Donald A. Hughes | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Donald A. Hughes 

Candidate for Durham City Council Ward I

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Donald A. Hughes
Full legal name, if different:
Date of birth: 10/21/1987
Home address: 1005 N. Roxboro Street, Durham, NC 27701
Mailing address, if different from home: P.O. Box 52598, Durham, NC 27717
Campaign Web site:
Occupation & employer: Consultant/Youth Development
Home phone: (919) 682-3693
Work phone:

1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing Durham? If elected, what are your top priorities in addressing those issues?

There are many important issues facing Durham that I will work to address as a member of the Durham City Council. Durham, like many communities across the nation, is facing difficult economic challenges. High levels of unemployment, an increasing number of foreclosures, growing budget shortfalls, crime, and a lack of opportunities for our young people are among the greatest challenges that Durham faces.

As a member of the Durham City Council, I will continue my commitment to the city by: improving the safety of all of Durham's neighborhoods; increasing opportunities for vocational and technical education and training; increasing economic development for all of Durham's neighborhoods; embracing the cultural, educational, and religious diversity of our community; and ensuring that we live in a community that is beautiful and sustainable for years to come.

My top priorities in addressing Durham's challenges include:

  • Creating vocational/technical education and training centers in order to prepare all of Durham's citizens to compete for 21st Century high-tech/green jobs.

  • Strengthening efforts to build/renovate community centers and increase after school activities for K-12 students.

  • Increasing support of youth programs and juvenile crime prevention efforts and increased support of efforts to assist ex-offenders in transitioning back into the Durham community.

  • Creating of neighborhood empowerment teams (NETs) to involve community members in keeping their neighborhoods safe.

  • Strengthening working relationship with Fayetteville Street Planning Group and NECD Leadership Team to plan and implement further options for community development.

  • Providing visionary and creative affordable housing and increasing opportunities for home ownership so as to meet the needs of Durham's growing community.

  • Developing a strategic Energy and Water Plan to assess current energy and water usage, developing cost-saving and environmentally-friendly solutions, and engaging the citizens of Durham in the creation of a sustainable Durham community.

  • Supporting community organizations that promote environmental sustainability, energy and water conservation, and community education about environmental degradation and the city's "green" initiatives.

2. What is there in your record as a public official or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be effective on the council? This might include career or community service; but please be specific about its relevance to this office.

As a Durham native and active community member, I have a vision to lead Durham into the future as one of our state's most vibrant cities. I have the skills, tools, temperament, and vision to be an effective member of the Durham City Council. I am committed to making Durham better through active service, advocacy, and public policy. I have an understanding of local, state and federal governments, an understanding the history and current makeup of the Durham community, and a vision to move Durham forward as a leading progressive city.

Examples of my ability to serve effectively as a member of the Durham City Council are:

  • Current Durham County Democratic Party Precinct Chair

  • Current Member of the North Carolina Democratic Party State Executive Committee

  • Successfully advocated and led group in opposition to change in Durham municipal elections system

  • Frequent community speaker at Durham Public Schools Board of Education, Durham County Commission, and City Council meetings where I advocate for efficiency in operations and spending, support of progressive programs that serve our community's most vulnerable populations, and challenge our elected officials to think creatively and innovatively in solving Durham's most pressing issues

  • Served as Congressional Black Caucus Foundation/Wal-Mart Emerging Leaders Intern in the Office of United States Congressman Mel Watt, a position that afforded me the opportunity to understand, first-hand, the intricacies of passing federal legislation and the relationship between the federal government and state and local governments

  • Served as President and Vice-President of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro Student Government Association where I managed an annual budget of over $150,000, led group of nearly 100 student organizations, and advocated for increased access to and affordability of higher education

  • Served as member of the Durham County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council

  • As a fourth-grade student at Eastway Elementary School, I appeared before the Durham City Council along with my fellow classmates to advocate for improved public safety, the revitalization of dilapidated homes, and increased opportunities for youth of our community

3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I define myself as a liberal, rational, and progressive person. My political philosophy is influenced by my training in economics and aligns with my philosophy on life, which is to speak with integrity, to be open to criticism, to communicate effectively and clearly to avoid misunderstandings, to treat others with the level of respect that I desire, and to always do my best.

My political philosophy has shown itself in my past achievements and present campaign platform. That philosophy has been demonstrated through my life-long dedication to the Democratic Party and to those progressive issues (increased affordable housing and access to home ownership, human rights, support of the D.R.E.A.M. Act and services for immigrants) that are essential to moving our community forward and to serving our most vulnerable. I was raised to stand up for what I believe, speak out for what is right, and know that life is a continuous journey and a learning process. I do not claim to know the answer to all of life's questions, but I do seek to work each day to explore the world around me, serve my community, and fight against inequity and injustice.

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

There are two specific issues that, if elected, I might be willing to take a principled stand despite the political cost. One, the support of a "public option" for health insurance that will ensure that all persons that cannot afford health insurance will have health insurance. Two, opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act (Senate Bill 272 "marriage between a man and woman is the only domestic legal union that should be valid or recognized") in the North Carolina General Assembly seeking to amend the North Carolina Constitution.

5. Recently, the N.C. General Assembly approved a nutrient clean-up strategy for Jordan Lake, which will require local municipalities, including Durham, to pay for any necessary pollution-reduction measures. How will you work with the City's Public Works Department to ensure Durham's pollution-reduction goals are met, and how will you work to prevent similar pollution—and the high cost of state-mandated clean-up efforts—in the future?

Durham's pollution-reduction goals will only be met through coordinated efforts of the entire Durham community. We must engage the County, City, schools, and citizens in the process of cleaning up Jordan Lake and educating the population so that we can avoid similar pollution in the future.

As a member of the Durham City Council, I will work with the City Manager and the City's Public Works department to enact an education and public relations campaign, including print, radio, and television ads on public access television and radio, to inform the public of the newly adopted Jordan Lake rules and the significance of the rules to the Durham community. We must also creatively utilize Durham Technical Community College, North Carolina Central University, and Duke University students and resources to ensure that pollution-reduction goals are met and similar pollution is prevented going forward. Finally, I will work to enact city ordinances that limit the amount of impervious surfaces used in development and other construction projects as well as encourage increased marketing of the city's rain barrels, anti-pollution signs, and bumper stickers and other efforts to reduce the impact of storm water and pollution on Jordan Lake and other local bodies of water.

6. Southern Durham Development is suing Durham County for conducting a public hearing before changing its Jordan Lake watershed maps to accommodate a proposed mixed-use project known as 751 Assemblage. Supporters of the project say it will increase Durham's tax base, and call a public hearing to change the watershed maps an unnecessary burden on property owners. However, others question the validity of the survey and say the County is bound by the state's administrative code to conduct a public hearing. Would you consider annexing the property to resolve the matter, if Southern Durham Development requests that the City do so? Why?

I would not consider annexing the property to resolve the matter. This is an issue that must be resolved with the County before initiating any discussions of annexation. As noted, the matter is in litigation, and the outcome of the pending suit will determine the course of action to be taken by the County and, if necessary, by the City of Durham. Regardless of the outcome of the legal proceedings, I am committed to affording all members of the Durham community the opportunity to present their ideas on improving Durham regardless of my personal stance on the issue.

7. Until recently, the City had a 25-square-mile "donut hole" in which no watershed protections existed. By closing the "donut hole"—which covered most of downtown—Durham lost an important incentive to attract downtown development and re-development, developers argued. What are your thoughts on how Durham can best attract smart growth while also protecting its watersheds?

Closing the so-called "donut hole" was necessary and the right thing to do. While I am not opposed to development and re-development in Durham, we must ensure that we are attracting projects that are environmentally responsible.

Durham is a vibrant and growing city that has much to offer to businesses and developers. Durham can best attract smart growth while also protecting its watershed by improving our parks, increasing public safety, supporting cultural and recreation programs, and educating and training our workforce.The City's recently approved ordinance to close the "donut hole" has measures in place to address the specific concerns of downtown development. Through the purchasing of Neuse offsets and land banking, those wishing to initiate high-density development projects like those in downtown Durham can pay to offset the impact of their respective development projects or purchase conservation land for the purpose of reducing the nitrogen impact on those bodies of water in and connected to Durham.

8. Fairway Outdoor Advertising has proposed amending the city-county Unified Development Ordinance to allow for electronic billboards? Are you in favor of this measure, or not? Please explain your answer.

I am in favor of affording Fairway Outdoor Advertising the opportunity to present their plan to the Durham City Council and to the people of Durham. I am also in favor of holding a series of public forums to engage the Durham community in conversation on the matter. After a specific plan is on the table and Fairway Outdoor Advertising and the community have held discussions on the matter, I would ask city staff to conduct an analysis of the proposed amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). Upon receiving the analysis conducted by city staff, the council should then move forward with placing the matter on the council's agenda for an official public hearing and a subsequent vote of the council.

From my limited knowledge of the issue, I have gathered that there are legitimate economic and public safety arguments in favor of electronic billboards, as expressed by Fairway, the Durham Crime Cabinet, and Sheriff Worth Hill.There are also legitimate arguments of the visual impact and location of the billboards as expressed by various community members and organizations in opposition to the proposed UDO change to allow electronic billboards.

Having only been presented with limited information regarding the matter, from both supporters and opponents, I am inclined to reserve judgment on this issue until I have sufficient information to conduct an adequate quantitative and qualitative analysis of the matter.

9. Last year, Durham voters rejected a proposed half-cent "meals tax" for local projects. This year, a half-cent sales tax for transit is proposed in the legislature, also requiring voters approval. But Durham could pay for transit and other needs simply by increasing property taxes, which some consider a more progressive method than either of the alternatives. Which taxes should be increased, if any, and for which projects? Will you support the half-cent sales tax for transit if the legislature enacts it and the county puts it on the ballot?

Adequately funding transit for the Triangle Area should be a top priority. I am opposed to the proposed half-cent sales tax because it is severely regressive and because there are a number of better options for raising the necessary funds. The proposed sales tax would disproportionately burden Durham poorer residents, who are least able to bear additional taxes in today's depressed economic climate. If needed, I would support a less regressive tax increase to fund transit. It is my belief however that taxes will not need to be increased. If we expand our tax base by bringing jobs to Durham and ensuring that Durham jobs go to Durham citizens, we can generate increased tax revenue to use for transportation projects.

The need for a regional light rail system is a top priority in improving transit in the long term. Efforts to develop a such a system to connect Durham, Raleigh, and other Triangle communities began nearly 15 years ago. As a member of the Durham City Council, I will actively lobby members of the North Carolina Congressional Delegation for federal funding to support transportation projects in the Triangle, particularly funding for a regional light rail system.

Unless there are measures in place to overcome the regressive nature of the tax, I am inclined to not support the measure if enacted by the state legislature. Simply increasing taxes is not an effective substitute for a creative and sustainable solution.

10. The FY 2009-10 budget includes cuts to many social services, while maintaining rainy-day funds necessary to maintain Durham's AAA credit rating. How can Durham maintain services for the neediest while also balancing its budget?

In these difficult economic times, budget reductions are inevitable. Durham's 2009-2010 budget includes cuts to many social services. One of our greatest responsibilities as a community is to provide for our most vulnerable citizens. Maintaining services for the neediest while also balancing the budget is a challenging task that will requires thinking outside the box. I am prepared to make the difficult, but necessary compromises as well as to make take a principled stand fighting for our most vulnerable residents.

We can, and must, mitigate against the need for deep cuts both by increasing our tax base and by increasing the efficiency of city government. Recent statistics show that approximately 60% of people who work in Durham do not live in Durham. We must do a better job of ensuring that more Durham citizens are hired for Durham jobs. In doing so, we can increase the number of Durham citizens who can afford to purchase homes and in turn expand the tax base. At the same time, providing more Durham citizens with jobs will increase spending at local businesses. Durham must also ensure that city government is operating effectively and efficiently. As a member of the Durham City Council, I will work to engage citizens in the process of ensuring the effective and efficient operation of city government through the creation of city spending website that track every cent spent during the fiscal year. This level of transparency will allow members of the Durham community to monitor city spending and offer input as to how to better utilize taxpayers' dollars.

11. One of the focus areas for economic redevelopment is northeast-central Durham. How do you propose redeveloping that area and through what measures?

Having been born and raised in Northeast Central Durham, I have a deep affinity with the community and vested interest in its success. I also have a personal knowledge of where Northeast Central Durham has been and where it is today, and I have a vision for its future.

When I announced my candidacy for the Durham City Council, at the site of an abandoned former Winn-Dixie grocery store in Northeast Central Durham, I stated, "Economic development must not be a benefit for a select few. Economic development must benefit all of Durham."

When thinking of redeveloping Northeast Central Durham, I am reminded of the words of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone- "We all do better when we all do better." Those words could not be more relevant to the struggle to improve the Northeast Central Durham community. In fact, this is not just a Northeast Central Durham issue, but it is a Durham issue. It is not until all of our neighborhoods succeed, that Durham succeeds.

My ideas on redeveloping Northeast Central Durham include:

  • Increasing support of the "Neighborhood Revitalization Fund" to assist homeowners and businesses in revamping residential and commercial structures to positively benefit the community

  • Developing partnerships between the Northeast Central Durham Leadership Team, community members, the Durham Chamber of Commerce, local businesses and business owners, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, Community Development, and Neighborhood Improvement Services in order to coordinate efforts to improve the Northeast Central Durham community

  • Developing a comprehensive and strategic development plan, modeled after the downtown development plan, to address various development challenges in Northeast Central Durham

  • Utilizing UNC City and Regional Planning students as well as Duke, NCCU, and Durham Technical Community College students to conduct community assessments, assist in the development of strategic development plan, and organize community members around the development of the Northeast Central Durham community

When redeveloping Northeast Central Durham, community members must be engaged in the process from conception to conclusion. Not only must we engage Northeast Central Durham community members in the process, we must also include at-large members of the Durham community in this process. Together we can come together and create the community that we all envision and know is possible.

12. Assess the health and effectiveness of the city's economic incentives fund. What improvements could be made?

The city's economic incentives fund, without a doubt, works for some of Durham. One clear example of the success of the city's economic incentives fund is downtown Durham. Much of the growth that has occurred in downtown is the result of government incentives.

Despite these successes, the ugly truth is that the city's economic incentives fund does not work for all of Durham. This ugly truth is clearly manifested by the economic stagnation in the Northeast Central Durham and Fayetteville Street (near NCCU) communities.

A few years back, a group of Durham citizens and organizations called for transparency in the process of negotiating and awarding incentives to attract business and development to Durham. If elected, I will work tirelessly for this aim. The group's request was on target. More equitable development will occur when there is transparency and community involvement from beginning to end. Such a process will build a level of trust that financial incentives will achieve their intended economic results and benefit the Durham community at large.

More work must be done by the City to strongly encourage those receiving incentives to hire Durham residents. Recent statistics from the Durham Convention and Visitor Bureau report that 3 out of 5 (60%) of people who work in Durham do not live in Durham. The primary objective of incentives should be to bring jobs to the Durham community. We are not accomplishing this task with our current incentives program. Going forward, financial incentives should go to those that hire Durham residents.

Attracting businesses and development to the Durham community must continue as Durham continues to grow. As a member of the Durham City Council, I will push for a comprehensive workforce analysis to determine the demographics of the Durham workforce. We must identify the age, education, access to transportation, job training, and skills of the citizens of Durham and use that information as a starting point for recruitment of businesses and development. We must continue recruiting top companies to our community as the positive impact on our local economy is proven. However, instead of solely forcing our workforce to change to meet the needs of businesses recruited to Durham, we should seek out more businesses that provide jobs that match the skill sets already present in the Durham community.

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