Of course the INDY is endorsing Steve Schewel, right? After all, he founded the paper in 1983. His values are our values, embedded in our DNA. So this should hardly be a surprise; indeed, we debated whether to endorse in this race at all.
But we decided to anyway—not because we're obligated, but because Schewel is by far the best candidate in the race. (To be clear: Schewel sold the INDY in 2012 and has no ties to the paper. No one involved in our editorial deliberations was employed here when Schewel owned the paper.)
Schewel's most formidable challenger is Farad Ali, whose credentials are solid enough. He's president of the N.C. Institute of Minority Economic Development, chairman of the Raleigh-Durham International Airport Authority board, and a former one-term city council member.
Running under the slogan "One Durham," Ali stresses the need to make sure everyone's voice is heard in public policy conversations. He also correctly cites income inequality and the rising poverty rate as two of the city's most pressing issues.
Ali would be a fine mayor, in much the way Bill Bell has been a fine mayor. But of all the candidates, his mayoralty would most represent a continuation of the status quo—a cautious, Chamber-friendly progressivism.
Pierce Freelon, on the other hand, would mark the sharpest break with the Bell era. At just thirty-three years old, he would be the city's youngest mayor, something he considers a feature, not a bug. He's fluent in the language of social justice, pledging to pass a robust antidiscrimination ordinance and turn Durham into a sanctuary city in open defiance of state law. He speaks passionately not just in praise of the activists who took down the Confederate monument but also of the need to address systemic racism. He ambitiously pitches a program to guarantee living-wage jobs for unemployed residents, though we'd like to see more meat on that bone before we weigh in on its merits.
In short, Freelon is this year's most exciting candidate. Were he running for city council, we'd likely be behind him. But that's not the circumstance in which we find ourselves.
Schewel, on the other hand, both exceeds Ali's experience and marries it with Freelon's activist inclinations. Schewel's knowledge of the city and its government is unparalleled, and his commitment to social justice causes is indisputable. He's been walking the walk in Durham for more than three decades. In the late seventies, he successfully fought a highway plan that would have gutted a black neighborhood.
"I spent the next twenty 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 biracial majority we have now," he writes.
On the council, he's formed a progressive bloc with Jillian Johnson and Charlie Reece; during his first council campaign in 2011, he pushed for dedicated funds for affordable housing, which the council passed the next year. He's since advocated for using city-owned properties downtown to build affordable housing.
In his eleven thousand-word (!) response to the INDY's questionnaire, Schewel writes exhaustively about, well, everything: racial tensions and density bonuses, minority business capitalization and mass transit, trash pickup and gentrification. There's not a significant issue facing Durham that Schewel hasn't put a lot of thought into—and he is an endless font of ideas for addressing them, too.
He's the mayor Durham needs right now.