We endorse Democratic incumbent Mayor Bill Bell, who before being the city's top dog, had long served Durham on its County Commission and City Council. Although he has a low-key demeanor, Bell will take principled stands: He was among those who led the controversial merger of the Durham city and county school districts (read: black and white schools).
Bell and the council have successfully worked to begin revitalizing downtown—you actually see people on the streets at night now, and most of them are not trying to break into your car. Violent crime dropped last year by 6.7 percent citywide, according to FBI statistics.
The recent attention and investment in the downtrodden Rolling Hills and Southside neighborhoods is welcome, although we question why it's taken so long for city leaders to get serious about renewing those areas.
While these efforts are admirable, we would suggest that Bell take a leadership role with City Manager Tom Bonfield in continuing to clean house in city departments, including the Durham Police Department. Durham has a not undeserved reputation for cronyism in city government, which is not only embarrassing but impedes progress from within.
Republican challenger Steven Williams, a logistics manager for SENSUS, lists his priorities as crime reduction, the economy, housing, education and the environment. He has worked extensively in youth sports, but his political experience is virtually nil. For example, in his Indy questionnaire, he stated he would increase the starting salaries for Durham police officers, but did not say where that money would come from.
We endorsed incumbent Cora Cole-McFadden for Ward I in the primary, and she continues to have our support. While we admire the enthusiasm of her opponent, Donald Hughes, he spent much of the last four years in Greensboro, where he attended college, thus missing some important developments in Durham. We encourage him to run again after he's spent more time in his hometown.
In Ward II, we issued no endorsement in the primary. In the November general election, 20-year incumbent Howard Clement faces Libertarian Matt Drew As we noted in our primary coverage, we applaud Clement's previous service, but he seems to phone it in these days. While we agree with Drew's views on water conservation, we disagree with his conservative fiscal policies, including his proposal to return the federal stimulus money.
However, in Ward III, we vigorously endorse incumbent Mike Woodard. Woodard is everywhere. Maybe he does it with mirrors, but one minute you'll find him at a meeting of the Joint City-County Planning Committee discussing the nuances of Jordan Lake boundaries, and the next minute he's kicked back at Blue Coffee Café listening to grassroots media activists. In the last four years, Woodard has served on 16 city committees, subcommittees and other appointed boards, including the very important transportation advisory committee and the Downtown Durham, Inc. Board of Directors. Woodard is a thoughtful consensus-builder who understands how Durham works—and in some cases, doesn't work—and works to improve the city. We know Woodard has mayoral aspirations, and some day he may get his chance to run for that top job.
His opponent, Allan Polak, an IT specialist, is bright, but only recently moved to Durham from Chapel Hill. In his Indy questionnaire, he cited his accomplishments on the Chapel Hill Technology Committee, but his experience in Durham has been minimal. We think he needs more time in Durham before running for such an important office.
Correction (Oct. 15, 2009): Mike Woodard's name was misspelled.