A Section 8 crisis in Durham: Too few landlords, too many tenants and a misdirection by the housing authority
Meet the City Council candidates: Robert T. Stephens

Meet the City Council candidates: Jillian Johnson

Last week, Bull City Rising had a chance to sit down with five of the six finalists for Durham's three open City Council seats. We're bringing you our in-depth interviews with the candidates this week, ahead of early voting. We invite you to watch each and full -- and, to check out our commentary on each candidate's interview and perspectives, after the jump.

Jillian Johnson has made a big impact on the Durham political scene in the course of a fraction of a campaign. She placed a strong second to Steve Schewel in the primary -- trailing an incumbent, past school board member, and all-around four-decade political vet by only a thousand votes or so. And if we ribbed Charlie Reece for his ubiquitous mailers, I challenge you to find a street corner in Durham that doesn't have one of her campaign signs. (Johnson told Lisa and me during an off-camera moment in our interview that her young children, unsurprisingly, delight in seeing 'mommy' everywhere they go.)

But Johnson's embryonic political history -- she's been engaged in activist movements throughout her sixteen years as a Durham resident, but has not appeared to serve on any City or County boards, and hasn't participated in broad-based civic activities outside deeply progressive movements -- also have raised questions, both about her background and about the apparently extremely well-organized engine to bring a capital-P Progressive to Council.

So in this interview, we talk with Johnson about her positions on the key issues she's raised in the campaign, including affordable housing, gentrification and policing -- but also about the politicking that may have helped earn the PA endorsement and about Johnson's previous civic work.

Note: Our camera equipment failed on the first half of the interview; Lisa, who did a great job putting these videos together, has placed the last half of the interview first with the first segment an audio-only section at the end. We did check with Johnson to make sure she was okay with this out-of-order editing. Apologies for the technical difficulties.


Johnson's Decision to Run for Council, and Past Civic Experience

Johnson centered her interest in running for office squarely around concerns she has about the impacts of Durham's rapid change since she arrived at Duke in 1999.

"I’ve been hearing, in my community and just around Durham for a long time, serious concerns about gentrification in my neighborhood and in neighborhoods all around Durham. And I think it’s something that we’ve been talking about for a long time," Johnson said.

She along with attorneys at her former employer, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice worked with the tenants of University Apartments in the West End when it was bought several years ago, and tenants saw their rent rise from $600 to $900 -- a level that she says would now be considered affordable in the neighborhood where she lived since her last year at Duke.

"So I feel like we’re at a turning point, and we have to make some tough choices about what kind of city we want to be, and making sure that our city is diverse and remains affordable and inclusive for people," Johnson said.

We asked Johnson about her non-traditional path to seeking a Council seat -- since while she has lived in Durham since the turn of the century, her resume doesn't cite any experience on any of the many civic boards and commissions, or groups like Durham's InterNeighborhood Council, that are often grooming steps ahead of elected office.

Johnson said she felt her experience focused on activist causes and social justice were her "entry into the political world."

“I think that part of the narrative of me not having that experience is really indicative of a misplaced value system," Johnson said. "I think that experience in movement building experience, on nonprofit boards and really being involved in the community is every bit as valuable and preparatory for being on City Council as some of these other, more traditional routes.”

Johnson also noted that she represented a diversity in other ways -- as a mother, as significantly younger (34) than other office-holders, and as the only woman seeking office this cycle.

And Johnson said she was committed to being a voice for those she felt did not have voice in the decisions being made in Durham.

"I think that in terms of why I chose to run for City Council with that background, is that I think that it is really important to bring all of those voices to the table, that we make our best decisions when we are really listening to our community and when we center the voices of folks who are most impacted by these issues of equity and injustice," Johnson said.

And as an organizer, I think that’s really where my skill set is, in building those broad and diverse coalitions, and bringing together, and really hearing everyone’s views, and trying to come up with solutions that work well for folks. And so I think that those skills translate really well to a City Council post.”

We asked Johnson about the uniformly left-aligned movements that she described as the foci of her experience, and asked the candidate to tell us about times when she had had to work across ideological and political divides, in the way that groups like INC or the many civic groups in town do.

Johnson, interestingly, cited her work with Occupy Durham several years back as that experience.

"Interestingly, I think the Occupy movement was actually the place where I found the most ideological diversity in the work that I’ve been doing, because that really brought together folks who were facing all these different kinds of economic issues," Johnson said.

"So we had people who were living on the street, or who were living in transitional housing, who were coming up to our Occupy encampment in our People’s Plaza downtown, who were very uncomfortable with some of our, I would say, more progressive ideas," she added.

"We got some folks who, though they were very much economically felt allied with our ideas -- around there’s too much poverty, we’re run by this system of elites that is really having a negative effect on the rest of us -- they were socially very different from us," Johnson said, "and I think we had a lot of interesting conversations around trying to figure out ways that everyone can be involved in participating in the movement."

But Johnson opined that considering Occupy as, as we asked, a non-mainstream group, may miss what she described as an emerging awareness and support for it and similar activist causes.

"We’ve got presidential candidates now talking about economic inequality on a national stage. I think that’s become a major issue," Johnson said.

"Black Lives Matter is being asked to a group of folks from the Democratic party who are not particularly involved in any of those movements, but they’re meeting with Black Lives Matter folks," Johnson noted. "And they’re coming out and they’re saying on national television, when asked, 'Do black lives matter or do all lives matter,' they say, 'Black lives matter.' So I think that what’s mainstream and what’s not is in constant flux."

"I don’t think that these are particularly radical ideas, that people should make living wages, that people shouldn’t be subjected to unduly aggressive policing. These are not radical, these are pretty basic human dignity needs and desires. I think that the work I’ve been doing is in the right space," Johnson said.



Gentrification, Neighborhood Change, and Affordable Housing

Johnson noted her decision to stay in Durham after graduating from Duke as being centered in her desire to live in a diverse, inclusive community.

"I don’t want us to lose that That’s what I really value about our city, and what I think makes it a great place to raise my two boys," Johnson said, comparing it to her childhood in a diverse community in northern Virginia.

And Johnson cited gentrification and neighborhood change as the key driver threatening Durham communities.

“I think the process is accelerating, and what we’ve been seeing in West End and Morehead Hill, where I’m in – we’re seeing even more of that in North-East Central Durham, areas in Southside just south of downtown," Johnson said. "So I feel like we’re at a turning point, and we have to make some tough choices about what kind of city we want to be, and making sure that our city is diverse and remains affordable and inclusive for people.”

Johnson cited the desire both to engage existing residents themselves in conversations about their future, and to press for improvements on affordable housing issues.

Asked about underinvestment in the Fayetteville St. corridor, Johnson described the destruction of Hayti as "one of Durham's most horrifying historical moments," describing it as a process by which a "vibrant neighborhood" with businesses owned by people of color was "wiped off the map."

But she cautioned against any city plans for revitalization occurring without deep citizen engagement, noting the legacy of "residual distrust" due to urban renewal a generation ago. She called for having community town hall meetings to understand locals' desires before any proposal moved forward.

“I’m concerned about doing anything in that neighborhood without really having a conversation with the folks that live there and what they want to see happen," Johnson said.

Johnson shared her strong enthusiasm for the affordable housing project on Jackson St. linked to Self-Help and strongly advocated for by Durham CAN, noting that she didn't share the mayor's concern over ensuring the project is mixed-income, and seemingly wondering whether the project could be less expensive by not attempting to make it a mixed-income development.

"Could we serve more people buy building a mixed-income neighborhood, rather than individual mixed income buildings, and I think that we could," Johnson said.

Asked about Rolling Hills and Southside and the multi-million dollar investment made there -- an item frequently overlooked by all sides in this year's election -- Johnson, like other candidates, focused on concerns about the recently-reported racial disparities in the ownership component of Southside on the western side of Roxboro.

She also wondered whether even the subsidized prices in Southside were too high. "I think that they were still pretty high, in the $200,000 to $220,000" range after add-ons, Johnson said. "That’s just not affordable for a lot of folks. I mean, I couldn’t afford to buy my house now, so I know that was definitely a concern as well."

Asked about the larger, 100 unit+ rental complex on the eastern side of Roxboro, Johnson noted "I've heard no criticisms of that part of the project" other than its cost in an environment with high competition for limited federal funds and tax credits for such projects.

When asked about the Catch-22 inherent in supporting disinvested neighborhoods -- namely, that increasing amenities and attractiveness can accelerate gentrification -- Johnson, singularly, called for a focus on cooperatively-owned businesses.

"I think that cooperatives are a really exciting and interesting way to do that, both worker owned and owner owned cooperative businesses," Johnson said. So really getting the folks in those communities involved in creating something that serves their own people and benefits their own people."

Johnson noted a number of local and regional efforts to grow the number of cooperative businesses.

"Also, I think it’s important to think about what do the people who are already in that community need. It’s very easy to provide services that market to more affluent people," Johnson said.

"What is happening in Durham is, we’re getting beer gardens, we’re getting fancy cupcake shops, we’re getting nice restaurants and – and I like all that stuff, my partner and I have a date to go to Mateo on Sunday, and it’s delicious and I love it – and I am very much one of those privileged folks that can afford to participate in this new downtown."

"But I think for folks who can’t, there’s serious questions of equity, and who are these businesses providing these services for," Johnson cautioned. "And I think that we are seeing a lot of displacement already in North-East Central Durham, in Cleveland-Holloway, you know, house prices have gone up by about 400% in the last ten years, and that is not sustainable for that community.

Noting that Durham has, through incentives and public policy, been "subsidizing all this development in downtown," Johnson encouraged the city to find opportunities to bring more locally-relevant businesses into other neighborhoods.


Policing and Public Safety

We asked Johnson if she wanted to expound on her views at the recent INC Forum, when she was unique among candidates in talking solely about positive opportunities to improve residents' opportunity levels and divert them from crime, versus policing strategies per se.

Johnson talked about the linkage between policing and what she framed as a widespread challenge with the impact of "mass incarceration."

She pressed for a reduction in enforcement for drug possession, noting the tremendous impact that can have on individuals' future employment, difficult re-entry to society after a prison term, and other challenges. "My ideal situation would be to focus far less on those sort of low-level misdemeanors, and particularly drug crimes of all sorts," Johnson said.

Johnson called for continuing to support and grow diversion programs, such as Drug Court, and noted that one district attorney is evaluating a mental health court.

Noting her own experience seeing a roommate in college raped after a break-in at their house -- and the perpetrator, whose DNA was on file, still on the street because of a backlog in rape kit testing -- Johnson noted the need to address funding, staffing and other challenges.

"That's a person who I think does not need to be on the street, so we need to figure out ways to investigate violent crimes, to make sure that we are intervening when necessary," Johnson noted -- with a strong reminder that "our criminal justice system is unfair, that mass incarceration is a huge problem, and that sending folks to prison doesn’t actually help them."

"We don’t have a rehabilitative prison system, we are just warehousing people that we can’t figure out what to do with," Johnson said. "And at the same time, we’re reproducing these systems of poverty and oppression that create those people.”

"So for me, it’s just not enough to have a policing strategy. For now, we need to figure that out," Johnson said.

"But long term, what are we going to do? We’re not going to arrest our way out of violent crime, we’re not going to incarcerate our way out violent crime. The only way to really keep ourselves safe is to improve our communities, to give ourselves opportunities."

And opportunities and a fair economic shake, Johnson argued, is the key to safety.

"People do the best they can with what you give them. So if you don’t give them anything, what do you expect?"

Asked about city administration in general, Johnson expressed her respect and support for city manager Tom Bonfield "and his work in really creating that managerial system that’s been really effective in governing the city over the last few years."

Yet noting her concerns over the Durham Police Department and what she described as its racial and equity biases, Johnson did express concern over the firewalling that the council-manager form of government places between the City Council and that department.

"I do have a concern that it seems like the city manager has a lot of power, and that’s an unelected position that’s appointed by the Council, and then goes on to appoint these other positions," Johnson said.

"So it seems like there’s not as much direct oversight as there could be, which may influence situations like whether to terminate the police chief, who’s widely seen as problematic in the community, that not being done as quickly as it could be."

Still, while saying there are "some tweaks" that could be made, Johnson was generally supportive of the current city leadership.


Endorsements, Elites and Elections

We asked Johnson about one of the most curious reports we've heard in this year's election cycle -- namely, that Johnson's campaign and supported worked to bring Johnson supporters into the People's Alliance as new members in order to help secure the vote.

(This has been a quiet, but contentious, point in the campaign. One longtime PA member described going to the endorsement meeting and recognizing nearly no one in the room. It's also, one can argue, evidence of an exceptionally well-organized ground game and, of course, perfectly within the PA bylaws, which require membership 30 days ahead of an endorsement meeting in order to be able to vote.)

Johnson was straightforward in acknowledging this much-discussed aspect of the campaign.

"We asked our folks to support me at the PA endorsement meeting, because we feel that PA is a really important organization in Durham," Johnson said. We wanted to give energy to the PA, and to bring new voices in, and to really have an impact on what they’re focusing on."

She noted that she had had many early supporters encourage her to run, describing her early backers as "folks who do different kinds of work in the city who really wanted someone who had a background in community work and movement organizing to bring those voices into City Council and to really be a voice for those folks."

Describing the PA's process as "very open and democratic," Johnson noted its role in providing a non-traditional candidate an avenue to elected office.

"I know that in a lot of cities, if you run for city office and you don’t have the blessing of the party, or some sort of higher-level political system, that you don’t have a chance," Johnson said. "I think here in Durham, there are ways for folks like me who have not been involved traditionally in city politics to be supported by PACs, because we believe in the same ideas and we have the same vision for Durham."

We quizzed Johnson further on that latter point. After all, we wonder, does a PAC and a campaign share the same ideas and vision, or does a membership influx instead align the PAC with the campaign? Or, as we put it, is the process of recruiting members to the PA ahead of an endorsement meeting itself a political elites activity, and something that's concerning for civic voice in Durham?

Johnson disagreed, arguing that the PA's current influence had not always been (and presumably might not always be) the same.

"In the past, in Durham, there have been other PACs, PACs that still exist today, that have in the past had a much higher level of influence in Durham on politics, on what’s going on," Johnson noted. "At this particular moment, it seems that it is just the PA’s message that is just having the most impact on folks.

And she noted that she sees her campaign as a highly-inclusive process that is drawing new voices into the room.

"When we did our precinct analysis, the precincts where I actually got the highest number of votes were not the precincts that were the highest level of PA voters," Johnson said. "So I’m drawing support from the traditional PA voters, but also from folks here in North-East Central Durham, from folks around Hayti, from people who I think are really responding to that message around gentrification and wanting the city to really focus on development in these communities that feel that they’re being neglected and left out."

Indeed, Johnson described a very -- here's that phrasing again -- activist campaign that's working to draw new voters in. Campaign workers are going door to door, riding DATA buses, helping to register and mobilize new voters.

There should be no doubt that Johnson wouldn't want it to be any other way.

"I think the campaign is already doing some of the work that I want to be doing on Council, which is really broadening that democracy, making sure that wee have everyone’s voice at the table, and that we’re really paying attention to what people in these communities that are experiencing rapid gentrification, that feel like their concerns aren’t being listened to, that their needs aren’t being met by the City, that those people are part of the process and being heard."



I really dislike the tone and implication that an activist-based campaign is inherently less worthwhile than a traditional one. Quite the opposite: the latter relies on old boys' clubs, and acts largely to maintain an existing (and highly wealthy) political structure. By contrast, the former relies on mass movements and people who feel moved to vote because they are convinced by the specific issues being raised by such movements. The idea that Johnson is somehow less worthwhile because her campaign recruited a large number of people to vote in the PA endorsement meeting is absurd. The contrary is true: for the first time in many years, we have a candidate who is popular across a huge and diverse section of Durham's population, especially those directly concerned with the rapid worsening of living conditions for less well-off people in our town.

Tom Miller

We at the People's Alliance are delighted when new members join and add the strength of their voices to Durham's progressive voice. In recent years our membership has increased during every election cycle. We got a big boost in 2012 during our campaign against Amendment One. Our support of the Moral Monday movement added members as well. Attendance at our endorsement meetings has risen steadily over the last few years - so much so that we have modified our meeting procedures to make sure our discussions stay open and focused on an examination of the candidates. It is true that this year we had another increase in attendance. Nearly 200 PA members were present - a jump of nearly 50 members over last year's meeting. While most of the people in the room were longtime members, many were new members. It is also true that of the new members present, many had come to support Jillian Johnson. But others had joined to support other candidates under consideration. Charlie Reece, Philip Azar, and Mike Shiflett (to name a few) each had their supporters in attendance. All of the candidates were aware of the PA PAC process. We made sure they knew and understood when we interviewed them. The procedure is explained on our webpage.

We are not dismayed when progressive members of the Durham community join PA to support a candidate. -Far from it. PA members care about Durham and are deeply involved in our community's political life. The People's Alliance PAC is the logical political home for Durham progressives. We rejoice when they join PA whatever the reason. Joining to support a progressive candidate makes perfect sense to us. I joined myself for that reason back when Sharon Thompson first ran for the North Carolina House of Representatives.

At our endorsement meetings members debate the candidates' merits. We look at their records. We review their questionnaire responses. We report on how they handled themselves during our interviews. Everyone in the room gets to speak if they want to. People speak to persuade and they listen to be persuaded. We vote only when the discussion is over. By this process we identify and endorse the strongest candidates for progressive voters. The openness and integrity of the process makes new members renew their memberships even if the candidates they supported at the meeting did not win the PAC's endorsement.

The members who joined PA in advance of this year's PAC endorsement meeting are fully fledged and welcome members of our organization. PA's members, old and new, are its strength. PA belongs to them. When we meet next year to decide our endorsements, there will be even more new members. I can't wait to meet them.

Tom Miller
PA PAC Coordinator

Kevin Davis

@Tom: Thanks for sharing your perspective. The sense I had gotten was that the organizing campaign around this year's PA meeting was perhaps more organized than previous years'. Frankly, that's the hallmark of a well-organized ground game, which Johnson's campaign team has put together very adeptly. I also wanted to give Johnson a chance to address what we heard was a campaign-driven effort, and she gave a full answer to the question. I appreciate your offering your perspective as well.

@Rann: It's newsworthy when activist groups coordinate expertly to achieve political power. It's particularly newsworthy when those groups are either enabled by significant amounts of money, or time, or interest group affiliation. These topics deserve extra scrutiny when it's astroturf/populist groups on the right, like AfP or Tea Partiers. They also deserve extra scrutiny when there's a nascent, effective group rising to power that's on the left of the spectrum.

Just because I personally am liberal -- which I'll disclaim and note your comment noted several weeks ago when you noted your eagerness to see the Council's liberals replaced with progressives -- doesn't mean I'm looking to give movements on the left a pass.

This campaign cycle has not distinguished itself in providing any real scrutiny on candidates. Reportedly, one influential organization I will not name here endorsed candidates based on questionnaires without even meeting the candidates. And, the kinds of issues we're asking not just of Johnson, but of all the challengers -- none of whom have held a Durham elected office before, and less than half of whom have meaningful service on city/county boards or organizations -- because, sadly, no one else is.

I do have a bias towards the value of candidates having shown participation in city/county boards and civic groups. It's the equivalent of behavioral interviewing: don't tell me what you think you can do, prove to me that you can do something. And by proving you can do things and win others' respect, and their political support in turn, you're more qualified to hold office.

That's not an old-boys network -- that's building community support through community service, not political ideas.

With that said, and I'll cover this more in the election wrap-up this weekend, there are a couple of candidates in this race that express the same values on issues. Neither has civic experience to speak of. One is able to articulate convincingly an alternative path of experience that, if you agree with their ideals, would lead one to still credibly support them. The other does not have the depth of experience to match their expressed beliefs. A voter bubbling both their ovals, in my view, should have access to analysis to help them differentiate.

I hope in the future, we'll see more candidates going through Durham Neighborhood College, INC, city and county boards and the like to provide the kind of grass-roots vetting that is crucial to our city functioning well.

Will Wilson

Maybe you guys need to do a post on "liberalism vs. progressivism".


I would rather know what a person has accomplished than what they have participated in.


I had the pleasure of working with Jillian during Occupy, and though she is a bit to my left on some issues I learned great respect not only for her values but also for her pragmatism, her insight, and her ability to work with people.

Occupy's attempt to bring together people who had different backgrounds and ideologies made for a group more diverse than any I've been involved with, and led to some meeting as long and as contentious as the City Council is likely to produce. I never saw Jillian being disrespectful of honest disagreements, and I never saw her lose her sense of humor--and I never saw her choose winning an argument over bringing people together to get something done.

Durham has the great good fortune this fall of candidates who all have much to offer. I believe Jillian's background, perspective, goals and temperament would be the best possible contribution to improving the Council's ability to represent and serve all the people of Durham.


"This campaign cycle has not distinguished itself in providing any real scrutiny on candidates."

These videos are the most I've seen all of the candidates challenged. There have been lots of forums to hear their affirmative platform pieces and learn their bios, so these videos really have done a good job of forcing the candidates to answer (or at least trying to) the question asked rather than the question they wished you'd asked.

Dick Ford

Sandra Davis also ran for City Council, so Ms. Johnson has not been the only woman running. Also Ms. Johnson is not the youngest candidate running (ageism?).

Even if you find neither attribute persuasive, let's keep the record straight while we try to understand why Ms. Johnson emphasizes them.

BCR is right on point to note the extraordinary amount of money being spent by the left in this campaign, even leaving aside the family $1000's and $1000's contributed from outside our area and our state. While it's important that the "progressive" candidates lack a track record of civic involvement, we can't ignore that they are viable candidates because of their war chests.

Will Wilson

Charlie Reece serves as State Treasurer for the NC Dems, along with local party involvement. Sure, it's partisan, but it's not nothing.

Dick Ford

Will: My impression is that state party Treasurer jobs go to folks with mucho bucks.

Still I have to hand it to the PA for placing in the role of PA candidate this cycle, a self-described Occupy founder and an apparent 1%'er. Central Casting couldn't do better.


"BCR is right on point to note the extraordinary amount of money being spent by the left in this campaign, even leaving aside the family $1000's and $1000's contributed from outside our area and our state. While it's important that the "progressive" candidates lack a track record of civic involvement, we can't ignore that they are viable candidates because of their war chests."

Dick Ford, I am also worried about the outsized influence of outside money on local campaigns. I am watching how the mega rich and various 504's are trying to influence school board races in urban areas. However, given the caveats that you (fairly in my view) place on donations from family and friends, (I sure hope my mom would send a check were I running) can you name the individuals and entities that you feel are from "the left" and shoving money to candidates' war chests? While PA's candidates have done well in fundraising, that was not the reason they were endorsed.


I really appreciate these posts and the work BCR has done to put them together! I’ve had a few thoughts simmering on this one in particular.

First, how do we define “experience”? And what biases (informed by class, race, age, etc.) come to bear on those definitions? Overwhelmingly, what I find important about experience, is how you are shaped by the work you chose to participate in, how you contribute to it, and the relationships you build along the way. So why doesn’t experience and vetting that happens within activist/community work have the same value? Why is it less grassroots?

To this end, I thought it was interesting, but somewhat odd, to focus on “diversity” as defined by ideological perspectives in City that is notably, unapologetically left-leaning. I have sat on many boards in Durham and participated in tons of community organizations, and while every single one of these groups wants “diversity,” they are not looking at bringing in conservatives :) What they ARE looking for is diversity as defined by race, class, experience, and skills- and few ever reach these diversity goals (while I appreciate the INC and their work in Durham, I would hardly call it a diverse body.)

What’s exciting to me about Jillian Johnson (and in full disclosure, I am working on her campaign), is how she is bringing TONS of new voices, perspectives and yes, ideas/ideology into the CIVIC arena in a way that only a community organizer can do. A “diversity” of individuals that in many ways reflects the unique composition of our city: white progressives, working class and poor people of color, young people (the under 40 set), queers, etc.

Some of these folks are have spent a lot of time in City politics over the years, but many are new civic participants who have become excited about how to get involved in a deeper way. This is serving to build new relationships across the City and is infusing a bright burst of energy into some traditional political groups in Durham- including, but not limited to, the PA. No doubt, it is an interesting and exciting new chapter in Durham politics- one that will certainly deeper analysis and broader understanding.

Thanks again for the posts and commentary!


Dick means the TFA non-profit that's contributed over $10,000 to Robert Stephens (and most of the named individuals in his reporter are out of state folks associated with TFA). Presumably he has no problem with local PACs since the candidates he supports are supported by other local orgs. By "family" and "one-percenter" he means the candidate whose extended family owns a large employer and living wage charter member but who has also has built up a record of service in Durham. (Since when is working for a successful family-owned business that employs hundreds of Durhamites a negative? And Dick's also skeptical of anyone who has a donation of $1,000 or more to report, based on his letter to the N&O...)

Dick Ford

Virginia, thanks for your decoding. I would add the following:

1) Many of us consider advocacy, while important, not to be the equivalent of community service, which is a giving to others, not just advocating that your views are superior. I would be embarassed to claim my advocacy work as community service. The PA candidates appear to see their advocacy work as gifts to Durham. To me, it's arrogance.

2) It's fine for the PA candidate to work for his in-laws, but how does that help voters evaluate him?

3) Bragging that your in-laws' company pays a "living wage" in a high-paying industry like pharma is not impressive and looks like just a campaign talking point.

4) The local PAC's serve to vet the candidates, each having its own brand to help voters. This is a valuable service, built up over time. A radical change in the PA's vision risks diluting its brand. Have its disconcerting endorsements this cycle harmed its brand, notwithstanding Tom and Mel's narratives??

Will Wilson

Dick, regarding your fourth point, I agree with the first part. When I lived in MN, HI, and CA, the parties held the vision, but here in Durham the PA firmly holds the liberal/progressive vision and the FoD/DCOABP alliance holds the other perspective. I don't understand at all your comment about "radical change in the PA's vision." That vision is demonstrated in the projects it takes on and the candidates it endorses: I see no radical change, just a refreshing new wave of young folks getting involved.


Regarding (2), if you automatically discount anyone who works in a family business (you would be wrong, and you'd be discounting farmers, retailers, restaurants, the trades, start-ups and most closely held corporations), then you could also evaluate his work with PA, FADE Coalition, as an Assistant Attorney General, as a Violence Against Women Resource Prosecutor or as an ADA in Forsyth County. I know you know how to use LinkedIn, since you have a profile.

Regarding point (3), I work in pharma, and I get paid a living wage. Because I have an advanced degree and am in role where I get stock options (I still took a 30% paycut to join pharma, but I digress). But if you've ever worked in a company before (like most Durhamites), you would know that because executives and managers make living wages doesn't mean that admins and other people who keep the place running do. Any business that pays a living wage for ALL employees is notable. If it were all that common, this list would be a hell of a lot longer: http://www.durhamlivingwage.org/certified.

It's interesting that a self-styled GOP activist is so concerned about PA's process. I was at the PA endorsement meeting, and there was full discussion of all candidates. Everyone who was there--whether they were members or not--got to speak if they wanted. It's wholly unsurprising that PA members valued the participation of someone who had sat on their board and worked on the FADE Coalition.

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