Less than 10 years ago, downtown Durham was a good place to get knocked in the head. Now, the streets, even at night, teem with people frequenting the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the Durham Performing Arts Center, restaurants, galleries and shops.
A 26-story skyscraper has been proposed for the vacant corner of Main and Corcoran streets. Next door, the SunTrust building is being converted to a boutique hotel. Meanwhile technology startups in the American Underground at that corner and the American Tobacco Campus add to the vibrancy of the city's core.
You can thank the city's entrepreneurial class—and Capitol Broadcasting's Jim Goodmon—for these investments. Also credit the mayor and city council for creating the policies and setting the tone for small businesses to thrive. Exhibit A: Unlike Chapel Hill and Raleigh, Durham didn't get its hackles up over food trucks. They prowl the streets to no detriment of the brick-and-mortar restaurants.
That's not to say Durham is a Shangri-la. There are too many empty storefronts. The cost of downtown condos and lofts are beyond the reach of the middle-class. The city essentially let Greenfire, the embattled developer, off the hook, failing to fine the company for allowing some of its buildings to decay. Assaults continue on the American Tobacco Trail. The panhandling ordinance has backfired. Poverty persists. Homicides are up, and Police Chief Jose Lopez, at least publicly, appears defensive.
We believe incumbent Mayor Bill Bell is the best candidate to address these issues, and we endorse him. Bell, who is seeking his seventh term, also received endorsements from the Friends of Durham, the Durham People's Alliance and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.
Under Bell, the city has maintained its AAA bond rating, which means the city can bargain for lower interest rates when it borrows money.
In his next term, Bell says he wants fewer guns on the streets (made more difficult by a new state law prohibiting law enforcement from destroying seized weapons), an increase in affordable housing and an emphasis on revitalized neighborhoods, such as the Southside.
In Bell's last term, the city launched a new rental inspection program that targets neighborhoods known to have problematic housing. Instead of being a complaint-driven program, as it was previously, the inspections are more systematic.
Bell acknowledges his controversial stance on 751 South angered many Durhamites. After City Council rejected the developers' annexation request, Bell brokered a deal with the developer because state lawmakers were forcing his hand by introducing a bill to require the annexation.
Bell's goal, he says in his questionnaire, was "to seek a compromise that would have been a more favorable proposal for the city than the legislation that was going to be introduced by the member of the General Assembly." A bright spot in an otherwise dim bill is that the city now has up to 10 years to make an annexation effective once it has agreed to the voluntary annexation. Previously the time frame was three years.
Bell faces challengers Michael Valentine and the Rev. Sylvester Williams, who has previously run for mayor and city council.
Williams did not return an INDY questionnaire, but in his 2011 campaign he said zoning laws prevent small businesses from starting in Durham. We've not seen evidence of that. We do applaud his comment, at a recent League of Women Voters forum, criticizing the panhandling ordinance: "We need compassion we don't want to go the way of Wake County."
His compassion, however, does not extend to same-sex couples. In his 2011 questionnaire, he criticized city council's resolution in support of gay marriage, saying, "Many citizens do not want what many call an immoral lifestyle flaunted in their face. To legalize same-sex marriage would mean that our children will be taught homosexuality in elementary school (as they will do in California)."
Not only is this untrue, but the INDY cannot endorse a candidate who favors discrimination for any reason.
Since Valentine is a business consultant, it follows that his campaign platform emphasizes the growth of small businesses. He supports the expansion of development along N.C. Highway 751, "if we are careful not to harm the environment." The INDY is concerned that sprawl in far southern Durham will do just that.
Valentine has made public statements that demonstrate he's not ready for prime time. At a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the InterNeighborhood Council of Durham, he acknowledged he didn't decide until the last 15 minutes before the filing deadline to run for mayor—which gives us pause about his long-range planning. As for the panhandling ordinance, he said he tells homeless people if they want his money they have to vote. First, buying votes is not legal. Second, homeless people don't have a permanent address and can't vote.
City Council Ward 2
It's been 30 years since a new person has represented Ward 2; Howard Clement III was appointed to the seat in 1983 and has won every election since.
But over the past two years, Clement—a popular, even revered, councilman—has missed the majority of council meetings due to illness. He is retiring, leaving this seat open.
Ward 2 encompasses eastern and southern Durham, including areas along Highway 98 and near Research Triangle Park and Parkwood. Candidates must live in the district they want to represent, but they are elected by all city voters. In other words, you don't have to live in Ward 2 to vote for this race.
We emphatically endorse Eddie Davis, a former Hillside High School teacher and state board of education member. His public service, for which he won an INDY Citizen Award in 1985, includes serving on the executive committee of the National Education Association and as president of the N.C. Association of Educators. Locally, he held a post on the Durham County Board of Elections and the city's appearance commission.
A progressive, he has advocated for the rights of women, minorities, gays and lesbians and farmworkers. He understands the functions—and limitations—of government and would help make Durham a more just community by working from the inside.
Davis also received the endorsement of the progressive Durham People's Alliance.
If elected, Davis says he wants to combat the escalating homicide rate in Durham by starting with parent groups. POWERFUL (Parents Operating With Educational Responsibility for Understanding and Learning) would "convene small clusters of parents and their supporters" to nurture youth in Durham.
In his questionnaire, Davis says he wants the job opportunities that have been created downtown and in southern and northern Durham to extend to historically underserved neighborhoods: Hayti, East Durham, the West End.
Davis is also committed to protecting water quality, which would play out in his votes on zoning and development. On that count, Davis says the 751 annexation process, which allowed state lawmakers to trump council wishes, has left "an extremely bad taste in my mouth."
"Water, air, jobs and development are all factors that should be weighed in every single discussion about annexation," he adds.
Three more candidates are running for Ward 2, but none has Davis' deep understanding and public service background.
Financial adviser Del Mattioli is focusing her campaign on neighborhoods—a plus—but her recommendations lack specifics. However, we are encouraged by her analysis of the problems at the Durham Police Department: poor leadership. We agree.
Bail bondsman Omar Beasley has served on the recreational advisory board and the Durham Stadium Authority, but we feel he needs more experience in public service before he would be qualified to lead in a city of 225,000 people. Asked to identify a principled yet controversial stand, he listed allocating adequate city resources for youth programs. We don't feel this issue is controversial.
Beasley received the endorsement of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the conservative Friends of Durham.
Funeral home director Franklin Hanes is focusing on child poverty as his signature issue. However, in his questionnaire, he does not detail how he would address this problem. While the broad strokes of his campaign are notable, his lack of government experience makes it difficult for him to offer specifics—and thus, difficult for us to endorse him.