Name as it appears on the ballot: James Lyons
Party affiliation, if any: Democrat
Campaign website: www.jameslyonsformayor.com
Occupation & employer: Time Warner Cable/Technical Operations
Years lived in Durham: 42
1) Given the current direction of Durham city government, would you say things are generally on the right course? If not, what specific, major changes you will advocate if elected?
Durham is experiencing incredible growth and the city government has done a good job in helping to get where Durham where it is today. However, there are several areas that need improvement if we are going to maintain the culture and heritage of our city.
2) Please identify the three most pressing issues the city faces and how you will address them. The three most pressing issues the city faces are Public Safety, Affordable Housing and Education.
Public Safety - A safe city is necessary for business to thrive and for residents to feel secure in their homes. An effective police service is one that is representative of the community and I will focus on providing opportunities for local residence to join the service. It is imperative that our police department is made up of, and is reflective of the community it serves. In order to help build trust between the community and the police department I will increase community outreach efforts by the department and encourage more community forums to address concerns from city residences. I will also build opportunities with local organizations and business to help reintegrate citizens who have served their debt to society. People commit crimes when they have limited options and by providing jobs we can reduce the number of repeat offenders.
Affordable Housing - Durham is experiencing unprecedented economic growth and with that comes a strong market upward push on housing prices. Mixed-use development is very important in making sure that both housing and employment opportunities are accessible to all Durham residents. I will work with the planning department to ensure that future projects provide this needed combination of jobs and housing. I will strengthen funding for the Durham Housing Authority to guarantee that affordable housing options are available throughout our expanding downtown. I will expand public transportation so that every area of the city is connected for easy access and mobility throughout Durham. I will work with landlords and developers to ensure low income housing remains accessible.
Education - RTP and the expanding biotech and startup companies in the Bull City offer a tremendous opportunity for our workforce. Internship and apprenticeship positions are a necessity to properly train and equip both our businesses and citizens for success. I will develop a public-private "Class to Career" partnership with our schools and businesses, creating a pipeline of skilled workers for Durham's 21st century jobs.
3) What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective as a member of Council? If you’ve identified specific issues above, what in your record has prepared you to be an effective advocate for them?
I have over 17 years of community service organizing, strategizing, and bringing people together. I have served on several boards where I was put in a position to make great decisions for the members.
4) Please give one specific example of something you think City Council has done wrong or that you would have rather done differently in the last year. Also, please tell us the single best thing the city’s done during that span.
I feel City Council should have used more of the city’s resources and the Council’s platform to address some of the issues we have in our city with crime and creating more positive programs for our youth and young people.
5) How do you identify yourself to others in terms of your political philosophy? For example, do you tell people you’re a conservative, a moderate, a progressive, a libertarian?
6) The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. If elected, how will your service in office help further that goal?
If elected, I would use the Mayoral platform to bring people of all races, backgrounds, and incomes together on a routine basis. I would encourage communities meeting communities days/weeks etc.
Please address, in detail, the following major issues in Durham:
7) Do you believe that there is a disconnect between the citizens of Durham and the city’s police force? If so, how would you go about remedying that disconnect? On a similar note, to what degree would you say you that Chief Jose Lopez has your full faith and confidence?
I do believe there is a disconnect between the citizens of Durham and the police force. If elected, I would expand the community oversight of the police department and provide them with the power to enforce their recommendations. I would de-emphasize the enforcement of petty crimes, such as simple possession of marijuana, which cost tax payer money to prosecute and disproportionately pull young people of color into the criminal justice system. Chief Jose Lopez does not have my full faith and confidence as there have been multiple, documented accounts of police misconduct and racial profiling that has taken place under his tenure. Most importantly, the death of a Durham resident while in police custody is not, and can never be acceptable. As the Chief of police Mr. Lopez is responsible for the current culture that demands change.
8) A report by the U.S. Department of Justice early this year concluded that black males between 15 and 34 in Durham are six times more likely to die from homicide than all other Durham residents. What steps should local government and police take to address this problem? Does the city have its priorities in order when it comes to dealing with violent crime in low-income neighborhoods, at a time when there’s so much focus on downtown development?
I think that the homicide rate for black males in Durham is directly tied to economic opportunity and “broken-windows policing.” Broken-windows policing is the criminalization of minor offenses like simple possession and loitering that too often ensnares young black men into the criminal justice system. Once in the system it is next to impossible to get out because there is such a prejudice against hiring anyone who has committed a crime. Without any job prospects and feeling left out of society, these individuals turn to crime and violence to survive. To break this cycle we need to act on multiple fronts. We need to encourage and provide incentives for local businesses to hire those who have criminal records. We also need to reduce the number of black men being charged with petty crimes. Not only does this set up our citizens for failure but it is a huge burden on the tax payer to prosecute and incarcerate such a disproportionate section of our city.
9) Do you think that support for saving the old Carpenter Chevrolet Building downtown justifies the anticipated $80.9 million cost to renovate it for a new police headquarters? Do you see any alternatives that could have been explored? And do you think the city has enough substations where they’re most needed?
The City Council must always act as good stewards of our residence’s tax dollars and while it is important to maintain historic buildings throughout the city we could have done a better job of allocating these funds. There are other sites that could have been explored more thoroughly so that every tax dollar goes as far as possible. The city will need to invest in more substations as downtown continues to grow and their placement needs to come at the request of citizens and done with community support.
10) There’s little doubt that Durham, as a whole, is prospering. But there’s also little doubt that this prosperity is distributed unevenly. What should Council be doing to address inequality?
Council should focus more of the city’s resources and efforts on affordable housing/rent. Council should do everything it can to bring more minority owned businesses to the downtown area. Council should also revisit ways to invest more of its time, energy, and resources into redeveloping dilapidated communities.
11) In that vein, what more should the city be doing to address the need for affordable housing?
(Similar to question 2 above)
12) As downtown grows, some degree of gentrification seems inevitable. What steps do you believe the city should be taking to revitalize neighborhoods without having them lose their character?
The Durham Housing Authority has a large role to play in keeping our neighborhoods diverse. DHA needs to continue its programs of working with landlords to keep rents affordable along with purchasing homes and building where possible to guarantee low income residence are not pushed out of downtown.
13) What role should the city play in the development or redevelopment of commercial real estate? Do you believe the city should award incentives to private developers, and under what circumstances?
The city certainly has a role to play in the development of commercial real estate. Commercial real estate offers one of the largest opportunities for tax revenue which helps us implement programs throughout the city. I think award incentives for private developers can be beneficial but each project would have to be considered carefully as it would have to show a clear return in terms of jobs on the city’s investment.
14) The Bull City Connector recently underwent route changes. Do you think the results are fair and efficient? If not, how could the Connector’s routes be changed to best serve the needs of residents most likely to use it?
I think the route changes are fair and efficient. In the cases where we are not serving areas of those that most likely use the Bull City connector, we need to look into increasing these routes.
15) Do you believe the downtown Loop is outdated? If so, what would you like to see done with it?
Yes, I do believe the downtown Loop is outdated and I would like to see the demolition of the section between West Chapel Hill Street and Corcoran St. This would provide a great opportunity to remove the parking lot in favor of outdoor space for business on W Main Street to expand and increase pedestrian traffic between Main Street and the American Tobacco District.
16) What are your initial thoughts on a proposed mixed-use development in North Durham, with a shopping center to be anchored by a Publix?
My initial thoughts are the development would be a great boost to the area.
Do you see, as some North Durham residents have expressed, opportunities to “fix” problems in the area of Guess and Latta roads with this development?
(If so, what features would you like to see in the developer’s plan?)
I would initially have to see the developers current proposal