Steve Schewel | Candidate Questionnaires - Durham County | Indy Week

Elections » Candidate Questionnaires - Durham County

Steve Schewel

Durham Mayor

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Steve Schewel
stevefordurham.com
Occupation: Visiting Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Duke University
Phone Number: 919-451-9215
Email Address: steveschewel@gmail.com
Years Lived in Durham: 47

1) Durham residents, from the new group Durham for All to the demonstrators who tore down the Confederate monument on Main Street, are calling for more power to be placed in the hands of the people. In what ways do you think Durham can improve public participation in local government? How would you make room for that in city government?

Durham has an incredibly vibrant civic culture. Hundreds of people called together on social media gather in an hour to protest the Klan. Five hundred people show up at a city council meeting to debate new food truck rules. Five hundred people write emails about a proposal to charge for parking in a small Ninth St. parking lot. Neighborhood groups every week demand the attention of city council members to their needs. It goes on and on.

Being on the Durham City Council—or being mayor of Durham—means embracing and enhancing that culture. It means being open to and encouraging the thousands of voices that we hear from all the time. That is part of the job that I enjoy the most. I love listening to the rumble and roar of Durham’s civic life. I love hearing from people and responding to their individual or group concerns. I love visiting neighborhoods and meeting with neighbors to see their problems first-hand, and I do it constantly. I embrace the most difficult but essential conversations around race and class and gender identity and social justice that Durham residents rightfully put at the forefront of our civic debate.

We need more of this, not less. It isn’t elected officials who are primarily driving change in Durham, though electeds have a critical role. It is neighborhoods and non-profits, churches and protestors, our fired-up participatory culture in Durham that is driving change from the grassroots. Being mayor of Durham must mean embracing this grassroots activism and empowering people to help make change. It must mean bringing together people with different values and different points of view to help us define and confront our common challenges.

I have been impressed in my six years on city council with many of the ways in which Durham City officials respond to this civic culture. One of Mayor Bell’s great strengths is listening. He will keep a public hearing open as long as he can, waiting for the last voice to be heard. City Manager Tom Bonfield is serious about transparency and has led Durham actively into the forefront of the municipal Open Data movement, making anonymized raw City data available to “civic hackers” so they can provide useful analysis and apps for other city residents. I’m especially impressed by the myriad wide-open and lively public processes that City staff facilitate around all kinds of City decisions. This includes PAC meetings, Coffees with Council (see below for a lot more on this) and all the City’s boards and commissions. But it also includes the constant robust participatory processes like the ones the City is going through now about decisions around the old police headquarters, or what folks want in the new nine-acre stormwater facility along Ellerbe Creek, or the “visioning” sessions this week that are just the beginning of a huge public process around the Belt Line trail.

The very best participatory process I have seen since I have been on council was the year-long process around police reforms. Members of the FADE coalition brought serious concerns about policing and race to the city council. Mayor Bell referred these concerns to the City’s Human Relations Commission, and the commission facilitated a wide-open community discussion over many months culminating in strong recommendations that the City administration and council adopted. Community voices drove this process, and the new policies are making a big difference in people’s lives. For example, the requirement for written consent to a consent search of a car has led to a 44% drop in the number of car searches. This has positively impacted hundreds and hundreds of lives, mainly the lives of young people of color, because unnecessary car searches disproportionately affect people of color. Drug possession arrests in Durham for the past six months are down 50% from a year ago.

In short, this was a very successful participatory process, a model for the future. There is a lot to build on in what the City does now.

But there is also a lot we can do to see Durham’s participatory culture in full flower in City government. If I am elected mayor, here are some of the actions I will support:

Participatory Budgeting: Durham’s budget staff works hard to reach out to the community through surveys, public hearings and the Coffees with Council. The problem with this system now is that the hearings and Coffees tend to be dominated by the same voices year after year. These are critical voices, and the participation of the PAC members in the Coffees remains critically important. But we need to significantly broaden the number of people participating in our budget process, and Participatory Budgeting (PB) offers an excellent avenue to do this.

PB would rely on a months-long grassroots outreach and organizing process to bring disenfranchised people into the budget process. There would be a significant pot of money, perhaps as much as $1 million, put aside for actual decision-making by these participants. There are groups with expertise in PB and the City would bring in one of them to facilitate this work through a democratic process across the city. This group would guide participants towards prioritizing the needs of their neighborhoods in the areas of the City’s responsibilities like bus stops and bus routes, sidewalks and playgrounds and recreation needs.

PB will need to be instituted thoughtfully. It will not be a success unless it brings thousands of new people into the budget process. In some other communities, this has not occurred with PB. So we need a period of careful planning and organizing. But if we do this well, I believe we can open up our budget process to thousands of people who have never participated democratically before except for voting. We can empower them to participate in our local democracy. And we can include in this process people who cannot vote—refugees and undocumented people.

A community process around Confederate memorials and remnants: This question by the Indy references the recent toppling of a Confederate monument, and this issue must remain at the top of our civic agenda. If I am elected mayor, I will immediately initiate a transparent, broadly inclusive community process to examine all historical remnants publicly memorializing slavery in Durham so that we can decide together what to do in each case. At my first meeting as mayor, I will ask the city council to open applications for a broad-based public commission to lead this work.

In 2015, our state legislature passed a pernicious law which takes away Durham’s right to make our own community decisions about these monuments. It is true, however, that before this recent legislative prohibition, Durham had not even begun to face up to the memorials to the Confederacy that are still in our midst, whether these memorials be statues or street names, on public property or built into the front door of Duke Chapel. Durham is on the progressive edge of so much, but we have not led the way on this issue with the kind of thoughtful, inclusive process that a few communities have initiated.

Let’s get started.

First, let’s initiate a transparent, inclusive community process to examine all historical remnants publicly memorializing slavery in Durham, and let’s decide together what to do in each case. Are there street names that need to be changed? Statues that need to be moved, removed or contextualized in a history museum? Always our objective needs to be to ease the pain of our neighbors whose ancestors suffered enslavement. We must center their voices, and we must live up to Durham’s highest ideals.

Second, let’s take the case for removal of these monuments to the N.C. Historical Commission which must approve these removals under the new state law. Make no mistake: The state law is meant to defend the Confederate statues and inhibit the power of cities like Durham. But there is a process, so let’s use it as only Durham knows how. Once Durham has decided on a course, let’s take our case to the Historical Commission, and let’s show up in great numbers, peaceful but resolved. I’ll be there to speak out, and many, many more will be there as well.

Third, we must think as a community about what new monuments we do want to erect. Are there heroes in Durham’s history who deserve a memorial in their honor? Whom should we honor in the place of the statue that came down? How can our public memorials reflect our civic values and honor the best in our past? We must reach out broadly for nominees.

Finally, there is another way in which we must confront this issue—a way that demands public participation. Let’s be prepared as a community for the potential attention of the KKK and Nazis. If the alt-right comes to Durham, we must meet them with a massive public outpouring of opposition to their racism and hatred. We must not succumb to violence ourselves nor to the rhetoric of violence I hear all too often. We must meet the alt-right in huge numbers, peaceful, brave and resolute. That’s the public participation we need. That’s the Durham Way.

Bringing the Latino community into full participation: Approximately 15% of Durham’s population is Latino, but Durham has never had a Latino elected official, and Latino people are underrepresented on the City’s many boards and commissions. Further, Latino residents are underrepresented in almost every City public process. We must change this.

If I am elected mayor, my city council seat will become vacant and the new city council will fill this vacancy. We must seek out strong Latino applicants for this seat. While it would be irresponsible to promise to vote for a particular candidate without reviewing all applicants, it is my hope that we would be able to appoint an outstanding Latino candidate.

I have strong relationships with the leadership of El Centro Hispano, Durham CAN and Immaculata—the local institutions involving an enormous number of our Latino residents. I will pro-actively work with these organizations and others to (1) recruit Latino applicants to our boards and commissions and (2) find out from them how to reduce barriers to Latino participation in our civic life.

Finally, I will ask for an administration review of all City communications to ensure that we are making any important communication available in Spanish. The City publishes many critical communications now in Spanish. But are we doing all we need to be doing in this area?

Convening broad public participation on critical issues: The mayor’s powers are very limited. But one of the mayor’s informal assets is the power to convene, and I believe this is among the most important aspects of the job. As mayor, I will convene various kinds of groups and processes to help us confront our most pressing problems. Sometimes these convenings will be through existing groups, much like the HRC took on issues of policing and institutional racism. Sometimes these convenings will involve bringing a wide range of people together to confront a particular challenge.

For example, if elected, in my first year as mayor I will convene a Food Security Summit in Durham, the South’s foodiest city. This will involve the many grassroots groups working on this issue, folks from Duke University’s Global Food Policy Center who want to partner on this work in Durham, members of key institutions providing food like Durham Public Schools, and people who are experiencing food insecurity themselves. Such a summit can help us chart a community direction so that we can end food insecurity in Durham and build a model food system here. The summit, and the work that follows, must become an arena where new and disenfranchised voices can be heard, respected and centered.

Neighborhood listening visits: As council members, we are constantly responding to neighborhood requests for meetings or actions. But there are some neighborhoods which are much more well organized than others. As mayor, I would organize listening visits to neighborhoods which we hear from only occasionally or not at all. This will mean pro-active outreach to engage new voices.

Finally, I welcome ideas for public participation: I welcome with open heart and an open mind all ideas for how we can increase public participation in City government—especially ideas coming from those who do not participate now. I welcome these ideas, and I will actively seek them out.


2) Because of state law, municipalities have a number of restrictions placed on them by the legislature: they can’t, for instance, be a sanctuary city, impose a city-wide minimum wage, enforce inclusionary zoning, or remove Confederate monuments. Under what circumstances should elected officials push back against the legislature?

We should push back constantly and strategically against this legislature’s damaging policies. The Indy’s examples of such policies listed in this question don’t even include the legislative prohibition that I believe is the most damaging—the prohibition against reasonable gun control laws. Every two days someone in Durham is shot with a gun and killed or wounded. Much more frequently than that, Durhamites are threatened with guns in domestic disputes, gang disputes or robberies. And yet we cannot limit gun sales, tax guns or ammunition, or require that guns be kept out of school parking lots, trails, restaurants or bars. People are dying because of this legislative policy.

In the face of this legislature’s policies, we must speak out boldly for Durham’s values, and we must act on them. We must push back in three ways. The first is to object officially and often, as our city council does now through resolutions, to the laws being perpetrated by the legislature. We must make our voice loudly and constantly heard in defense of Durham’s values as we have on Amendment 1, HB2, voting rights, gun laws, immigration laws, the death penalty, the Racial Justice Act, transportation policy and environmental regulation.

The mayor has a special opportunity to magnify Durham’s voice in this way, and if elected, I will speak out forcefully in a variety of forums in defense of Durham’s values.

Second, in addition to speaking out for our values, we must live those values at home. Just as important as speaking out against legislation are the practical ways that Durham finds to act on our values—like the council’s support for the Faith ID for undocumented immigrants, like our misdemeanor diversion court, like Durham Refugee Day, like our new sustainability plan for Durham issued in the face of the legislature’s damaging environmental actions and Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accords. As our state and national governments fail us, the resistance is local—and the solutions are, too.

In many cases, we live our values at home through “Durham workarounds” to terrible state laws. For example, Durham government institutions have together created a Misdemeanor Diversion Court to keep people with small offenses outside of the criminal justice system so that these offenses are not criminalized. This Court is working well and has in its first year already diverted scores of people under the age of 21 from the court system.

Another prime example of a Durham workaround is the Faith ID. Our legislature prohibits undocumented people from obtaining a driver’s license, our official state ID. So El Centro Hispano issues the Faith ID to undocumented people so that they can have some form of identification when they encounter police officers, schools, libraries or other institutions. Our city council has endorsed the ID, and our police department recognizes it as well. This has saved many people from being dragged down to the courthouse because they lack identification, and it has kept many people out of jail and out of the hands of ICE. I led council support for the Faith ID, and I carry the ID myself.

In addition to speaking out for our values and living them at home, we must seek strategic opportunities, including court action, to roll back the legislature’s policies. At the same time, we need to recognize that the legislature’s power is real, authorized by our state constitution, and confirmed by the courts. What’s more, the legislature is willing and happy to wield this power against individual municipalities. It has re-drawn city voting districts without local input, taken away Charlotte’s airport and attempted to take away Asheville’s water system, and pre-empted strong body-camera legislation by Durham and other cities which would have mandated significant privacy, transparency and accountability.

The legislature has taken dead aim at Durham in particular. When the city council voted unanimously not to extend water to the 751 South development on environmental grounds, the legislature crafted a narrow bill that required the City to extend this water. When the Durham-Orange Light Rail project received significant funding through the state transportation scoring system, the legislature undercut its own scoring system to essentially zero out this funding. When Durham charged telecoms fees to recover inspection costs last year, the telecoms went to the legislature and got those fees prohibited. The legislature is powerful, watchful, and eminently capable of dipping into every corner of Durham’s business.

So we should not proceed recklessly. On the issue of sanctuary, for example, it is important to tell the truth: We can’t prevent ICE’s active presence in Durham, and any declaration of sanctuary is guaranteed to win additional unwanted and punitive attention of the North Carolina General Assembly and the Trump administration. Therefore to declare Durham a sanctuary city would be a false promise of safety that we cannot truly deliver to our undocumented neighbors. That is why Latino leaders in Durham CAN and El Centro Hispano have not been pushing to declare Durham a sanctuary city.

It would be rhetorically satisfying to declare Durham a sanctuary city, but on the ground it would be damaging to our neighbors and friends. We can’t enjoy our rhetorical satisfaction at the expense of their lives.

Having said this, Durham is and should proclaim itself to be a welcoming city to all people, regardless of immigration or refugee status, and there is much we can do to protect our friends and neighbors. This includes continuing the current position of our police department that it will not do the enforcement work of ICE. It includes Chief Davis’ decision to cease traffic checkpoints that were ensnaring immigrants in significant difficulty. And it includes the City’s endorsement and police recognition of the Faith ID provided by El Centro Hispano to undocumented immigrants who are not able to get a driver’s license. Finally, we will only truly be free of this legislature’s terrible policies when we change the make-up of the legislature. Court action to end the gerrymander will help, but only winning elections in districts outside of Durham will lead to the changes we really want.


3.) Given the inflamed racial tensions after the recent events in Charlottesville, what steps should Durham take to position itself as a guardian of social justice? How would you characterize city leaders’ relationship with Durham’s communities of color, and what should be done to improve that relationship going forward?

This is a critical question moving forward. In particular, as regards Durham’s Confederate monuments and remnants, I have addressed this at length in Question 1 above. Adopting the actions I have suggested above will make the city a “guardian of social justice” in relationship to these monuments.

But your question rightly implies the importance of a relationship between city leaders and communities of color that goes far beyond the issue of the moment.

I was raised in Lynchburg, Va., during segregation. My parents, inspired by their Judaism, were rare civil rights liberals in Lynchburg. I went to my first civil rights demonstration when I was 13 years old, and I have never looked back.

The struggle for racial justice has defined my political life for 50 years, and it continues to be at the forefront of everything I work on and care about. The reason I want to be mayor is to advance the issues of racial and economic justice.

I was very active in the civil rights movement from high school—when I worked to get “Dixie” banned as the school fight song—through college and beyond. I cut my teeth in Durham politics during the late 1970s opposing the plan for the East-West Expressway (now highway 147) to destroy the African-American community of Crest St. We won that battle, and the community remained strong, in-place and intact. I spent the next 20 years helping to create the black-white political movement that gradually defeated the white conservatives who had ruled Durham for decades and replaced them in office with the progressive bi-racial majority we have now.

And I founded a newspaper, The Independent, which put racial justice at the center of its reporting and continues to do so today.

Today, the relationship between city leaders and communities of color is frayed. On the positive side of the ledger, there is genuine racial power-sharing in Durham between white and black local and legislative office-holders. (See above in Question 1 for a discussion of the Latino community in this regard.) The school board and the city council currently have narrow African-American majorities, for example, while the county commission has a narrow white majority. This is typical of the racial make-up of local governing boards for the past decade or more.

However, there are two significant issues that have eroded the trust that communities of color have in local government. First, many people of color in Durham continue to feel excluded from the city’s newfound prosperity—and I address that at length in Questions 5 and 8 below. Second, many people of color in Durham continue to have a strong mistrust of the police, and it is critically important that this trust be restored.

The first step towards restoring this trust is for the mayor and members of the city council to view every issue through a racial equity lens. In fact, anyone who attends even a handful of council meetings will know that racial equity is at the top of the council’s agenda, and of my agenda.

During the past three years, I have attended racial equity trainings by dRWorks and the Racial Equity Institute (REI) as well as the police department’s training on bias-based policing. I have also encouraged our city manager to institute racial equity training. He and his senior managers have now attended REI training themselves, and the City has budgeted to send 150 more staff through REI training.

The issue which most demands a racial equity lens is policing. Durham unquestionably has a history of racial profiling by the police. To take one clear example, two years ago the police department commissioned a “veil of darkness” study by RTI which showed that white and black drivers were stopped at approximately equal ratios after sunset; but before sunset, black drivers were more than four times as likely to be stopped. I will continue to work towards a police force that effectively fights violent crime while enforcing the laws utterly free from racial discrimination or profiling.

In order to apply a race equity framework to this issue, the City has taken the following actions, which I advocated for and heartily endorse:
(1) Collecting, monitoring and regularly reporting data about traffic stops and searches to the City council for public scrutiny;
(2) Assertively recruiting African-American and Latino officers to serve on the Durham police force;
(3) Hiring and promoting minority officers into the top ranks of our police force, including the job of Chief;
(4) Training every new recruit in racial equity, de-escalation and procedural justice—and training every veteran officer in racial equity as well;
(5) Requiring officers, by direction of the Chief of Police, to refer most drug and other minor infractions by people under 21 to the Misdemeanor Diversion Court, thus keeping them from getting a criminal record;
(6) Requiring, by City Council direction, written consent to any consent search. I was a leading advocate of this policy which puts Durham in the national forefront of progressive policies on consent searches. Total searches of cars have fallen by 44% - which means hundreds of people, mostly African-American and Latino, are being spared jail and criminal records for minor violations, such as marijuana possession, that might result from a search.

In addition to these remedies, I support the significant trust-building reforms by our new Chief C.J. Davis. These include (1) the appointment of liaison officers to the Northeast Central Durham community, the LGBTQ+ community, and the Hispanic community—all of whom have been very well received; (2) racial equity training (see above); (3) the expectation that drug possession and other small offenses by people under 21 will be referred to Durham’s Misdemeanor Diversion Court rather than criminalized; (4) the Chief’s decision to cease traffic checkpoints which have created significant problems for Durham’s immigrant population; (5) the Chief’s work with SONG to make sure that transgender youth are treated with respect by the DPD; (6) the patient, non-confrontational way in which the DPD now deals with public demonstrations.

So we are making progress in terms of our policing policies and practices, but there is so much more to do. African-Americans whose cars are stopped still endure a much higher ratio of searches than whites. African-Americans are still much more likely than whites to be charged with marijuana possession. We need to make sure the practices outlined above are changing these numbers.

In addition, we have to take stock of the police department’s use of force. Several young black men have died at the hands of Durham police in recent years. In two of the cases, it is clear to me that these men—each depressed and calling out for help—did not have to die. We need failsafe crisis intervention in extreme mental health emergencies where guns are involved. And we need to make sure our police are exercising the necessary patience to talk down a suicidal person with a gun rather than killing him. It might take 12 hours, or 24, but our police need to take the necessary time to spare a life. We need to make sure these situations never happen again. Black Lives Matter.

Finally, I want to emphasize that this trust problem is a two-way problem. That is, as our very recent survey of the police department shows, officers overwhelmingly feel that they do not have the support of the city council and City management. If we are to successfully reform the culture of our police department to win the trust of the community, the council must simultaneously work to win the trust of police officers. No policing reforms we mandate will take hold in the field without the rank-and-file police officers feeling that they are valued for their dangerous and difficult work. We must hire the best officers, pay them well, train them well, manage them well, hold them accountable to very high standards of behavior, and let them know that we value their work. Only when we do that will we be able to make our police reforms stick—and that is essential to rebuilding trust in communities of color.

When we rebuild that trust, we will be moving towards the City’s critical role as “a guardian of social justice.”


4.) Durham’s public housing stock is aging, and there is limited money to redevelop units. What are your ideas for keeping residents of public housing in quality, affordable homes?

One of the most significant and difficult jobs of Durham’s new mayor will be to successfully help the Durham Housing Authority redevelop. As a council member, I have been the leading advocate for this redevelopment, and I have worked hard to bring the City and the Housing Authority together to do this work. We can succeed, and we must.

Nothing is more important to the future of Durham than the successful redevelopment of the Durham Housing Authority’s (DHA) housing communities. This is true because 6,000 residents, many of them elderly or disabled and most of them impoverished, live in these communities and are guaranteed through federal subsidy to pay no more than one-third of their income in rent. This is the deepest housing subsidy in Durham, and it supports our most vulnerable residents. The bad news is that many of these housing communities are aging and badly in need of repair or redevelopment while the federal government has reduced its support for maintenance and repair to a trickle.

So we must take effective local action now to redevelop these communities—or they will crumble and we will lose them. Whatever other effort Durham puts into affordable housing pales beside the importance of ensuring that the Housing Authority succeed in the redevelopment of these communities for the lasting benefit of their residents.

While the federal government has been reducing its maintenance subsidies to DHA since the Reagan era, there is a new program initiated by the Obama administration that allows housing authorities across the country to enter the private capital market for the first time to redevelop their housing communities. This program is called Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD. Through this program, DHA can borrow against its property assets, raise capital through bond sales and low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC), and redevelop its properties. Private investors profit from this program, but DHA maintains control in each instance as the general partner in all the RAD projects—and all current DHA residents are guaranteed continued residence in their home communities after they are redeveloped. They are also guaranteed that they will continue to pay no more than one-third of their income in rent.

DHA has already successfully renovated or redeveloped Preiss-Steele Place and Edgemont Elms, and it is now in the process of redeveloping Damar Court and Morreene Road apartments through the RAD program.

Durham’s only good option for redevelopment of the DHA communities is the RAD program, and we must do everything possible to make that work succeed.

What must the government of the City of Durham do to ensure that success? Here are some important steps:
(1) Ensure that the DHA has a strong board of directors. The city council chooses the board members who in turn choose the DHA director. We now have a strong DHA board, including former public housing residents, and a superb new director, Anthony Scott, who is making great strides in all areas of DHA administration and has experienced excellent success with redevelopment at other housing authorities before coming to Durham.
(2) Center the voices of the residents of DHA communities: This will be critical as we move ahead, and we must also listen to voices of neighborhoods living near the DHA properties. They, too, will be affected by redevelopment.
(3) Adequately fund DHA’s redevelopment work: The Damar Court and Morreene Road redevelopments alone are costing about $40 million including bank loans, private capital, bonds, and a 4% LIHTC. But all of this money is critically leveraged by $1 million that the City of Durham put into the Housing Authority to be DHA’s hard cash in the deal. The City will need to continue to partially fund DHA redevelopment.
(4) Help DHA get in line for the 9% tax credit awards: Each year, Durham can win one competitive award of a 9% tax credit through the NC Housing Finance Agency’s process. To win this award, Durham must have a strong project ready for new construction of affordable housing or a large redevelopment. This tax credit can leverage the building of 100 affordable units, and we need to make sure that the City, DHA and non-profit housing developers are working closely together to get a broadly supported project in the pipeline every year to win an award of the 9% credit.
(5) Make use of the 4% credits: The NC Housing Finance Agency has a large availability of 4% credits. There is no competition for these credits. The City has to help DHA ready projects that make use of these credits to redevelop appropriate properties, as we are doing at Morreene Road and Damar Court.
(6) Redevelop for mixed income to ease the double burden: The people living in our large public housing communities are currently bearing a double burden of poverty. Not only are they poor as individuals, but they are living in a neighborhood where everyone else is poor. There are few community resources to rely upon. So as DHA redevelops its larger properties, it should be our aim to develop them as mixed-income communities. As required by federal law, we must ensure that the current residents will still live in their current community after relocation and redevelopment. And we must make sure that there is no reduction in the number of low-income residents. At the same time, on these large well-located properties, DHA and the City can partner with private developers and non-profits to build market-rate units and other housing at various levels of subsidy. This will create a mixed income community, and that should be our aim. We want to end the isolation of our impoverished DHA residents because that isolation only reinforces their poverty. Creating mixed income communities has been done successfully in other cities. And we are doing it here in Durham at the Lofts At Southside where we have 132 units—52 of them market-rate and 80 of them affordable to people at lower than 60% of the area median income. This is a true mixed income community. Let’s do this at our large DHA properties as we redevelop them.
(7) Relocate residents fairly and guarantee them the right of return. By law, residents have the right to return to their redeveloped units under the RAD program. But we must make their relocation, if required during the redevelopment, as painless for them as possible. DHA needs to plan ahead to provide spaces in its property for any necessary temporary relocation. (8) Get jobs co-located with housing. During redevelopment of large DHA communities or of Fayette Place, DHA and the City should work together to recruit job-producing employers in or near the redevelopment—and these should be jobs that DHA residents can get.

5) While much of Durham has seen a renaissance during Mayor Bell’s tenure, the city’s poverty rate has also increased. What are your ideas for lowering Durham’s poverty rate, other than providing affordable housing? How can Durham’s renaissance be spread more equitably throughout the city?

The City’s work to reduce poverty should rely on three strategies: (1) Expand job creation and job quality, especially among people of color; (2) Increase wages; and (3) Increase assets among poor people and people of color through financial inclusion and asset-building.

Expanding job creation and job quality: The City’s work to expand job creation and job quality should focus on inclusive innovation and support of the small local businesses that drive employment. Because of Durham’s historic pride in the businesses of Black Wall Street, Durham has a reputation as a hotbed of black business success. The facts are otherwise. Since the recession, Durham’s black business formation has badly lagged other cities in North Carolina. We need to change that by encouraging minority-owned business formation, sustainability and capitalization. Here’s how:
(1) We must leverage our jobs incentives by offering them only to partners who will truly help us meet our ambitious minority contracting goals.
(2) We must convene local banks to help create a self-regenerating loan fund to capitalize minority businesses and offer them technical assistance in finance, accounting and marketing. If I am elected mayor, I will convene bankers for this purpose in the first year of my term. The City should consider back-stopping such a loan fund.
(3) We must expand Durham’s lagging supply of minority sub-contractors by working with self-employed individuals in the trades to prepare them for small business ownership, and we must align these sub-contractors with the City’s procurement needs. This works in other cities, and we can make it work here in Durham. We have many skilled tradespeople here. Let’s help them turn their trades into successful businesses.
(4) We must invest in a coordinated effort at technical assistance for minority businesses by Durham Tech, NCCU and other providers. This does not only mean helping tech start-ups. It also means providing crucial assistance to businesses that Andre Pettigrew, Durham’s Director of Economic and Workforce Development, calls the “butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.” These small businesses may never reach the IPO stage, but they are providing many of the jobs in our economy, especially in communities of color. Let’s give these businesses needed assistance in finance, accounting and marketing.
(5) We must bring Duke University and the Research Triangle Park companies into a procurement strategy that targets minority firms and gets these firms prepared to win this corporate business.
(6) We must ensure that our Office of Economic and Workforce Development is working closely with City contractors to get our minority firms sub-contracts.
(7) The City should encourage the formation and success of co-ops in Durham, and we should consider a co-op incubator and technical support.


If we do all this well, we will be supporting the small minority-owned businesses that can drive inclusive job creation and quality which is what Durham needs most.

Raising wages: There are few areas where the regressive policies of our state’s General Assembly matter more than the area of wages. The General Assembly has refused to raise the state’s minimum wage above the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour, outlawed local minimum wages above the state minimum, and even prohibited localities from requiring contractors to pay a living wage.

Given these major constraints, here is what we in Durham can do to help raise wages;
(1) The City Council is working to make City government, with its 2,400 employees, a model employer. By July 1, 2018, all City employees will be paid a minimum of $15 per hour. In addition, the City now offers 12 weeks of paid parental leave as well as a superb health insurance plan to its employees. The City should set an example for other employers by certifying with the Living Wage Project as a living wage employer.
(2) As Mayor, I will work with unions, Fight For Fifteen, and community groups to persuade other large employers to follow Duke University in its recent announcement that it is going to raise its minimum wage to $15 per hour by July 1, 2019. Duke is to be commended for this important step. As the state’s largest private employer, Duke’s wages set the scale for the entire region.
(3) We can support the Living Wage Project by encouraging Durham businesses to certify with the Project as living wage businesses, thus putting upward pressure on wages in the city. Currently, 97 businesses are certified as paying the living wage, and we need to continue to increase that number.

In addition to this work, I endorse the important role of unions in bargaining for better jobs and wages. This past year, I signed a union card myself for the first time as I joined and publicly endorsed the faculty union organizing at Duke. My department was eventually removed from the bargaining unit, but I was proud to sign the card and support the victory of the union in its quest for better wages and working conditions. Unions are critical to quality jobs that pay well.

Increasing assets among poor people and people of color through financial inclusion and asset-building: Finally, we can attack poverty and the racial wealth gap through asset building for people of color using a Financial Inclusion Strategy. This will build on some of the work that City staff, local non-profits and the Finance Task Force, which I chair, are doing as part of a 12-city National League of Cities collaborative.

Here is what we can do to help our low-income residents of color build assets: (1) Build on our successes with the matched children’s education savings accounts at Y.E. Smith School and with Partners for Youth Opportunity; (2) Ensure that all youth employed in the City’s Summer Youthworks program have access to bank accounts, direct deposit and incentives to save; (3) Encourage, or pressure, if necessary, employers to use direct deposit instead of debit cards to pay employees; (4) Promote low-cost transaction and savings products in partnership with local banks; (5) Aggressively recruit people for free tax preparation and EITC application at our neighborhood VITA sites; (6) Provide affordable home finance via low-interest second mortgage loans to low-income households through Habitat; (7) Curb predatory consumer lending through zoning powers; (8) Conduct local awareness campaigns to encourage employees who are not covered by employer retirement accounts to sign up for public options such as the U.S. Treasury’s MyRA program.

Durham is on the cutting edge of work in financial inclusion and asset building, and we need to continue to advance that work rapidly and effectively.


6) The Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project has moved into the engineering phase, although the Trump administration seems reticent to fund it. What are your thoughts on light rail? If completed, do you believe the project will be worth the community’s investment? Why or why not?

I unequivocally support Durham’s plans for rail-based transit. Durham needs a mobility strategy for the next 50 years, and rail transit is a critical part of any such strategy. In 30 years, Durham, and the Triangle, will nearly double in population. If we do not have a strong public transit network by that time, anchored on rail lines, Durham’s commuters will be standing stock-still on every highway and byway in the Triangle on the way to work. Highway 15-501 and I-40 will exist in permanent gridlock, and our air quality will be deadly.

As chair of the Durham-Chapel Hill-Chatham Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the legally mandated transportation planning body for our region, I am proud to have helped lead support for the 18-mile Durham-Orange light rail project. Durham and Orange Counties voted in referenda to tax ourselves to pay for the light rail, and after a years-long planning process, we are waiting to hear if we are approved for $1.2 billion in federal funding. The total cost of the line will be $3.3 billion including state and local funding and debt financing. That is a huge expense spread over 50 years, but let’s put that expense in perspective: Building one new lane each way on I-40 alone would cost more than $1 billion, and it will fill up as soon as it’s built. When we consider road spending that the rail lines will make unnecessary, the rail spending is a bargain.

I am thrilled that the light rail has reached federal approval to move into what is called the “engineering phase.” This is an enormous hurdle, and the expectation now from the federal government side is that if we continue to do our work well, federal funding will follow.

In addition to the light rail line to Chapel Hill, we now finally have a willing rail partner in Wake County. We need to begin serious planning now with Wake to build the commuter rail on existing tracks from Raleigh to downtown Durham. Our current tax levy will fund a significant part of Durham’s share of the rail line. These projects take years to plan, finance and build—so we need to start this work now.

It is true that the Trump administration does not want to fund rail projects. But it is also true that both the Senate and House budgets include funding for rail at least equal to current allocations, and most observers expect these budgets to prevail. If federal funding for this project is denied, here should be our next option: Our committed local funding, along with much more funding by a larger Wake County, should be enough to build the commuter line from Durham to Raleigh. We would build the commuter line first and wait on a change in Washington for the light rail funding.

Our second option would be bus rapid transit—but a dedicated corridor for buses is almost as expensive as a rail line because it would be necessary to purchase the same rights-of-way, build the same flyovers, construct the same tracks. And bus rapid transit is not nearly as efficient as rail and does not concentrate growth like a rail line does.

Barring these options, our region would be plunged into a decades-long traffic quagmire. New technologies like self-driving cars might save us some future pain, but we will still have to get to work, to entertainment, to visit friends. We need rail transit to maintain our quality of life over the next five decades and beyond. Without it, every day in the Triangle will be like driving at rush hour around Washington, D.C. or Atlanta. We need to invest in rail transit to avoid that dismal future.


7) Given the current direction of Durham city government, would you say things are generally on the right course? If not, what specific changes you will advocate if elected?

In many critical ways, Durham’s municipal government is definitely on a good course. In the first place, the basic functions of our City government are carried out extremely well, and it is far too easy to take this fact for granted. Trash and recycling pick-up from 72,000 weekly customers runs like clockwork with hardly a complaint. The fire department answers 19,000 annual calls, most of them for health emergencies, with speed and care. When you turn on your tap in Durham, you get all the clean water you want and it looks good and tastes good and comes to you at a bargain price—at the same time that the City is in the midst of a five-year, $500 million renovation project replacing old water and sewer lines and rebuilding water and sewer plants to reduce pollution of our local lakes and reservoirs.

While there are high profile issues like gentrification and policing that take up the headlines, most of the work of City government is routine but vitally important to the welfare of our residents. Under City Manager Tom Bonfield, our 2,400 employees do this work extremely well. This is a very well run City—unlike many cities across the country—and we need to make sure that we continue to retain the services of our superb city manager.

There are other ways beyond the basic services in which our City government is functioning very well. I am constantly impressed by the kind of creative thinking that our staff is doing. Just recently City staff have worked with outside partners to purchase the Belt Line Trail, and they are working now through an open process to make it a crown jewel of Durham. City staff have imagined a nine-acre storm water facility on the old Duke Diet and Fitness Center property on Trinity Ave. This facility will naturally treat an enormous amount of water coming out of downtown so that it will not pollute Falls Lake, and it will become a wonderful natural community amenity as well, again with the help of a public process. City staff are working in close concert with Durham Housing Authority staff to redevelop DHA’s aging properties.

Now the City has received a Bloomberg Innovation grant, and the city manager is using the grant to hire three staff members to spur innovation in City government and beyond. The Bloomberg team’s first project is to figure out how Durham can do a better job welcoming and assisting the 760 people we have returning to Durham each year from state prison.

In short, Durham City government is extremely well run, innovative and effective. Our resident satisfaction surveys tell us the same thing.

In addition, Durham’s government investments in downtown have spurred massive private investment there and in the neighborhoods nearby after decades of disinvestment and decay. The DPAC and the DBAP have been central to Durham’s newfound prosperity and to Durham’s arrival as a start-up hub and restaurant mecca.

The excellence of City services and the results of City investments have had unintended consequences as well—or what we call “negative externalities” in the public policy field. That is, as Durham has prospered, 20% of our residents, most of them people of color, have not shared in this prosperity, and these same people are suffering from the effects of gentrification driven by the boom. Twenty new people move to Durham every day, and they are driving up the cost of housing at a rapid pace. See below in this questionnaire for my ideas on dealing with this new reality.

So while City services are excellent, and City staff is generally creative and effective, there are many improvements that need to be made. I have outlined the changes that we need throughout the rest of this questionnaire—changes in public participation, relationships with our Latino residents and communities of color, public housing redevelopment, policing practices, creating a welcoming city for all, transportation policies and practices, economic development strategies, and so much more. See the questions below for my ideas on affordable housing and the public assets that make for a healthy city. This questionnaire is filled with the changes we need to make together.

There are many, many changes and improvements to be made if we are to become the City we want to become—a model progressive City for the South and the nation. I am running because I want to help lead those changes.


8) Please identify the three most pressing issues the city faces and how you will address them.

The three most pressing issues the city faces are: (1) policing and institutional racism; (2) gentrification and affordable housing; and (3) enhancing rather than diminishing our small-city quality of life as we grow, and making sure that quality of life is available to all of our residents.

Issue 1: Policing and institutional racism: I have already discussed this at length in Question 3 above.

Issue 2: Gentrification and affordable housing: I have already discussed one aspect of our pressing work on this issue in Question 4 above concerning redevelopment of the Durham Housing Authority’s properties. Affordable housing is at the top of my agenda, and here is my plan for change.

First, a word about gentrification. I like a simple definition of gentrification that I once heard from Mel Norton: “Gentrification is the process by which higher income people capitalize on decades of disinvestment in the inner city by moving into neighborhoods historically occupied by lower income people and displacing them.”

The march of gentrification through Durham’s disinvested neighborhoods is the product of powerful market forces. The influx of young people who want to live near downtown’s jobs and restaurants is the force driving gentrification. They are its agents even as they are concerned about its results. At the same time, investors sensing opportunity are buying, rehabbing and flipping houses, thus displacing the original neighborhood residents.

These market forces are powerful, and we cannot defeat them. But we can positively affect change and encourage stability in the gentrifying neighborhoods if we are strategic, determined to exert the necessary political will, and willing to spend the necessary tax dollars.

The key to doing this work is an ambitious, thoughtful, comprehensive affordable housing plan and the will and the know-how to get it done. Here is this plan, below. If I am elected mayor, we will get this job done together.

On City Council, this is the one issue that I work on every single day: how can we preserve and build more affordable housing. Everyone in Durham deserves to have a safe, decent, warm, affordable home.

With limited resources and limitless need, we must focus on the most critical goals. My highest goals are to (1) end family homelessness within the next few years ; (2) continue the strong City support for the Housing Authority (DHA) so that DHA can redevelop its aging housing communities and ensure the success of its voucher program—which together support the housing of 12,000 of our most vulnerable; (3) use publicly owned land downtown to leverage affordable housing; (4) develop an effective strategy for inducing developers to contribute to our affordable housing; (5) help low-income homeowners affected by gentrification stay in their homes by providing effective financial support; (6) help fund the work of Habitat, DCLT, CASA and other non-profits; (7) help redevelop DHA’s downtown communities as mixed-income so that they are still home to the current DHA residents but no longer force those residents to live in isolated poverty.

Here is some of my work:
● I have helped bring the Housing Authority and the council into close cooperation on financing the redevelopment of the Authority’s aging housing communities and funding the housing voucher program.
● I was deeply involved in shepherding the Housing Authority’s re-purchase of Fayette Place and the City’s $4 million financial support of this purchase. Fayette Place, a 19-acre site near an eventual light-rail station at the head of Fayetteville St., is a key site for redevelopment that will benefit the nearby neighborhoods and will not displace anyone. This site will be the subject of an extensive public process centered on the needs of the people in that area. It will certainly include affordable housing, and we must work to make sure that it also includes business opportunities for people of color that will employ neighborhood residents at good wages. This will take time and significant financial commitment, but Fayette Place should be a model of development that benefits the surrounding community. And it can be.
● When I first ran for City Council in 2011, I campaigned on the issue of funding affordable housing--specifically the adoption of the “penny for housing”—and the council adopted the penny in 2012. Since then, I have been advocating for more spending on affordable housing, and now we have doubled our dedicated housing fund to “two pennies” in our current budget—now producing $5.5 million annually.
● I have fought to fund Rapid Rehousing to quickly rehouse homeless families, to fund Habitat second mortgages and land purchases, and to adopt the Pro-Active Rental Inspection Program which has brought hundreds of properties into housing code compliance.
● I have forcefully advocated for the use of City land downtown for affordable housing—especially the site adjacent to Durham Station which is now under consideration for development by Self-Help and an affordable housing developer with 100 units, 80 of them affordable at 60% of the area median income.
● I annually lead a team in the Homeless Point-In-Time Count to search out, count, and offer assistance to homeless residents of Durham.
● I brought together leaders of Durham Public Schools, the State Employees Credit Union, and CASA to develop 24 units of below-market price rental housing for new teachers. This project is nearing the final stages of planning and financing. I work closely with our local housing non-profits to help them move their agendas forward and strengthen their capacity.
● Just last month, I introduced a stabilization program for long-term low-income homeowners in Southside whose taxes have risen dramatically because of gentrification induced by a massive City investment. The council approved this plan to give grants to qualifying homeowners and to ask our city manager to come back to us with a city-wide plan for home repairs and tax relief for low-income homeowners.

All of this is made possible by our local funding effort—the “two pennies” for housing. In addition to this local funding, we have approximately an equal amount of federal funding for housing. This means the City is spending about $11 million total for affordable housing this year. Our housing money goes to build dozens of rental units in the Lofts at Southside subsidized for people living at less than 60% of the Area Median Income. It goes to help the Housing Authority redevelop its aging housing communities. It goes to support Habitat homeowners. It goes to Housing for New Hope for its Rapid Rehousing program which rehoused 184 families last year. It goes to provide gap financing for Low-Income Housing Tax Credit projects. It goes to CASA to support affordable housing for disabled veterans and to the Durham Community Land Trustees to support renovation of affordable rental properties. And our local funding leverages so much more. For example, $1 million in local funding is leveraging the private financing of two Housing Authority properties, Morreene Rd. and Damar Court, with a total of 326 units and a total cost of $42 million. Including the Housing Authority’s budget of more than $30 million, plus the private capital we are leveraging for construction, affordable housing spending in Durham from all sources in the next year should top $85 million. For this year, the “two pennies” for housing ($5.5 million) is an appropriate local commitment. But in future years, we will need more. In addition, if we are to reach our ambitious affordable housing goals, we must have the financial participation of private developers. We have failed at this in the past. Here is my plan to make this happen now: The City has set a goal of having at least 15% of housing in the transit station areas affordable. Because North Carolina law prohibits inclusionary zoning, we are not allowed to require the inclusion of affordable units when a developer comes to the council for a rezoning.

So we have not had a “stick” to require affordable units, and we haven’t had much of a “carrot” either. That is, the tools that the City has had to incentivize developers to include affordable units have been minimal and ineffective. The main benefit we have offered developers has been a density bonus for including affordable units. The bonus has been on the books for more than a decade, and not a single developer has taken advantage of it.

I and other affordable housing advocates have struggled without success to come up with a strategy that would effectively incentivize affordable units in the transit station areas. Now, however, I have a strategy to propose that I believe can succeed. It has three elements:

First, as we approve the upcoming zonings for the compact neighborhoods around transit stations, we should leave the base zoning in place rather than upzoning.

Second, we should adopt an aggressive density bonus. In order to get the added density and the form-based zoning they want, developers will need to include affordable units. This idea is not new, and without an additional incentive it won’t work in the current environment. Rents simply aren’t high enough to cover the subsidy for the affordable units and the cost for the structured parking that will come with the added density. Instead of taking the density bonus and including affordable units, developers are much more likely to build four-story stick-built apartments like they are building now all over town without the density we want at a transit station and without any affordable units. So let’s add a third element to the plan:

Third, we should start giving tax incentives to developers who will take the density bonus and build affordable units when they develop in the transit areas. Tax incentives to commercial developers worked to help kickstart the redevelopment of downtown. We should now use this tool instead to incentivize affordable housing. This would essentially be project-based Tax Increment Financing (TIF). We would partially rebate the developer’s taxes over the first few years of the project in exchange for the affordable units.

There would need to be a lot of staff work done to get this right. This would need to be a tiered program which would tie the amount of the tax incentive to the number of affordable units required and the level of affordability.

This kind of strategy could be applied to rezoning cases like Wood Partners or Witherspoon Rose—and would at last give us a strategy that might truly incentivize developers to build affordable units.

Issue 3: Enhancing rather than diminishing our small-city quality of life as we grow, and making sure that quality of life is available to all of our residents: Vitally important to this goal is the public transportation work described in Question 6 above. However, we need much more than good public transportation to get us the quality of life we want in Durham over the next 50 years.

As a youth soccer coach for 18 years, and as a runner and cyclist, I am deeply committed to creating the public assets which are critical to creating a healthy and happy community—and these public assets must be equitably distributed throughout Durham. Wealthy residents can afford access to clubs or private greenspaces. It is our impoverished neighborhoods which are most in need of healthy infrastructure.

In some areas—trail miles, sidewalk miles, and ball fields—Durham sorely lags behind our neighbors. In addition, some healthy infrastructure is not equitably distributed. The tree canopy, in particular, can be traced through neighborhoods by simply following the old bank redlining maps from the early 1900’s.

Changing these facts is something that I constantly work to drive forward.

To advance the funding of parks and trails, I pulled together a breakfast meeting of diverse advocates at my home four years ago. This group campaigned for and won a half-cent on the City’s tax rate to be annually dedicated to improving our parks and trails, and this has greatly enhanced the quality of these important assets.

I am honored that my work in this area was recognized by the North Carolina Recreation and Parks Association which presented me with the 2014 statewide “Distinguished Legislator” of the year award.

My priorities now include:
● $20 million worth of sidewalks and bike lanes already prioritized by the council over the next five years.
● Building greenway trails at a much faster pace in all parts of town with a similar $20 million allocation.
● 100,000 trees in the next 30 years. We are losing our tree canopy to age and development, and I am helping to lead a public-private effort to set a bold community goal and meet it.

Here is my track record:
● The tree canopy: A group I convened at City Hall is now organized as Durham Tree Advocates. Together, we have successfully advocated for City funding of tree management, surveys and a master plan, and we also held Durham’s first community tree forum last year. ● Athletic fields: Durham has a dearth of athletic fields, especially soccer fields. To change this, I called together a group of coaches and parents to meet at my home, and this group soon became the Durham Soccer Council. Together, our advocacy led directly to the City’s recent purchase of 50 acres of land in East Durham that will be the eventual home of new soccer fields.
● Ellerbe Creek West Trail: I pushed hard for several years to get the Ellerbe Creek West Trail extension fully funded, and it is now under construction.
● Public green space: I advocated for the adoption of the City’s urban and downtown open space plans to preserve our scarce inner-city greenspace, and I worked to get the developers of the Durham ID District to commit to the preservation of publicly accessible greenspace to be designated as a public park.


9) What in your public or professional career shows your ability to be an effective member of the city council? If you’ve identified specific issues above, what in your record has prepared you to deal with them?

Please see my answers in Question 8 above, for example, regarding my work in affordable housing and quality of life issues. I hope I have made the case there in detail for my ability to lead effectively on these critical issues and others.

What is the essential job of Durham’s mayor? As I wrote earlier in this questionnaire, I believe it is to embrace Durham’s grassroots activism and to empower people to help make change. That means bringing together people with different values and different points of view to help us define and confront our common challenges. I hope I have shown in this questionnaire—and in my life’s work—that I have done that time and again. I would like to do this now from the position of mayor of Durham.


10) Please give an example of an action by the city council in the past year that went wrong or should have been handled differently. Also, what was the city’s biggest accomplishment during that period?

I believe that during the past year, the council should have done more to ensure that our police officers and command staff know how to handle severe mental health crises when a weapon is involved, as described in Question 3 above. We cannot have more deaths at the hands of police officers in situations of a victim’s mental health crisis. The council should hear from Chief Davis about best practices from around the nation in this regard and the plans that the Durham Police Department is adopting.

I believe that the City’s biggest accomplishment this year was our affordable housing work which has not received the public recognition it deserved. Some of this work included the re-acquisition of Fayette Place, DHA’s first steps in the redevelopment of Morreene Rd. and Damar Court communities, the opening of the 79 beautiful affordable units for seniors at Whitted School, the completion of the nine Land Trustee rental units on Piedmont Place, the Land Trust’s purchase of 54 units in East Durham to be rehabbed and kept affordable with City support, the completion of DHA’s 20 affordable units at Goley Pointe—including 12 units for homeless people with disabilities, the construction of about 60 affordable rental units in the second phase of the mixed-income Lofts at Southside, the opening of 60 affordable units at Vermillion, a tax credit project on Cook Rd. that also includes 6 units for homeless people with disabilities, and much more.


11) How do you identify yourself to others in terms of your political philosophy? For example, do you tell people you’re a conservative, a moderate, a progressive, a libertarian?

I identify myself as a progressive.

12) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.

I am deeply committed to the rights and liberation of LGBTQ+ people, and I want Durham to be as well. This issue is of paramount importance to me and to our community. When the state legislature seeks to diminish the rights of LGBTQ+ people, we must stand as a united community to vigorously defend those rights. Here is my record:
● During the battle for marriage equality, I and my wife Lao Rubert held a fundraiser at our home in opposition to Amendment One. More than 200 people attended and contributed over $20,000 to organizations fighting Amendment One.
● I introduced a resolution for the City Council to defend marriage equality by opposing Amendment One.
● Nearly thirty years before marriage equality was affirmed by the Supreme Court, I wrote what I believe was North Carolina’s first “wedding announcement” for a same-sex couple and published it prominently in my newspaper, The Independent.
● At The Independent, we crusaded for LGBTQ rights over three decades beginning in the early years of the AIDS epidemic.

I will work towards the day when Durham can pass an ordinance unencumbered by state pre-emption that would guarantee the civil rights of LGBTQ+ people and would recognize that all citizens, in the words of EqualityNC, are “deserving of equal treatment under the law, access to the same opportunities and subject to the same responsibilities, regardless of their age, race, nationality, immigration status, ability, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or other inherent characteristics.”

Such an ordinance would (1) prohibit employment discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, (2) prohibit public accommodations from denying service to LGBTQ+ people, (3) guarantee the rights of transgender people to use the restroom of their choice, (4) deny the ability of local magistrates and registers of deeds to refuse to marry LGBTQ+ couples, (5) provide for City endorsement of a local ID card, much like the local Faith ID for undocumented immigrants, that would be available to transgender residents and would allow them to update any changes in their name and gender.

Most of these potential ordinance provisions are against the law in North Carolina. It is necessary that we change the membership of our legislature before we can guarantee these rights.

Finally, in Durham, we must defend and embrace the liberation of our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors that goes far beyond the essential but narrow guarantees of rights. We must nourish the strength of LGBTQ+ institutions and support a flourishing LGBTQ+ culture. We must make it breathtakingly clear to the people of Durham, to North Carolina and to the world that in Durham, all love is beautiful. In Durham, LOVE WINS.

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