-funded conservative, Jimmy Doster. (Where is Jimmy these days? Paging Jimmy.)
In Durham politics, money isn't everything. It's not even the only thing. Ask Thomas Stith, the last major challenger to Bell. (You'll find Stith working in Gov. McCrory's office, because that's where he landed.)
With this in mind, the importance of this year's City Council election cannot be overstated. Two veteran incumbents, Eugene Brown and Diane Catotti, are not seeking re-election to their at-large seats, taking with them years of institutional memory. None of the newcomers yet knows the misery of revamping the UDO—but rest assured, they'll get their turn—or of deciding, in each budget season, the winners and the losers.
At this point in Durham's economic, social and cultural history, there's considerable anxiety over how current city leaders will plot the course of the next 50 years. We are still living with the decisions of our political ancestors, Exhibit A being the destruction of Hayti and Exhibit B being the Downtown Loop. Today's decisions on affordable housing, for example, will resonate long after many of us have moved away, or yes, have died.
For all the current promise, and the mayor's ambitious, laudable poverty reduction initiative, there is still an enormous class divide. This chasm excludes the working class from rooftop hotel bars, from luxury condos and from the venture capital flowing into American Underground. (Although admittedly, some of those start-ups are in a stage known as "pre-revenue.")
And how will the new Council interact with Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez? Violent crime continues to rise. There have been a half-dozen shootings over the past week, with at last count, 14 people injured and at least two of them killed.
These, and other troubling aspects of Durham, are a reflection of a larger, systemic failure, not only in policing but also in education, health care and neighborhood cohesion. (I'm looking at you, gentrification.)
Whoever wins in November will need to be prepared to lead in a way that accounts for the well-being of everyone, not just today, but in 2065.