House District 29: Democratic Primary
The only contested legislative race in Durham is the House District 29 Democratic Primary. The seat is open because state Rep. Paul Miller opted not to run for his fourth term in office. His retirement comes as a welcome move to some who decried his poor attendance and absentee voting record. A more committed representative could strengthen the Durham delegation to the legislature and help seek the state funds so necessary to support education, healthcare and a new district court judge, as well as advocate for reform in mental healthcare, campaign financing and the tax code.
A crowded field of five candidates is running for the seat: Sandy Ogburn, a former Durham city councilwoman; Larry D. Hall, a lawyer and former chair of the N.C. Black Leadership Caucus; Mary D. Jacobs, a former city councilwoman and county commissioner; Angela V. Langley, a former city councilwoman; and T. Brock Winslow, chair of the Board of Trustees at N.C. School of Science and Mathematics. Barring a mass write-in, resignation or other fluke of the electoral process, the winner of this Democratic primary in this strongly Democratic district will go on to hold the House seat, provided he or she wins at least 40 percent of the vote. A smaller margin of victory would ensure a May 30 runoff between the top two candidates.
We endorse Sandy Ogburn, whose experience on the Durham City Council demonstrates her effectiveness at implementing progressive policy. A Philadelphia native who moved to Durham 32 years ago, Ogburn, 60, got involved in politics working with the Morehead Hill neighborhood association. Neighborhood advocacy eventually led to an interest in city politics. When she was elected to city council in 1987, she soon became a strong proponent of smarter zoning laws and transportation planning. Her leadership on the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization, the regional organization responsible for transportation planning in the western part of the Triangle, helped secure state funds for local transportation projects.
In the House, Ogburn promises to push for a sales tax referendum to fund the TTA's regional rail project. She also advocates fully and permanently funding the State Energy Office to encourage alternative energy use, and raising teacher salaries.
Larry D. Hall is a 50-year-old lawyer who is active in the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the N.C. Black Leadership Caucus. Through the caucus, he pushed for increased minority contracting, abolition of the death penalty, equality in education funding, universal healthcare, and a ban on payday lending. In office, he promises to establish a standard of transparency to maintain integrity and accountability. He wants to look for alternate funding for TTA's rail plan and increase funding to the N.C. Housing Trust Fund to promote more home ownership opportunities. Hall has progressive ideas, but lacks the record of elected service that could be used to evaluate his effectiveness.
Mary D. Jacobs worked for Durham County for 29 years before she retired and ran for the city council in 1997. In that race, she won more votes than any other candidate. In her time on the council, she pushed for a living wage for the employees of city contractors, but also was one of the council's most pro-development members. When she ran for county commissioner in 2002, she again won more votes than any other candidate, but failed to distinguish herself as a progressive force. She served one term and did not seek reelection.
T. Brock Winslow worked on Gov. Jim Hunt's reelection campaign and served as the executive director of the state Democratic Party from 1993 to 1996. He believes that the friends he made in those positions would be useful allies if he makes it to the House. He supports the funding of more district court judges and assistant district attorneys to make Durham's courtrooms more efficient.
Angela V. Langley was elected to the city council in 1996 and served one term.
Durham School Board
For years, the Durham school board has been a contentious political theater that sometimes provided more drama than substantive policy debate. Most of the tension revolves around race, with board members often voting 4-3 along racial lines. Some trace the tension back to the way voting districts were drawn after the city and county school systems merged in 1993. But more recently the flashpoint has been Durham schools Superintendent Ann Denlinger. The school board hired her in a 4-3 vote split along racial lines. In Denlinger's tenure, she led Durham's students to earn higher test scores. But as the public face of the school system, she struggled to win the support of many parents, teachers, administrators and board members, black folks especially.
Let's hope that the appointment of Carl Harris to replace Denlinger, who steps down this year, will be a move in the right direction. With unanimous support from the board, Harris, an African American, could usher the board in a new, more cooperative direction. The three contested school board elections could also herald the coming of more civil board relations (Stephen A. Martin is running unopposed in District 4). The elections on May 2 will determine the board.
Everyone will be watching this race in a majority black district. Incumbent Jacqueline D. Wagstaff has long been a divisive force on the board. Her actions in the meetings often lack decorum, professionalism and respect. She represents an important part of the Durham community--the disaffected, mostly poor, mostly black voters who feel that the school system is failing them. Anyone who sees the tragic correlation between sub-par education and crime, imprisonment and unproductive lives can begin to understand their outrage. But Wagstaff has failed to channel that outrage into productive policy-making for the citizens that need her most. That may be one reason why, when she ran for mayor last year, she received only 545 votes.
Dolores Davis Paylor, 48, works as a team leader on the State Board of Education's assistance teams, which work to turn around failing schools. That kind of experience will only be helpful with implementing Judge Howard Manning's recommendations from his Leandro case ruling, which required that the state ensure a sound basic education for every North Carolina child. Paylor has been a principal in the Chapel-Hill Carrboro, Wake and Durham school systems. She's African American, and while she lacks Wagstaff's stature in the black community, she stands a better chance of fighting for their needs.
Omega Curtis Parker was a librarian for almost 40 years before she retired, and she still works as a substitute teacher in Durham's schools. She's a reasonable candidate with a good reputation and probably wouldn't contribute to the board's contentiousness in the way that Wagstaff does, but Parker lacks Paylor's expertise.
Incumbent Regina George-Bowden has represented this majority black district for eight years. But she has not been effective. The Rev. Fredrick A. Davis, 50, a respected black preacher and activist, would be a good alternative. His priorities are vocational education, equity in student disciplinary action and seeking greater diversity in student and staff populations.
D.J. Waldow, 30, a young, relative newcomer to Durham, works as a software salesman, but taught social studies before moving to town. He shows enthusiasm but lacks the strong community ties and depth of experience and knowledge needed to make a real impact on the board.
School board chairwoman Gail Heath's decision not to run for reelection in this majority white district has opened up the position to two highly qualified candidates. Kirsten Kainz, who is 38 and white, has a Ph.D. in education from UNC. She directs research on school improvement and is an articulate school reformer. Phillip W. Graham, who is 40 and black, also has a UNC doctoral degree in public health. His current research focuses on adolescent behavior with special emphasis on violence and substance abuse prevention and evaluation. Both candidates would bring great expertise to the school board. And both understand the problems that have beset the board and the need to move in a more productive and cooperative direction. It's a difficult decision, but we endorse Phillip W. Graham. As a black candidate running in a majority white district for a seat that has traditionally been held by a white board member, his election could flip the racial balance on the board. We don't believe that race should be the determining factor in an election, but a black majority working closely with new Superintendent Carl Harris could go a long way toward easing relations on the board. A majority black board representing the majority black school system could help gain parents' trust.
Editor's Note: Independent Weekly president and board chair Steve Schewel is not generally involved in making the newspaper's endorsements. In the case of the Durham school board, he and the Independent's editorial staff particularly agreed that he would distance himself from the endorsement process due to his membership on the school board. Schewel was involved in recruiting Kirsten Kainz to run for the vacant District 3 seat on the board and remains her strong supporter. He did not participate in making these school board endorsements.
The terrible allegations against Duke University's lacrosse team have thrown the district attorney's race into the national spotlight, but when Durham voters go to the polls on May 2 for the Democratic primary, they can vote based on years of local prosecutorial experience, not just the recent handling of one case. Incumbent Mike Nifong faces two challengers: former assistant district attorney Freda Black and defense lawyer Keith A. Bishop. No Republicans filed for the race. Any candidate who takes 40 percent of the vote would become Durham's next district attorney. We endorse Nifong.
Nifong, 55, has spent his entire professional career in the Durham D.A.'s office. He took over as district attorney last year when Jim Hardin was appointed to a Superior Court judgeship. Over the years, he has approached his job in a hardworking and professional manner. Colleagues and legal opponents alike laud his sense of fairness and justice. His colleagues also assert that he manages a supportive work environment where attorneys against the death penalty aren't forced to try capital murder cases.
Freda Black was an assistant district attorney in Durham for 14 years. Her role in the prosecution and conviction of novelist Michael Peterson catapulted her into celebrity status. But she has been accused of unethical behavior: her boyfriend escaped punishment for domestic violence in 2004, and more recently she has had to answer allegations that Jerry Clayton, Black's current boss and a backer of her campaign, tried to intimidate attorneys in the DA's office.
In the race for Durham County Sheriff, we endorse incumbent Worth L. Hill over challengers Joe W. Bowser and Tony Butler. Hill, 70, is seeking his fourth term in office. Under Hill, the department has managed an increasing jail population, implemented community policing programs, and sought out grants that have eased the financial burden of the county. Bowser, 50, who has no law enforcement experience, served on the board of county commissioners for two terms and is the former president of the Durham NAACP. Butler works with disabled students at John Umstead Hospital in Butner. He worked for 11 years as a state trooper and two as a Guilford County Deputy.
District Court Judge, District 14
Seven judges are vying for two contested seats in the nonpartisan District Court judgeship elections. In one race, Judge Richard Chaney's impending retirement opens his seat to four candidates: family law attorney Nancy E. Gordon, 51; Assistant Public Defender Shannon Tucker, 40; Anita L. Smith, general practice attorney; and Brian C. Wilks, 34, attorney in the N.C. Department of Justice. Gordon and Wilks are both strong candidates, but Nancy E. Gordon, whose family law expertise is highly regarded across the state, wins our endorsement. Her mastery of the complexities of family law make up for her relative lack of criminal experience.
District Court Judge, District 14
In the second race, incumbent Judge Ann McKown, 56, faces Tracy Hicks Barley, 44, and Robert (Naughty) Nauseef, 40. McKown is a hard worker on the bench and takes pride in her decisions. And her work outside the courtroom is exemplary; she started a school-based intervention program called Truancy Court and other programs that help battered women and rape victims. But there's a strong sentiment among many courthouse insiders that her slow decision-making impedes progress in the courts--and that she should be replaced. The fact that her colleagues on the bench rule more quickly shows that speedy decisions are possible. Tracy Hicks Barley, a 44-year-old private practice attorney, would make a fine addition to the bench. Her commitment to juvenile justice will add insight to Durham's gang problems. And her experience is well-rounded enough for her to be comfortable in any district court. Nauseef is a defense attorney at the Clayton, Myrick, McClanahan & Coulter Law Firm.