Local Politics

Durham candidates

Posted September 21, 2015
Updated October 21, 2015

Mayor

Bill Bell

No information provided

James Lyons

James Lyons, Durham mayoral candidateAge: 42
Occupation: Time Warner Cable technical operations
How long lived in Durham: Lifelong resident
Political experience: None

If elected, what are your top 3 priorities in office?

Youth/young people. Public safety/crime. Affordable housing/rent for low-income.

The police department has said many of the shootings in Durham are related to gang violence. What are your plans to stop gang violence and make Durham a safer place?

Ensuring our Parks and Recreation Department is properly funded. This would provide the youth/young people in our communities a safe haven from the potential desires to join a gang. It would also keep our young people off the streets and involved in positive and productive activities. Build relationships with the many nonprofits and community organizations in our city that offer counseling, mentoring and family services ultimately showing our young people that they are loved and cared about while showing them they do have other options other than destroying their lives. Identifying and building relationships with the parents/guardians, caretakers and loved ones of our troubled youth would pay great dividends for the child and our city. Provide an atmosphere of love throughout our city: Using billboards, newspapers and radio PSAs that continuously encourage love and positive messages of love in every corner of our city.

Downtown is booming, but the cost of living there is unrealistic for many. What are your plans to make sure affordable housing is available downtown in areas that are safe?

Create a "Voluntary Employer Fund." The city could partner with local local employers, many of whom have a longstanding commitment to community investment in an effort to have the employers contribute to a city fund that builds and preserves affordable housing. It's a win-win situation for the city and the employers. Increase opportunities for multi-family housing. The city will expand housing opportunities to a broader array of household types and incomes by devoting a greater amount of land (if/when/where available) to multi-family housing, particularly in areas near transit, services and amenities. Maximize surplus and underutilized public property for affordable housing. Building affordable housing on developable public land in key locations near transit and job centers is invaluable in helping low-income workers and families live close to jobs and schools, while decreasing congestion and pollution.

Durham is now seen by many as a food and entertainment destination. What projects would you propose to help continue the city’s growth and evolution?

Continued revitalization of our downtown area. Building relationships between business owners and potential business owners. Eliminating any red tape our city has in place that would possibly deter a business from launching. Creating more access to public transportation up to increasing bus routes.

City Council At-Large

Sandra Davis

Durham council candidate Sandra DavisAge: 38
Occupation: Mental health consultant
How long lived in Durham: 13 years
Political experience: Member of Durham County Women’s Commission and Durham County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council.

If elected, what are your top 3 priorities in office?

Violent crimes have increased 22 percent between 2014 and 2015. Because of the large number of crimes that are gang-related, I propose that we increase funding to community/school gang prevention programs. There needs to be more proactive measures taken that involve community/police collaboration. In addition, children and young adults should have the opportunity to participate in and be offered positive community activities/events. The Durham Public Schools' annual report card showed that more than half of the district’s schools received grades of D or F. I plan on actively advocating for teachers and educators within the school system in an effort to improve citywide student performance. Our teachers are one of our community’s most valuable assets because they educate and equip our youth to be productive and successful adults. However, too often, our teachers are underappreciated, burned out and/or lack consistent/ongoing support. I believe that if we provide our teachers with the appropriate level of support, training and tools, our students’ performance will show improvement. Affordable housing, particularly in downtown Durham, is imperative. It breaks my heart that there are so many dedicated, hardworking residents who cannot afford to live in certain areas. I will work alongside and advocate on behalf of our community to identify funding, initiatives and resources to bridge the gap.

The police department has said many of the shootings in Durham are related to gang violence. What are your plans to stop gang violence and make Durham a safer place?

(Answered above)

Downtown is booming, but the cost of living there is unrealistic for many. What are your plans to make sure affordable housing is available downtown in areas that are safe?

(Answered above)

Durham is now seen by many as a food and entertainment destination. What projects would you propose to help continue the city’s growth and evolution?

I am proud of the growth and development that Durham has accomplished. Our small-business owners played a great role in earning us the reputation for being a top place to go for great food and entertainment. To continue to support our community’s small businesses, there should be tax credit incentives for new small businesses that locate to our area and established small business that add additional locations or renovate. In addition, there needs to be various funding options (loans, grants, etc.) made available for establishment renovations, employee growth and development.

Ricky L. Hart

No information provided

Jillian Johnson

Jillian Johnson, Durham council candidateAge: 34
Occupation: Operations director, Southern Vision Alliance
How long lived in Durham: 16 years
Political experience: None

If elected, what are your top 3 priorities in office?

My top three priorities are to provide and maintain affordable housing for low-income residents, increase the accountability of law enforcement officers to the community and increase the economic and racial equity in our city. The rising cost of housing in Durham is threatening our quality of life, particularly that of our lower-income residents. I believe the city should invest the necessary resources into making sure that we have adequate housing stock that low-income people and working families can afford. Statistics have shown that we also have serious issues with racial profiling and biased policing in Durham, and I believe the city should continue to play a role in demanding accountability from law enforcement. Finally, I believe that we should be considering the impact of racial and social equity in all decisions that face our city. From the location of new developments to funding for new amenities and city services, we need to ensure that we are spreading the benefits of Durham’s continuing growth and development equally to all residents.

The police department has said many of the shootings in Durham are related to gang violence. What are your plans to stop gang violence and make Durham a safer place?

Lack of economic and social opportunities are the primary cause of gang involvement. People who already have the opportunities they need to provide for themselves and their families rarely commit crimes, regardless of how many police officers are on the street or how strictly sentences are enforced. Therefore, the only way to prevent crime long-term is to invest in economic and community development. Good, safe jobs that pay living wages, educational and recreational programs for youth and affordable housing and stable neighborhoods all create strong communities with low rates of crime. I would direct city resources toward each of these priorities as a council member. I also believe that mediation, nonviolent conflict resolution and restorative justice are effective tools that can be used to build up the capacity of our communities to avoid creating and perpetuating the conditions that cause crime, particularly the sorts of dangerous cycles of retaliation and re-retaliation common in gang violence situations.

Downtown is booming, but the cost of living there is unrealistic for many. What are your plans to make sure affordable housing is available downtown in areas that are safe?

Ensuring that Durham continues to be a city where everyone can afford to live is one of the most critical issues facing our community. I believe that the city should bring together city resources and nonprofit housing providers to construct both for-sale and rental housing that is affordable for low-income people, demand that housing developers who request city funding or significant zoning changes proactively address our affordable housing crisis by providing affordable units as part of their developments, provide safe and affordable alternative housing for every person living in public housing that is slated to be torn down, involve members of the communities most affected by these decisions and policies in every step of the process and ensure that issues of racial equity are addressed in any affordable housing plan. There are several plots of city-owned land downtown, including the one under consideration adjacent to the bus station that would be perfect for an affordable housing development.

Durham is now seen by many as a food and entertainment destination. What projects would you propose to help continue the city’s growth and evolution?

The development that is occurring downtown is truly impressive, and I am hopeful that the city will be able to direct some of the resources that are revitalizing downtown into public projects that will benefit city residents more broadly. I would support capital projects to develop light rail stations, build additional sidewalks and provide more community centers, outdoor parks facilities, trails, greenways and open spaces. I also believe we should continue to celebrate Durham’s diverse heritage and support and promote events like the Durham Blues Festival, the Bimbe Festival, the Latino Festival, the Art of Cool festival and international food events that will bring diverse groups of people into the city.

Charlie Reece

Charlie Reece, Durham council candidateAge:
Occupation: Attorney
How long lived in Durham: 9 years
Political experience: None

If elected, what are your top 3 priorities in office?

Durham must continue to be a city where working families can live and work and raise their kids. Increased public and private investment downtown has left downtown with little to no housing that is affordable for working families. More aggressive measures must be taken by the city on the issue of affordability of housing, both downtown and throughout Durham. We must ensure that Durham’s current economic boom results in a broadly shared prosperity that benefits everyone. Our economic development strategy must recruit a wide range of jobs, including jobs within reach of Durham residents living in poverty. And we must make spending decisions about public dollars in a way that is fair and equitable to all. Durham must become a safer city. Our city should commit to true community policing, with officers walking their beats creating the daily one-on-one interactions that are essential to rebuilding public trust in neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by rising crime rates.

The police department has said many of the shootings in Durham are related to gang violence. What are your plans to stop gang violence and make Durham a safer place?

There is no issue facing Durham that I take more seriously than addressing the rising crime rate. I have proposed policies that would make a long-term impact on crime – economic development that doesn't leave struggling communities behind, investments in infrastructure in neighborhoods which have suffered from decades of disinvestment and ensuring that housing remains affordable. People with a decent job and a decent place to live by and large don't commit violent crimes. We should also increase programming through Durham Parks and Recreation to provide positive alternatives in the lives of young people. We must also grapple with the broken relationship between the Durham Police Department and many Durham residents. To that end, I have come to believe the police department needs new leadership. We must also commit to a community policing model that focuses on direct community engagement by patrol officers built on daily interactions with the Durham residents they protect and serve.

Downtown is booming, but the cost of living there is unrealistic for many. What are your plans to make sure affordable housing is available downtown in areas that are safe?

We must take aggressive action to ensure that Durham has housing options for working families. The city should make sure that developers who want to build more luxury condos downtown also contribute to the development of affordable housing downtown and elsewhere in Durham. I am hopeful that recent changes to the Unified Development Ordinance will incentivize residential developers to create projects with a broader range of price points that include affordable units. The city should also explore every possibility to use publicly-owned land downtown to promote the development of a significant amount of housing that is affordable for working families. The recent proposal from Durham’s Self-Help Credit Union to build 80-100 affordable units downtown on city-owned property adjacent to Durham Station is a prime example of the type of project the city should be pursuing aggressively, but the City Council recently chose not to move forward with that proposal.

Durham is now seen by many as a food and entertainment destination. What projects would you propose to help continue the city’s growth and evolution?

Durham has received international acclaim for our culture, food, sports and nightlife. There are three main factors driving Durham’s success in these areas: a thriving entrepreneurial community, the revitalization of downtown Durham over the last 20 years and the presence and community engagement of great universities like Duke University and NCCU. We should continue to support our growing entrepreneurial class and our flourishing downtown business community, and we should continue to partner with our local universities. But if we are to be a city that works for everyone, we must also encourage these Durham businesses to pay their employees in Durham a living wage. Workers who make a living wage are more motivated to do a good job, and businesses that pay a living wage experience less turnover and increased goodwill in the community. Our food and entertainment industries will be stronger when they pay their workers a living wage – and that will make Durham stronger, too.

Steve Schewel

Durham City Councilman Stephen SchewelAge: 64
Occupation: Visiting assistant professor of public policy, Duke University
How long lived in Durham: 46 years
Political experience: One term on Durham Public Schools Board of Education, including serving as vice-chairman; completing first term on Durham City Council

If elected, what are your top 3 priorities in office?

I want to make sure that Durham, the city we love, is a city for all. Durham is entering a golden age, and as it grows and prospers, I want to make sure that everyone shares in its prosperity. To that end, my top three priorities are providing more affordable housing, ensuring the accountability of our police department and investing in the critical public assets Durham needs in the coming decades, including sidewalks, well-paved streets, parks, trails, cycling infrastructure, ballfields, the tree canopy and light rail. In addition, we face other crucial issues. We must continue to provide the current excellent level of basic city services cost effectively. We must plan for the future of our water supply as the demand for water grows with the population. We must provide excellent recreational programming and facilities for our youth. And we must do our part, along with the public schools and Durham Tech, to build a strong system of job training and employment opportunities along the entire skill spectrum.

The police department has said many of the shootings in Durham are related to gang violence. What are your plans to stop gang violence and make Durham a safer place?

Durham has a Gang Reduction Steering Committee in place so people from all of our local agencies working on this problem can come together to find solutions. This includes suppression of gangs by the police, but it also crucially includes prevention, and that is what we need to emphasize. We need to educate our young people about the dangers of gangs while they are in school. But more than that, we’ve got to provide them with good alternatives to gangs. As long as our young people are not able to get good jobs and good wages, the gangs and drug culture are always going to be an attraction. In the long run, we’ve got to fight this scourge by providing good jobs at good wages along the entire spectrum of education and skill. Durham is hard at work on this though the Made In Durham Initiative, the summer youth internships and much more. In the shorter term, we’ve got to have genuine community policing so that the police have the trust of the community in helping them fight gangs. This means police getting out of their cars and into the neighborhoods to win this trust, and that will lead to crucial support from the community in fighting gangs.

Downtown is booming, but the cost of living there is unrealistic for many. What are your plans to make sure affordable housing is available downtown in areas that are safe?

I work on this issue as a council member every day as an advocate for affordable housing, as a volunteer with homeless services work and as the council liaison to the Durham Housing Authority. Here are some of the top strategies we need to employ: First, we must support the ongoing and aggressive renovation of the Durham Housing Authority’s 14 communities since DHA, in one form or another, is involved in the housing of 12,000 Durhamites. Second, we must end veterans’ homelessness this year and expand our extremely successful Rapid Rehousing Program so that we can end the homelessness of children with families in the next two or three years. Third, we must continue to use the Penny for Housing money to subsidize the rehabilitation of multi-family dwellings to keep them affordable. Fourth, we must make sure that Durham has at least one 9 percent tax credit deal in the pipeline every year to build deeply affordable housing here. Fifth, we must finish Phase II of the Lofts at Southside rental project. Sixth, we must use publicly owned land along the light-rail corridor to leverage affordable housing construction there.

Durham is now seen by many as a food and entertainment destination. What projects would you propose to help continue the city’s growth and evolution?

For the most part, Durham’s downtown core has taken off and will continue to grow and prosper without additional city incentives. It will continue to grow as a food and entertainment destination on its own momentum. Now, we must turn our city government’s attention to the neighborhoods just outside the downtown core, which are feeling the effects of gentrification and where many people are both poor and being forced out of their homes by rising rent. The question isn’t whether Durham will continue to grow and prosper. It is whether or not everyone will share in this prosperity or whether some people will be further marginalized by gentrification and unemployment. City infrastructure support for these neighborhoods along with the employment, public investment, housing and community policing strategies noted above are the ways in which the city can make a tremendous difference in these neighborhoods. When these neighborhoods are safe and prosperous, this will make Durham an even more attractive place to live for everyone.

Michael Shiflett

Michael Shiflett, Durham council candidateAge: 60
Occupation: Retired business owner (medical lab equipment)
How long lived in Durham: 31 years
Political experience: Durham City Council candidate in 1999

If elected, what are your top 3 priorities in office?

Continue to work with law enforcement to better community relations and build mutual respect by expanding my involvement in both Partners Against Crime and Businesses Against Crime organizations with other neighborhood/volunteer and non-profits across the city. Continue to advocate and find viable opportunities for mixed-income housing that include not only low-income families but civil servants like police/sheriff/teachers/firefighters along with restaurant workers. This includes taking success stories from the Mayors Poverty Reduction Initiative that we're currently involved with to find solutions to employment, safe housing and access to jobs first in the focus area then apply them to other neighborhoods across Durham. Energize other community residents who want to get involved to create in them a bigger sense of being a citizen of Durham rather than just a resident of it. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of possibilities for everyone to find a place or an issue they have passion about in creating positive change in our city by getting involved.

The police department has said many of the shootings in Durham are related to gang violence. What are your plans to stop gang violence and make Durham a safer place?

I've come to understand that the roots of gang violence is the fundamental loss of hope in an individual for love and attention that leads them to look elsewhere or outside the family unit. Providing support for struggling parents and/or a single parent is tantamount for us as a society to counteract that. Prenatal and birthing support has to be improved for those at risk if we are to get to the source of this problem, along with addressing the consequences of gang violence if we don't do enough. I support resources for at-risk children in early development ages, preschool opportunities that are of high quality and special attention in early education classes. None of these is cheap or easily implemented, and most of them deal with governmental responsibilities of the county (read social services). Helping a child in the early years and allowing them to find hope for their future is building a better community with youth who have self-worth and esteem. Paying the consequences of failing to do so is not only expensive with more law enforcement, judges, criminal justice resources and jail/prisons but also in humanity's loss in innocent victims and those caught up in a confrontation when that violence is expressed.

Downtown is booming, but the cost of living there is unrealistic for many. What are your plans to make sure affordable housing is available downtown in areas that are safe?

I've been involved in this issue since the 1990s with the Campaign for Decent Housing and at the same time sitting on the Housing Appeals Board. I've led both a substandard housing committee and a community-led Durham PRIDE (Preservation, Revitalization, Investment, Development and Education) housing group with the assistance of NIS for several years. This followed with the currently active Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit group. These efforts have found solutions and are right now suggesting options for the city to work with developers and nonprofits to plan and build housing that is inclusive and welcome for everyone. I have a proven history and am proud of what's been accomplished. There are challenges facing downtown Durham that include losing local businesses to higher rents, pockets of neglect and transit that needs to serve all segments of its population, but I believe that, if people want positive change, they will need to have their voices heard by elected officials who have been, are and will be involved in their community. Mass transit should also be mentioned here as the costs for owning a vehicle are escalating.

Durham is now seen by many as a food and entertainment destination. What projects would you propose to help continue the city’s growth and evolution?

Having lived in Durham for the past 31 years and having our four children born and raised here in Durham Public Schools, we've had the benefit of visiting just about all the restaurants and entertainment venues available until recently (they've just become so numerous there aren't enough days in the week to keep up). But I'm saddened to hear that there are some restaurants and food service locations in Northeast and East Durham that have closed. Opportunities for employment, entrepreneurial ventures and enjoyment near one's neighborhood ought to be in or close to each community. Making sure that zoning and economic incentives that can make that happen is a priority for me. In particular, there's an old garage just off East Main that I'd love converted into something like that and would support someone with a business plan to make that happen. Finally, as these new venues become available (along with what's already here), we need to find better parking solutions for those who have to travel if they are not nearby their homes. I support private/public ventures that not only can provide temporary parking options for those individuals but also look for ways to encourage pedestrian and bicycle facilities.