We endorse Democratic incumbent Mayor Bill Bell, who's held onto top elected posts with the county and city for a whopping 36 years. During the past three decades, Bell has earned a reputation as a fiscally judicious leader, unafraid to assert his views but willing to compromise for the sake of progress.
Bell has overseen the racially charged merger of Durham's city and county school districts, the rapid development of south Durham, including the controversial Streets at Southpoint mall and the transformation of downtown—all while Durham struggled with crime, scandals and a challenging public image.
Among Bell's best qualities as a leader: You won't see him pass the buck, whether poor oversight led to exorbitant overtime at the police department or a city worker has neglected to fill a pothole. When a city matter needs attention, Bell gets right on it. He finds out what went wrong and pushes for correction. He listens to his constituents, and openly discusses the city's challenges and what he's doing to improve them.
He also stood with City Council on progressive causes that might have cost him some popularity. Bell and other council members have spoken out in the past year against Arizona's regressive immigration reform and against a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Long before the Defense of Marriage Act topped the Republican agenda in our state, Bell also helped institute domestic partner benefits for city workers.
Although we were pleased to see other citizens invoke their right to challenge a longtime incumbent, the choice for Bell was clear. Candidate Ralph McKinney responded to our questionnaire, but his answers were incomplete. County Commissioner Joe Bowser, who did not respond to our questionnaire, is now under investigation for his role in firing Durham's embattled social services director. That makes the second time Bowser has been a ringleader in the questionable firing of a high-ranking director (see Ruffin, Mike, 2004). Bowser says his actions were aboveboard. They might have been, but the investigation likely won't be complete until after the primary election.
Sylvester Williams, a pastor and investment analyst, did respond to our questionnaire. While Williams has some experience with fundraising and economic development on civic boards, he has yet to prove himself. Williams, who is unaffiliated with either major party, has conservative views on immigration and an antiquated perspective on LGBT issues, referring to homosexuality a lifestyle choice. Although his values might match those of some Durham citizens, the city needs a proven, progressive leader at the wheel.
We have never questioned whether Bell has had the city's best interest in mind when making tough choices, and we feel confident keeping it in his hands for two more years.
This year, the Durham City Council endorsements presented an unusual situation for the Independent Weekly. Steve Schewel, who is among seven candidates running for City Council, owns the Indy.
After careful consideration and consultation with an ethics expert at the Poynter Institute, a journalism training center, we are not endorsing in the City Council race in order to avoid a perceived or actual conflict of interest.
In addition to Schewel, the candidates are incumbents Eugene Brown and Diane Catotti, and challengers Solomon Burnette, Donald Hughes, Victoria Peterson, John Tarantino. —Lisa Sorg
To learn about the candidates' stances on the issues, read their 2011 Candidate Questionnaires.