A pivotal election is underway in Durham, with voters set to choose a new mayor and fill three City Council seats this fall.
There are 12 people competing for the City Council seats, including two incumbents.
A primary is being held to narrow the field. Early voting in the primary runs through Oct. 7 and Primary Day is Oct. 10.
The top six candidates will proceed to the general election in November.
Terms last four years. The seats are at-large, which means candidates can live anywhere in the cits.
We collected questions from residents across Durham to help readers get to know the candidates.
Name: Bonita Green
Occupation: Executive director, Merrick-Moore Community Development Corp.
Are we paying people competitively and keeping our promises to our workers?
- East Durham resident Aidil Ortiz
There is currently a pay study to determine whether our city workers are being paid competitively, however, anecdotal evidence suggests that they are not. The city workers’ pay plan that was approved in 2019 was frozen in 2020. Workers have not been made whole since pre-COVID.
Not honoring our commitment to workers (the “step plan”) means that workers who have many years of service are being paid the same as those with only one year of service.
Our essential workers and first responders, additionally, are covering for positions that are being left vacant as workers leave Durham for better-paying jobs in adjacent cities. The vacancies in these vital areas are staggering and the city must act now to protect the workforce we have and to attract new recruits and to see to it that the folks in these jobs can afford to live in the city they serve. The current state of affairs is simply unconscionable.
Do you have any experience that helps you understand development in Durham? How do you plan to get more affordable units in the city?
- Planning commissioner Zuri Williams
My experience in regard to understanding development in Durham has come about gradually since the city first began addressing density and redlining several years ago with the Affordable Housing Bond and the Expanded Housing Choices text amendment.
Unfortunately, these initiatives have fallen short of their intended goals and have actually exacerbated problems we’re now seeing with overdevelopment and gentrification across the city and into our rural areas as well. The kinds of developments being considered are, by and large, being built for people moving into the area and not for the people who are living here and unable to afford to continue living here.
Yes, it’s estimated that we have a large number of people moving into Durham, but according to statistics from DATAWORKS NC, we have an equal number of people leaving because they cannot afford to live here.
In order to get more affordable units built, I think it’s important to make known our priorities as a Council. Council could direct the Planning Department to prioritize those cases that include affordable units for consideration first; then those projects that have proffers for affordable housing fund, next, and lastly those who have no interest in developing any affordable units at all.
As Durham grows more dense, how do we get away from the classic American model of car-oriented development? Are there any policies that you support that can keep us from becoming another Atlanta or Dallas?
- Downtown resident Nirav Patel
This issue is not specific to Durham, certainly, as cities across the nation are dealing with the same problem. Part of the problem comes with getting folks to understand and believe how car-centric cities are contributing to climate change when there is so much disinformation about climate change, fossil fuels, and emissions are perpetuated by those who stand to lose money or political power. So the first issue would be finding effective measures to educate our citizens.
The second piece is being able to provide a vision of exactly what kind of changes to our infrastructure such a deviation from what has been so much of our experience can occur. We need to show there is a way to develop our city, neighborhood by neighborhood, in such a way that we are not dependent upon cars to fulfill our everyday needs; and that there are services and resources available within walking distance to serve our residents.
In recent years, Durham supported an initiative for a light- rail system, but that initiative failed and cost taxpayers nearly $160 million; unfortunately, that didn’t stop some from pursuing another plan, this one with a commuter rail. Looking back, the money lost on these enterprises might have been put to better use by purchasing additional buses for use in areas that are underserved; buses that can be re-routed as needs increase rather than having a fixed point A to point B rail.
What policies do you support for implementing safer streets and reducing car dependency locally and regionally?
- Stadium Heights resident Nick Roberts
Durham as a city has not planned for infrastructure. Without proper planning, Durham will continue to be a car-dependent city. Infrastructure improvements must be discussed and budgeted for. Durham desperately needs to incorporate safer street plans across the city, however building out our public transportation system into a grid that will cover all areas of the city is the first step in lowering our dependency on cars.
What will you do to support the mental health needs of everyday Durham residents, especially thousands of young people in our public school systems?
- Hillside High School senior Isaiah Palmer
There is a growing evidence base on what schools need to do to promote mental health effectively. There is strong evidence that they need first and foremost to use a whole-school approach. This shapes the social contexts that promote mental health and provides a backdrop of measures to prevent mental health disorders. In this context, the targeting of those with particular needs and the work of the specialist services can be much more effective. Schools need to use positive models of mental health, which emphasize well-being and competence, not just illness — this will help overcome problems of stigma and denial and promote the idea of mental health as ‘everyone’s business’. The most effective programs in schools which address mental health have the following characteristics:
They provide a backdrop of universal provision to promote the mental health of all and then target those with special needs effectively.
They are multi-dimensional and coherent.
They create supportive climates that promote warmth, empathy, positive expectations, and clear boundaries.
They tackle mental health problems early when they first manifest themselves and then take a long-term, developmental approach that does not expect immediate answers.
They identify and target vulnerable and at-risk groups and help people to acquire the skills and competencies that underlie mental health.
They involve end users and their families in ways that encourage a feeling of ownership and participation and provide effective training for those who run the programs, including helping them to promote their own mental health.
In your vision for the city, what role does public education play and how does that connect to economic development, public safety and community health?
- Fayetteville Street corridor resident Erika Wilkins
Education plays a key role in the reduction of crime, improved public health, and greater political and civic engagement. Education tends to raise productivity and creativity, as well as stimulate entrepreneurship and technological breakthroughs. All of these factors lead to greater output and economic growth.
On the subject of alleged Clean Water Act violations in Falls Lake and its tributaries: How did we get here and who should be held responsible? Who is going to pay for the creek restoration and environmental damage?
- Southeast Durham resident Pam Andrews
Under Article 15 of Durham’s UDO, the planning director holds the power to issue citations for developer violations. The city of Durham currently does not utilize the tools that they have at hand to hold developers accountable for their misdeeds. The cost of cleaning up after development is not a cost that local residents should have to bear the burden. The city should institute a fund to which developers donate into that will cover these costs for impacted homeowners.
How have you seen Durham evolve in your time here and what’s one thing you’ll have the power to change if elected?
- The News & Observer
My focus on the council will be centering on the voices of the community. I believe that Durham residents should have a voice in how the places where they live are developed..
To find polling places and full details on voting, visit the Board of Elections at dcovotes.com or 919-560-0700.