Durham, N.C. — Bull City voters will have a choice of staying the course or pushing for change when they vote for mayor on Nov. 8.
Mayor Bill Bell, who is seeking a sixth two-year term, is almost synonymous with Durham. He served as chairman of the county Board of Commissioners before becoming mayor in 2001.
"I provide stability for this area. I provide leadership. I have experience," Bell said.
Rev. Sylvester Williams, pastor of Assembly at Durham Christian Center, said Durham needs to move in a new direction to confront crime and moral issues.
"The people I've talked to in the city of Durham realize there needs to be a change," Williams said.
His plans call for dipping into the city's financial reserves to hire more police officers and to raise the pay levels in the police department.
"(We need) to address it head on, rather than giving talk or just giving words," he said. "(We need to be) actually saying things and doing things that will make a difference.”
Williams said he wants to be a moral force for Durham, citing a recent City Council vote supporting same-sex marriage. The vote sent a message to local gang leaders and others that the city isn't serious about crime, he said.
"They say, 'How can you say you support these things, which (we) consider to be immoral, then tell us what we are doing is wrong?'" he said. "I think there is a moral issue that is also involved in this crime issue we have in Durham.”
Reducing crime has to be a community effort, not just a police action, Bell said, noting he wants to focus on improving Durham's quality of life, including economic opportunities for residents.
"I think we’ve done a good job in Durham, putting Durham on the right track," he said. "We've done a good job (revitalizing) downtown, but I've said over and over again (that) strong neighborhoods make a strong city."
The city needs to focus on neighborhoods like Northeast Central Durham, Southwest Central Durham and the Southside and Rolling Hills area, he said.
"We can't go out and print money, but we certainly can provide the type of environment that can make those that have money invest in Durham, and we try to do that," he said.
Two tax issues also will be on the Durham ballot.
Bell supports a quarter-cent local sales tax for education and a local tax for regional transit projects, saying both "provide businesses a reason to stay here and ... a reason to come here." Williams opposes both, saying local residents can't afford higher taxes amid a struggling economy.