Vote or stop complaining: Our endorsements for the Durham municipal elections | Durham County | Indy Week
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Vote or stop complaining: Our endorsements for the Durham municipal elections 

Growth.

In a word, that's what Raleigh's Oct. 6 election is about: how much to grow, where to grow, how to create infrastructure that keeps up with growth, how to ensure that the prosperity accompanying growth is distributed equitably.

Within that one issue, growth, are myriad related issues: affordable housing, gentrification, density, historic preservation, public transportation, poverty, downtown development. This year's hottest political fights have centered on a hated rezoning process and new rules to rein in downtown rowdiness.

In Durham, you see a similar story: affordable housing, gentrification, economic inequality, concerns about the boring, fancy-hotel direction downtown seems to be taking. There's also anxiety about gun crime and the contentious relationship between the police and communities of color, which probably contributed to Chief Jose Lopez's ouster.

(Programming note: We'll endorse in Orange County races Oct. 21.)

The challenges are certainly real. Still, we believe that both cities are generally moving in the right direction. Raleigh's and Durham's downtowns are thriving, and with them our culinary and cultural scenes. The Triangle's unemployment rate is well below the state average. We top all manner of quality-of-life rankings and best this-or-that lists.

The question for this election is how to keep that momentum going—how to build on our positives and address our negatives.

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Both Raleigh and Durham are fortunate to have a number of smart, engaged, progressive candidates for office. Some races proved difficult to decide; we're not supporting a few candidates we like very much. But in the end, we believe the individuals we've endorsed best align with the INDY's mission of making the Triangle a more just, livable and interesting place.

Endorsements, of course, are by their nature subjective. This is not: In October 2013, turnout in Wake County municipal elections was an abysmal 15 percent; in Durham city elections, 10.5 percent. That's not good enough. This is your home, and your home is at a crossroads. We can't afford for you to sit this one out.

Vote for our people, vote for someone else, write in Scrooge McDuck or Homer Simpson or Donald Trump or some other cartoon character. Doesn't matter. Just vote.

Due to an editing error, a reference to Durham City Council candidate Philip Azar was accidentally omitted before we went to press. It’s unfortunate because Azar’s work with Habitat for Humanity, Clean Energy Durham and the Inter-Neighborhood Council deserves a lot of credit. We also failed to mention that retired doctor Juan Alva dropped out of the Council race in late July.

Mayor

We endorse Bill Bell for reelection to his eighth and final term as mayor.

Bell describes himself as a pragmatist and stresses his belief that politics is "the art of the possible." And with that, he says, comes flexibility. We'll add one more characteristic, as demonstrated by his remarks at the Sept. 10 Council work session: caution.

The self-described "social progressive and political conservative" rankled many affordable-housing advocates that afternoon as he appeared to shoot down a proposal from Self-Help Credit Union to build 80–100 affordable units on a 2.15-acre city-owned lot next to the Durham Station Transportation Center, a project that would align neatly with the city's affordability target of 15 percent of units within a half-mile of transit hubs. Currently there are none.

click to enlarge Bill Bell
  • Bill Bell

Bell argued that he didn't want to fast-track the decision to meet the deadline for Self-Help to apply for tax credits. That's a reasonable argument, and he wasn't alone in opposing the fast track. But then he added that he doesn't want to "warehouse poor folks" and risk creating "another Cabrini-Green," referring to the notorious project in Chicago. That's a bad analogy; more important, it doesn't bode well for any affordable-housing developments downtown.

Bell has instead suggested subsidizing rents for those at 60–80 percent of median income to move into existing units, which has merit but targets a better-off cohort than Self-Help's proposal.

Bell's opinion is not cemented, he says. He's waiting for a report from Enterprise Community Partnerships, a firm hired by the city to analyze affordable housing downtown. Based on his lengthy record, we're confident that Bell will view the findings with a pragmatist's eye and achieve a commendable compromise with (we hope) some new social progressives on next year's Council.

Under his watch, Durham—especially downtown—has transformed from a dirty, dangerous place into a destination renowned for its nightlife and culture. Bell deserves credit for that. In recent years he's focused on neighborhood revitalization and a much-improved rental inspection program. Through it all, Bell has developed a reputation for being fiscally prudent (the city has a AAA bond rating) and someone who's willing to both assert his views and compromise to get things done.

Bell has earned a final term. But even if that weren't so, Bell's three opponents are all political newcomers who do little to inspire confidence.

James Lyons, a Democrat, works for Time Warner Cable. In 1998, the Durham native founded Keys to Life, a nonprofit dedicated to mentoring and tutoring teens.

According to his website and answers to our questionnaire, he's concerned about a lot of the right things: affordable housing, crime and racial profiling. Unfortunately, he's light on details when it comes to proposing solutions.

Tammy Lightfoot, a personnel manager at Walmart in Morrisville, has never voted in Durham, according to the N.C. Board of Elections. Democrat John Everett is a retired self-employed construction contractor.

  • See which candidates made the cut before you vote Oct. 6

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