Solomon Burnette | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Solomon Burnette 

Durham - Mayor and City Council

Name as it appears on the ballot: Solomon Burnette

Date of birth: December 5, 1979

Home address: 1016 Clarendon St, Durham, N.C. 27705

Campaign Web site:www.SolomonBurnette.com

Occupation & employer: self-employed Specialty bookseller

E-mail: SBurnetteforcitycouncil@gmail.com


Describe your past leadership roles, both in career and community. How will these experiences help you serve on Council? Please be specific about how these roles correspond to a city council member's responsibilities.

I was Director of Political Affairs for the Student Government Association at North Carolina Central University and North Carolina Association of Student Governments Vice-Chairperson of the Committee of Academic and Student Affairs. In addition, while in undergrad, I was a founding member of Project Downtown Durham which is a working coalition of NCCU, Duke, UNC, and NC State students who meet weekly at Urban Ministries in downtown Durham to feed and offer other services to the homeless. I have also worked as a mentor and tutor for the Minority Male Leadership Academy and Durham Literacy Council. These experiences illustrate my ability to work with young people.

As a community organizer for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice I was able to serve multiple communities in a leadership capacity advocating for myriad groups including farmers in Gates County, community youth groups in Guilford County, factory workers in Bladen County, and immigrants/youth in Durham and Wake Counties. These experiences illustrate my ability to work with adults across a wide range of issues.

This response represents some of my leadership experience(s) that have allowed me to hone my language set, advocacy and bridge building skills, enabling me to deal with Durham's fluid population and it's rapidly diversifying demographics. All in all I have become more than an activist idealist. These experiences have well equipped me for city council as they have made me keen to identify syntheses of interest across entrenched divisions for coalition building.

How do you define yourself politically? How have you demonstrated this political philosophy in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I would call myself an 'independent democrat' because I recognize the necessity of both party affiliation and deviation from the party line on an issue by issue basis. For instance, I love and support the President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama. I am also adamantly opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and potential expansion of the war front into Africa. This is becoming a more and more precarious position to negotiate as an African American. In an effort to bring about a more sophisticated engagement with this and other issues, I organized a forum on NCCU campus involving students, community members, and professors on the many roles of African Americans in framing and implementing foreign policy. Part two of this talk series is currently being organized hopefully for some time in October.

List the three most important issues facing Durham, in order of priority. If elected, how will you address these issues? Please be specific.

I think that the three most important issues facing Durham are (a.) Youth dropout rates, (b.) Homelessness and (c.) Joblessness. All of these issues have particular implications on crime in the City of Medicine.

Regarding the youth dropout rate, many would say that addressing this issue is particularly the faculty of the school board and not the city council. This perspective to me seems somewhat shortsighted in that lack of education has always been heavily correlated with crime in the United States. So either way, the council will have to deal with this issue if only via policing. I think it better to address this issue on the front end via increased liaison between the city council and the school board regarding the particular reasons behind increasing dropout/delinquency rates, be they funding, pedagogical, curricular, or extracurricular concerns. It has been my particular experience in dealing with youth in my neighborhood, Walltown that many kids and adults who want to get back on track with their education, or learn to read even, can't access programs specially tailored to their needs because these programs are grossly underfunded and as a result, understaffed. The Durham Literacy Center is a prime example of this issue.

Two gentlemen in my neighborhood have approached me and said that fulfilling the requirements of their probation includes enrolling in adult literacy and GED prep classes at the Durham Literacy Center, but when they try to enroll, they've been told there are not enough teachers/tutors to accommodate them. I then reached out to the head of Adult Literacy programming at Durham Literacy, was informed that this indeed was the case and began training in adult literacy tutoring, and became a volunteer at the program. One of my clients is now off probation and is working two jobs. The other is in regular contact with the program though, getting him to commit is a little harder now. Perhaps his initial rejection plays a role.

I've less and less time to volunteer at the center now. The need is obvious to me though. The City should further subsidize programs like the Durham Literacy Center which not only help us to address the needs of dropouts, but also recidivism and illiteracy rates. The Durham Literacy Council is an invaluable resource to our city and could do so much more with proper resourcing and funding. The city council should step up in this regard. Lastly, regarding 'gangs' in Durham, I've written on and implemented innovative engagement strategies and amelioration techniques for dealing with this particular issue. My thoughts on this subject can be found @ www.SolomonBurnette.com. Just clique on the City of Medicine Veteran Perspectives link for a treat.

Regarding homelessness, I am a perpetual advocate and outreach volunteer with our city's homeless population. I am well pleased with Durham's implementation of an initiative to end homelessness in 10years. This plan is admirable, to say the least. Also, though, because of Durham's host of fiscally viable institutions and AAA credit rating, within this economic crisis the Bull City is attracting many homeless folks from outside the city and from around the country who are resettling here in pursuit of happiness.

Factoring in the possibly exponential growth of our homeless population via increased migration from other parts of the country is perhaps not engaged as actively as possible in community outreach programming. The city should address this particularity by recalculating of homeless statistics accounting for increased migrant populations and work toward acquisition and renovation of foreclosed and condemned properties around the City of Medicine specifically in order to bolster our not only affordable housing base, but also our transitional housing infrastructure. The renovation of these properties could also serve as a source of employment for potential residents of these spaces. 10 years is an excellent timeline. We may need more sooner though.

Durham should do more to subsidize and incentivize innovative entrepreneurship models that bring business and jobs to some of the more disenfranchised areas. It's been great to watch downtown Durham bloom. Also, we can't afford to ignore Durham's waning economic and occupational hubs like Northgate mall, Avondale Kmart plaza, north duke mall, Riverview shopping center, and willow dale shopping center. These spaces have previously employed large segments of Durham's service industry workers. Intelligent development and revival of these spaces should be a necessary endeavor of the incoming council as a way of addressing underemployment in the city.

Also, when engaging joblessness in Durham, again we have a particular concentration of fiscally viable institutions and employment hubs related to service industries education, health, research and development. These institutions employ people from all over the globe. The city should call upon these institutions that get major concessions regarding taxes, zoning, etc... to reach out to Durham's underemployed citizenry with both high tech and vocational training initiatives and reflexive employment programs. This city should aid in this primarily private enterprise by subsidizing and incentivizing employment of Durham's citizenry by our local institutions.

Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

The current council recently voted unanimously on adopting a resolution against the state legislative initiative to ban same sex marriages. Honestly, my upbringing, faith, and ideology place me squarely within the exclusive endorsement of heterosexual union. That being said; it is neither my right nor is it my wish to sanction anyone else's' sexual preference or lifestyle. I'm glad that this is a primarily a state and federal issue, not a city/county decision. The state amendment in its commentary on same sex unions seeks to greatly limit the rights of same sex partners in startling and unsettling ways. If two people's economies have been fused over a period of time, tax concessions should be made. In addition, further State regulation of inheritance rights based on sexual orientation is intrusive and invasive. Finally state gate keeping relating to patient visitation is unethical, reprehensible, and represents an unholy government inconsideration and i would call for a line item engagement with each aspect of the amendment. I cannot judge anyone and I will advocate for all against unwarranted intrusion by the state. If asked to vote on this position, I would probably abstain so as not to offend many friends. This nuanced personal stance could possibly lose me support of segments of both the religious and activist communities.

In recent years, the Council has targeted community development improvements to certain areas, i.e. Northeast Central Durham and Rolling Hills/Southside. Name a specific area of the city that hasn't yet been targeted with services, but needs attention. What are the needs there, and how would you address them if elected?

Personally, I'm well pleased with the initiative the city has taken regarding community development and affordable housing. My one critique is that when the city undertakes development in many of these areas, occupation and residence of the renovated and reconstituted real estate need be targeted towards the historical residents of these areas. Many of these lifetime community residents are long term renters. I have lived in Walltown, on the West End and on the Southside. Without fail, when I see community revitalization projects implemented, the upgraded properties are marketed and sold to folks from outside the community as opposed to those who've been lifetime residents of these spaces and sad to say have been lifetime renters versus home owners. Are we really holding land in trust for a community if the homes are more or less being marketed to extra community persons in lieu of lifetime residents of our neighborhoods? We need more community involvement from the ground up regarding these initiatives. This is just a critique of practice. Again I applaud the efforts of the city and all affordable housing organizations for the invaluable work being done in the City of Medicine.

The City Council recently voted to allocate a large percentage of current and future federal housing grants to one project in the Rolling Hills and Southside neighborhoods. Dedicating these future allocations has reduced available funding for other housing-related services. Do you agree with the council's decision? Explain why.

Affordable Housing is the right of every man, woman, and child and its laudable that Durham's City Council takes this issue seriously enough to initiate not only proactive policies concerning affordable housing and homelessness, but also to engage public discourse on these human rights concerns. Regarding Rolling Hills, I think it especially necessary to reengage this development's failures from a non-polemical standpoint allowing for acknowledgement of mistakes made by all parties involved. Regarding the proposed 'apartment construction', I wonder why not build houses in the space for semi-permanent and possible long term residence, as was a previous vision for Rolling Hills. Often, money paid in monthly rents is better applied to well invested mortgages as the Self Help model shows.

The City Council and area developers must set aside differences and bad blood and make the best decisions for the least enfranchised of us. Argumentative binaries tend to disenfranchise us all. Regarding funding, the long term focusing of federal block grants seems like a good idea. It's also the responsibility of the federal government to provide affordable housing to its citizens. Again, this is a human right. The development's 10year timeline dovetails nicely with the city's plan to eradicate homelessness also. Apartments versus houses may be beneficial in this regard as 'transitional' housing. Focusing resources on a particular space, to finish one project before beginning, another makes a certain kind of sense. In addition, It is essential though that we don't allow Durham's citizenry to be grifted on the back end in the name of unforeseen construction delays and random eventualities. Also, during construction, one must ask what's to be done in the meantime concerning affordable housing. As an advocate working with the homeless and evictees, A quarter million a year for 10 years, in the current economic climate and housing market, while the project is being completed seems a bit inadequate. We can't afford to low ball the impoverished.

Hence, in this declining economy and market, It may be prudent for the city with its AAA rating to set aside 1/2 million or more from its general fund to cover our municipal domestic affordable housing commitments with participation from all sectors in order to stimulate intelligent independent sustainable development in communities hosting affordable housing projects.

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?

In order to address the growing unemployment rates in the city, it is necessary that the city attract and incentivize development and redevelopment of commercial real estate. Incentivization should be proffered with the caveat that developers employ Durham citizens especially in all stages of development.

Furthermore, while we as a city cater to different development plans that expand our city and county boundaries and tax base, The City Council must find ways to instigate the revival of waning commerce centers that have historically employed large segments of the city's service industry employment sector. We must reinvigorate Northgate Mall, North Duke Mall, the Avondale K-Mart Plaza, and the N. Roxboro Road Riverview Shopping Center. It is perhaps remiss to develop supermalls in the suburbs of the city without addressing the economic decay of inner city business spaces. These shopping centers used to employ large segments of Durham's now workless citizenry and present already existing infrastructures for hosting consumer commerce.

Several large-scale housing developments have stalled in recent years, leaving behind half-finished neighborhoods, roads and other infrastructure. Given the unfinished projects and recent economic challenges, how should the city proceed in deciding whether to approve new projects? Does the economic downturn call for a revision of current policies?

The city should approve new projects on a phased construction basis. Meaning if a developer wishes to have water and sewer extended to say 100 new homes, number 1 there should be assurances that the city recoup its cost in the infrastructure building. This should be done by calling for phased infrastructure building, i.e. water extension, road work, etc...in concert with the developments progress. So, for instance, when ten homes out of 100 are built, then the infrastructure for those ten is required before the next 10 can be built. In this way, infrastructure does not lag behind home construction and the developer can guarantee the city's infrastructure investments.

Police Chief Jose Lopez reported to Council earlier this year that crime reports in the city of Durham have dropped more than 30 percent since 10 years ago. Analyze the police department's current strategies in crime prevention and enforcement. What areas need improvement? How would you enable the department to make those improvements, if elected?

I appreciate Police Chief Lopez's tireless work on crime reduction in the city. This being said, a drop in reported crime does not equate to a drop in committed crime. It may be reflective of a quarantining of crime into areas that are more or less understood as red light districts. In addition, My fear is that if the city does not address the education, joblessness, and homelessness issues mentioned in my answer to question 1, this seeming lull in crime may be the proverbial 'calm before the storm'.

Also being a lifetime resident in many of the 'hoods' in Durham, I've noticed an unsettling trend over the past decade. There are many long term criminals with multiple gun charges, drug charges, and assault charges running free in my neighborhood while many individuals with less violent and extensive records are incarcerated. This is because many of those still free are paid informants. Hence they are charged with many crimes yet cut deals in order to go unconvicted. These are the worst kind of criminals. These gentlemen perpetuate some of the most heinous crimes in my hood(s) with little or no fear of sanction because of their informant status. This is troubling and may possibly reflect a police control of crime versus an adversarial engagement with it. I do not fetishize the good old days when reported crime was 30% higher. What I will say though is that While the old adage, "no honor amongst thieves" was only partially true in the past, it is almost absolutely true now.

In the past year, the council has taken an official stance on several national issues, voting last year to stop any official city travel to Arizona in light of its controversial immigration law; voting earlier this year to accept Mexican national identification cards as an official ID in traffic stops and other city-related business; and voting this summer to oppose statewide efforts to ban same-sex marriages. How would you have voted on each of these issues? How do you feel about the council taking a stand on these national issues?

It is laudable that local government take a stance on national and international issues. We should be an anti-war city, and the city should not restrict travel to another state based on actions of its government that may not reflect its whole citizenry. Travel can be for many different purposes. Regarding use of Mexican national identification cards on must ask: Why not Honduran or Nicaraguan ID cards also. There are many immigrants from myriad spaces in Durham. Mexicans represent only one group. Also, NC State IDs have recently been upgraded in order to effectively guard against counterfeiting. How are local governments to tell the difference between counterfeited foreign IDs? A vetting process should be in place and a conversation around this particularity must be had a.s.a.p. We can't let our city's good will be exploited by criminal elements, foreign or domestic.

Regarding same sex unions, again, my upbringing, faith, and ideology place me squarely within the exclusive endorsement of heterosexual union. That being said; it is neither my right nor is it my wish to sanction anyone else's' sexual preference or lifestyle. I'm glad that this is a primarily a state and federal issue, not a city/county decision. The state amendment in its commentary on same sex unions seeks to greatly limit the rights of same sex partners in startling and unsettling ways. If two people's economies have been fused over a period of time, tax concessions should be made. In addition, further State regulation of inheritance rights based on sexual orientation is intrusive and invasive. Finally state gate keeping relating to patient visitation is unethical, reprehensible, and represents an unholy government inconsideration and i would call for a line item engagement with each aspect of the amendment. I cannot judge anyone and I will advocate for all against unwarranted intrusion by the state. If asked to vote on this position, I would probably abstain so as not to offend many friends. This nuanced personal stance could possibly lose me support of segments of both the religious and activist communities.


To learn about other candidates' stances on the issues, read their 2011 Candidate Questionnaires.

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