Sylvester Williams | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Sylvester Williams

Durham - Mayor and City Council


Name as it appears on the ballot: Sylvester Williams

Date of birth: April 20, 1955

Home address: 404 Sparella Street

Campaign Web site:

Occupation & employer: Investment Analyst


Describe your past leadership roles, both in career and community. How will these experiences help you serve on Council? Please be specific about how these roles correspond to a city council member's responsibilities.

Regional Chair for Red Cross responsible for soliciting funds; Co-Chair for Economic Development for Durham Business and Professional Chair responsible advocating for job creation and retention of jobs in economically depressed areas of Durham. This includes negotiating contracts for millions of dollars; Vice-Chair for Economic Development for Durham Committee On the Affairs of Black People. I am responsible for attracting and targeting companies that want to locate to Durham and negotiate contracts that will benefit minority communities.; Ad-Hoc Committee Member For the East End Connector. I advocated for economic justice in a poor predominantly African community.

It is important that the Mayor responds to the needs of all the people in the city. One of the greatest issues facing our city is the rising unemployment rate. Although we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, many of our jobs are government related. The raised debt ceiling agreed upon by federal legislators and the White House will disproportionately affect government jobs both nationally and locally as spending is cut. This could create a further handicap for a city with a growing unemployment rate and declining revenues. My experience as chair for economic development will help not only in attracting non-government related jobs to Durham but also ensure that the citizens of Durham benefit from these jobs.

How do you define yourself politically? How have you demonstrated this political philosophy in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I am apolitical in traditional politics since I am neither Democrat nor Republican. I believe that the parties are too divisive to agree on a common good. I previously ran unaffiliated for office and received more endorsements than any other challengers in the race. The endorsements received showed that people, groups, voters want someone that can unite a community even if they are not tied to one of the major political parties. The fastest growing and most effective group of voters is independent. There are large groups of people that are dissatisfied with both parties and I to some extent represent what they would like to see in government.

List the three most important issues facing Durham, in order of priority. If elected, how will you address these issues? Please be specific.

Jobs is priority number one. There are communities with unemployment rates approaching 50%. This is immoral. I would be willing to tap into the Community Development Block Grants funds to create jobs in blighted areas of Durham. Also, as our Federal Government has shown, to lose a triple A rating does not devastate an economy. I would also be willing to tap into the reserves set aside to maintain our triple A to create jobs. Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke stated that the Federal Reserve rates would remain stable until mid-2013. With yields approaching zero, there is not a great advantage to maintaining a triple A rating versus a lesser rating. The zoning laws must be revisited that provide a great hindrance to small business starting in Durham. Small businesses are the greatest creator of jobs and I would do more to encourage and support small businesses or private development.

One way to increase revenues is to get more people to live in Durham. Many homeowners are steered away from Durham because of the perceived crime problem. I would advocate for increasing the salaries of the police officers and hiring of more policemen to make sure that Durham is safe for all its citizens. I also would propose initiatives that will decrease the crime rate amongst our young that do not include building more jails.

The last priority is maintaining our neighborhoods. I support neighborhood –friendly economic development that allows current residents to participate economically in any improvements that planned for their neighborhoods. The right to own property is one of our fundamental rights and that right should not be compromised so a few can benefit to the detriment of others.

Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

It is reprehensible that the city council would vote 7-0 to pass a same-sex resolution that did not include any input from the citizens of Durham. Number one reason that I oppose this resolution is because it flouts the laws of North Carolina. Secondly there was no input from the citizens. Why would the city council forbid debate on a matter that the majority of Durham is opposes. Every state that the same-sex marriage proposition was placed on a ballot it was voted down. Elitist judges and legislators were the ones that enacted these laws in other states, not the people. The current city council in its vote sought to override the will of the people in not even allowing the community to comment. We are not an elitist Durham. 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). When did the law say that parents must lose their right to be parents to support an elitist way of thinking? There are too many people that have left the homosexuality lifestyle to say that it is the way a person is born. To compare homosexuality to the African-American race is an insult. An African-American cannot change the color of his skin or the thickness of his hair but a homosexual can change and many have changed. To pass a resolution supporting same-sex marriage is only pandering to an elitist group. This experiment has been tried in cities before and failed.

In recent years, the Council has targeted community development improvements to certain areas, i.e. Northeast Central Durham and Rolling Hills/Southside. Name a specific area of the city that hasn't yet been targeted with services, but needs attention. What are the needs there, and how would you address them if elected?

East Durham from Hoover Road to Midway Avenue has received little funding. Park improvement, rezoning from light industrial to residential are some of the changes that I would make.

The City Council recently voted to allocate a large percentage of current and future federal housing grants to one project in the Rolling Hills and Southside neighborhoods. Dedicating these future allocations has reduced available funding for other housing-related services. Do you agree with the council's decision? Explain why.

I do not agree with Council's decision because the people within the community have little say. The property was given to MBS for a dollar and Self Help tried to sell back the properties it had purchased. The area was blighted the Mayor said so that Durham could receive tax credits. We have received the tax credits, why is the area still blighted? Once again it is the privileged benefitting at the expense of the poor. I served on the Southside Housing Committee and the people want their houses rehabbed, not blighted.

What role should the city play in the development or redevelopment of commercial real estate? Do you believe the city should award incentives to private developers, and under what circumstances?

I believe that Durham is a very attractive city for commercial development. However, I believe that private developers are better served at developing commercial real estate than the city is. Incentives should be given only if it creates jobs to residents within the city. A resident in the city is more likely to spend his earnings in the city and repay the incentives given to a company.

Several large-scale housing developments have stalled in recent years, leaving behind half-finished neighborhoods, roads and other infrastructure. Given the unfinished projects and recent economic challenges, how should the city proceed in deciding whether to approve new projects? Does the economic downturn call for a revision of current policies?

My experience as an Investment Analyst has provided a wealth of knowledge as to how to address this problem. The city is not in the position to approve new projects considering the current economic malaise. There has got to be a revisiting of current policy with the cut in Federal spending, climbing unemployment rate and the still falling housing market.

Police Chief Jose Lopez reported to Council earlier this year that crime reports in the city of Durham have dropped more than 30 percent since 10 years ago. Analyze the police department's current strategies in crime prevention and enforcement. What areas need improvement? How would you enable the department to make those improvements, if elected.

Bulls Eye was effective in the areas the service was provided, but it only caused the criminals to move to other places. Criminals know that our police force is lacking the manpower to do an effective job. I would increase the police force and thereby allow every area of Durham to receive adequate patrols. Secondly, I would talk with Chief Lopez on coming up with a better solution for juvenile crime. One thing that could be instituted is to stop empowering juveniles by labeling them as gangs. There are individuals that break laws not a gang. I have talked to many individuals that were in Bloods, Crips and Folk. One thing that I have discovered is that there is not a common theme among any of them. Most of them are looking for an adult to show concern for their plight and I would encourage Chief Lopez to come up with cultural sensitive ways of addressing the crime problem among young people.

In the past year, the council has taken an official stance on several national issues, voting last year to stop any official city travel to Arizona in light of its controversial immigration law; voting earlier this year to accept Mexican national identification cards as an official ID in traffic stops and other city-related business; and voting this summer to oppose statewide efforts to ban same-sex marriages. How would you have voted on each of these issues? How do you feel about the council taking a stand on these national issues?

The real reason why the council took the stand they took is not because of benevolence on their part. It was cheap labor. Once again it is an elitist group that thinks they can put pressure another state to change its laws. We already have problems with identity theft and the circulation of false id's. If there is a way to verify that the person is Mexican that his lifestyle in Mexico fits with all the laws in Durham, that he is not fleeing his country for a reason that may be detrimental to the citizens of Durham. If what we are doing is not in conduction with other cities and states it is futile. In other words I do not believe we have the resources or should deploy resources for verifying a Mexican's identity in this economic slowdown. I discussed same-sex marriage above.

I would have voted no on all the issues.

To learn about other candidates' stances on the issues, read their 2011 Candidate Questionnaires.

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