Durham Mayor Steve Schewel on Thursday announced he will not seek a third term in office.

Schewel’s announcement in front of City Hall marks the end of a political career that began in 2004, when he was elected to the county school board. In 2011, he was elected to the city council and mayor in 2017.

“I have struggled mightily with this decision because it is such a great honor to serve as mayor of this amazing city and its people, and I have enjoyed it immensely,” Schewel said.

Schewel, who earned undergraduate and doctoral degrees from Duke University, founded the North Carolina Independent—later renamed INDY Week—in 1983.

Schewel, 70, described his reasons for not seeking re-election as “simple.”

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“First, I have a new grandbaby on the way,” he said. “She will be living only a five-minute walk from me, and I want to be there to help her parents and enjoy this new little person in my life completely.”

Schewel also noted that after spending 14 of the last 17 years in public office, “frankly, that’s enough.” He said he’s ready for “some new work and challenges.”

“I’ve had a wonderful life as a husband and parent, a newspaper publisher, a music festival producer, a college teacher, a youth soccer coach, and elected officeholder,” he said. “I’m excited now to figure out what’s next.”

The mayor also said the city is in good hands with new city manager Wanda Page. 

“I can say unequivocally that Wanda is superb, just the person we need to make sure that Durham city government is serving our residents at the very highest level.”

Schewel said his leadership of the city during the pandemic was an unexpected responsibility, when he took on emergency powers that a mayor rarely assumes. Being the first mayor in the state to impose a stay-at-home order, shutting down certain businesses, and issuing a mask mandate “were very tough calls,” he said.

“Many of those decisions were made with incomplete information because of how little we knew about the coronavirus 14 months ago,” Schewel said. “And they had to be made very fast. I’m sure some of the decisions I made were the wrong ones. But I will tell you that I did my best every single day to make the wisest decisions I could.”

The mayor said that while the city’s economy continues to struggle to bounce back, he’s proud of the city’s response to feed vulnerable families and help small businesses, particularly Black- and Brown-owned enterprises. He also pointed to the “hundreds and hundreds” of families who have received rental assistance and noted that COVID cases have fallen dramatically.

Schewel, whose term ends in six months, said there are still challenges to address before he leaves city hall, such as addressing vaccine equity among Black and Latinx residents, gun violence, affordable housing, and “our community’s responsibilities on climate and energy.”

Schewel said he will focus on passing a budget and implementing plans from an affordable housing bond overwhelmingly approved in the last election that will build thousands of affordable homes over the next five years.

He also touted funds in the proposed budget that have been earmarked for the hiring of 100 young people for summer internships. There also have been funds set aside for language access and refugee coordinators, along with immigration attorneys for both documented and undocumented residents, housing attorneys as part of a rental assistance program, and tax relief for low-income homeowners. 

Schewel said the biggest challenges facing the city are the ongoing issues of gun violence and gentrification. The violence, he said, “is not going to change until we fight the root cases.” 

As for gentrification, Schewel said even though the city has made a huge commitment to building affordable housing, “we cannot subsidize our way out of this problem.”

“Durham is a rough-and-tough political city,” Schewel replied when asked if he had any advice for the next mayor. “You really have to roll with it.”

Voters will cast ballots for the next mayor and three members of the city council in November. 

Follow Durham Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to tmcdonald@indyweek.com.

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