The last two candidates elected as Durham's chief law enforcement officer were removed from office under scandal—see Nifong, Mike; and Cline, Tracey—an impressive feat for a single county. After the two-year interim term of Leon Stanback, this election represents a potential departure from the era of mistrust. Each of the three candidates in the Democratic primary has made credibility a central aspect of his campaign. Each recognizes a disconnect between the DA's office and Durham Police Department. Each is considered a progressive. The choice, therefore, is largely a matter of style over substance.
We endorse Brian Aus, a veteran defense attorney who runs a private practice. Though he lacks prosecutorial experience, he has tried major cases at the state and federal level, and we appreciate the breadth of his background, which spans service with the Public Defender's Office, contract work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, stewardship on Durham's Mental Health Board and volunteer work with the substance abuse treatment program at the Durham jail.
He has run a campaign full of specifics: truancy courts in schools to reduce suspensions, support for expanded funding for substance abuse treatment, more dialogue with religious and civic leaders, reorganization within the DA's Office, quicker case assignments for assistant district attorneys, and assistance at crime scene investigations.
Aus vows to be a visible spokesperson for the DA's office, both on the road and in front of the camera. He seems to have more passion than his opponents. And though passion is the very quality that sunk Nifong and Cline, we believe that Durham—a dynamic city on the rise—deserves a DA that embodies its up-tempo zeal.
Aus is not the frontrunner. That title belongs to Roger Echols, Stanback's chief assistant district attorney and handpicked successor. A career prosecutor, Echols is level-headed and affable. He has not shown tendency toward overreach. He has run a traditional campaign, with emphasis on transparency and due process. In Durham, those qualities might sound refreshing, but in theory they should be basic components of any DA's office.
Echols is a good manager who proceeds with caution and won't make many mistakes. But he has spent the bulk of his career in Person County, and he lacks Aus' charisma we believe Durham needs right now. He received the endorsements of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the Durham People's Alliance.
The third candidate, Mitch Garrell, is an amiable prosecutor currently serving as a financial crimes prosecutor for the Conference of District Attorneys. For several years he was a Durham assistant district attorney until Cline fired him in 2010. Though some of Garrell's peers consider him disorganized, we appreciate his pledges to reduce court costs, launch monthly community forums and advocate staunchly against the death penalty. On the campaign trail he has made every effort possible to distance himself from Cline, whom he aligns with Echols. To a certain extent, this is a good strategy. But Cline is old news by now.