With the primary behind them, Durham voters will choose their next mayor and council members on November 7.
We’re pleased that all of the candidates for mayor and three at-large seats on the city council that we originally endorsed made it through the primary. And we’re standing by our choices.
As we wrote in September, Durham is at a crossroads.
As the city continues to rapidly grow, its most essential workers can no longer afford to live here. With too few homes available for the influx of newcomers, not to mention too few affordable homes for longtime, lower-income residents, the threat of displacement looms large. Local businesses and the city’s downtown core are still struggling to bounce back from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. And the past several years have seen a troubling resurgence of gun violence, especially among the city’s young people.
That’s why it feels crucial for voters to elect the right leaders to guide the city forward. Here are our picks for Durham mayor and city council at-large.
In his two years on the city council, Leonardo Williams has shown a willingness to learn the ins and outs of city government, a desire to do the job of governing well, and an inclination to hold himself accountable to the residents he represents.
Probably the most accessible of all the council members, if community engagement were a high school superlative, Williams would be voted “most likely to show up” to any event touting the Bull City or highlighting the work of its people. No one gets out and about in the community more than he does.
At the same time, Williams is the closest member the council has to a go-between among various fractious members, alliances, and voting blocs. His cordiality to colleagues, often under trying circumstances, is admirable, even if at times he exhibits a testiness toward certain members of the constituency at meetings and on social media (we’ll chalk that up to his status as a relative newcomer to political life).
Williams’s self-described moderacy and business-friendly perspective chilled him to progressives two years ago—many of them supported Leo Williams’s opponent, AJ Williams in the race for his Ward 3 seat—and sometimes those pro-business instincts have worked against Leo (supporting a financial wellness series hosted by the Chamber of Commerce featuring a seminar on crypto investing was a weird move that won him few accolades, for instance). But, with endorsements from all the major progressive groups this election cycle, it’s safe to say Williams’s former critics have since come around.
We have, too, and Williams has earned our endorsement.
State Senator Mike Woodard is a solid leader and would bring a different dynamic to a council that desperately needs it. He has years of legislative experience, both on the Durham council (he served from 2005 to 2013) and in the General Assembly. But if his recent voting record is any indication, a progressive Democrat Woodard is not. Casting votes in favor of promoting charter schools, against more stringent environmental regulations, and against giving cities and counties more local control to self-govern than the minimal power they currently have aren’t choices that align with the values of Woodard’s progressive constituents.
Durham City Council At-Large (Three Seats)
A veteran on the council since she was appointed in 2018 (and elected in 2019), Javiera Caballero has stayed above the fray when it comes to the drama at the dais and behind the scenes.
An independent thinker, Caballero understands the realities around the need for zoning reform to pave the way for more affordable housing. But while generally supportive of new development, she’s not a guaranteed yes vote for any given project. Rather, Caballero seems to consider the merits of proposals on a case-by-case basis, holds high standards for design quality and community benefits, and doesn’t shy away from negotiating with developers for the best achievable outcome for Durham residents.
Caballero understands the limits of what the city can legally do and the constraints imposed upon local governments by the state, and she’s adept at explaining those realities to constituents. That’s an important skill and one that serves Durham well when it comes to policymaking.
Caballero’s ability to stay focused on good governing and the institutional knowledge she brings has earned her our endorsement for another term on the council.
A Bull City native and professional urban planner, Nate Baker has a unique perspective on Durham’s past and potential future.
Baker has served on the Durham Planning Commission since 2018 and has a detailed understanding of the challenges the city faces as it grows. While some find Baker polarizing—he has been a vocal opponent of the controversial SCAD text amendments, for example—his philosophy of “people-centered development” to achieve Durham’s housing and climate goals is conscientious and idea driven.
With endorsements from the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the NC Triangle Democratic Socialists of America, Baker has built a coalition across different working-class communities and been a strong supporter of the labor movements in the Bull City.
Baker would be the youngest member of council if elected. We think council veterans can help guide Baker’s passion for issues such as tackling climate change locally, creating walkable communities and affordable housing, and generating economic mobility for working-class residents into actionable policies.
Although Baker lacks experience as an elected official, his skill set as an urban planner and commitment to progressive causes make him a strong candidate for city council. He’s earned our endorsement.
As a nonprofit volunteer for causes that include building affordable housing with Habitat for Humanity to championing the Durham Living Wage Project under the auspices of the People’s Alliance, Carl Rist has a long history of service to the Bull City and its residents.
Over his more than three decades as a Durhamite, Rist has built deep relationships with diverse groups and has shown that he’s capable of building bridges to connect to those whom he’s not yet reached.
A longtime advocate for expanding prosperity and building household wealth in his professional life, Rist understands the connections between securing economic stability and guaranteeing the success of future generations.
“Collegial” and “kind” are words used often to describe Rist, and both are qualities that have been lacking in city hall of late. We think Rist will make a fine addition to Durham’s city council.
INDY editor in chief Jane Porter, culture editor Sarah Edwards, staff writer Lena Geller, reporter Justin Laidlaw, and reporter Chase Pellegrini de Paur contributed to these endorsements.
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