Durham County Board of Commissioners
Democrat: Nida Allam, Nimasheena Burns, Heidi Carter, Brenda Howerton, Wendy Jacobs

There are 15 people on the ballot for the Durham County Board of Commissioners, and voters will choose five. We’re recommending three incumbents and two newcomers.

One of the most striking newbies to emerge on the scene has been Nimasheena Burns*, who’s been endorsed by both the People’s Alliance PAC and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. She’s advocated for affordable housing, oversight of charter schools, and a living wage. Nida Allam has also turned heads; in 2017, she became the first Muslim elected to the state Democratic Party’s executive council. She wants to tackle economic inequity and create incentives to lure more teachers to Durham.

That left three spots for incumbents. Wendy Jacobs was an easy choice. She’s supported county investments in early education, public transportation, and affordable housing. Heidi Carter also gets a thumbs-up for her focus on racial equity and creating a sustainable environment.

That left our toughest decision: Brenda Howerton or James Hill. We like both. But Howerton’s 12 years on the council and mastery of numerous issues gives her the edge.

State Senate, District 20
Democrat: Natalie Murdock

From the moment Cooper appointed Floyd McKissick Jr. to the state’s Utilities Commission, the battle over his Senate seat promised to be one of the state’s high- est-profile races. Because there’s no Republican running—and because temp appointment Mickey Michaux will step down right after the primary— whoever wins on March 3 will step right into the job. The three candidates are Gray Ellis, Pierce Freelon, and Natalie Murdock. Ellis, a 47-year-old lawyer, would be the first transgender man elected to the Senate. Freelon, the 36-year-old son of jazz singer Nnenna and the late architect Phil, is a musician and former candidate for Durham mayor. Murdock, 36, is a supervisor on the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District. They’re all running on similar platforms: better funding for schools, teacher raises, access to health care, voter protections.

Each would do Durham proud, but we’re picking Murdock, because she’s worked her way up through the ranks, and she knows how government functions. She’s gotten her hands dirty—on the S&W board, quite literally.

Durham Public Schools Board of Education, At-Large
Alexandra Valladares

Incumbent Steve Unruhe has worked on behalf of Durham Public Schools for over 30 years. Before he was elected to the school board, he’d made his mark as a teacher and president of the Durham Association of Educators. (The DAE endorsed Unruhe, saying it feared losing his collaborative style.) He also played a leading role in the merger of the city and county school systems. So even though his challenger impressed us, we struggled with this one.

Still, we think it’s time for a fresh perspective that’s aligned with DPS’s new reality, in which Latinx kids make up the majority of some schools’ student bodies.

Alexandra Valladares, who would become the school board’s first Latinx member, won endorsements from the Durham Committee and the PA. She advocates for making all areas of school programming and hiring bilingual and mentions closing the academic achievement gap as a top priority. That’s an area where Durham needs to improve.

Comment on these endorsements at backtalk@indyweek.com. Correction: The original version of these endorsements spelled Nimeneesha Burns’s name incorrectly.

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