Name as it appears on the ballot: J. J. Campbell

Age: 40

Party affiliation: Independent

Campaign website:

Occupation & employer: House Father and Investor

Years lived in Durham: 1

1) Please identify the three most pressing issues you believe Durham faces and how you believe the city should address them.

1) Political reform

2) Livability

3) Transportation

I understand that housing is at the forefront of most of the campaigns. It is a serious issue, but like our underpaid city workers, it is a symptom. We need to treat the symptoms, but while doing that we need to get at the root and prevent this kind of thing from happening again.

I am not making many promises on the campaign trail. I am one member of a council. However, I promise to fight as hard as possible to make the voice of the people heard and obeyed by the politicians. The biggest step there, and it will reverberate all the way to the state capital, is ranked choice voting. The parties don’t like it because it favors the people over their bases, but it is also the first step to fixing our system and healing the rifts. My second promise is to make it easier for the people to speak and harder for the politicians to ignore them. I will implement technology that will allow the people of Durham to vote on everything that crosses my desk and you will know how the people vote and which of your leaders vote accordingly. Instead of having to attend meeting after meeting and write letter after letter you will be able to simply login and tell me what to do. 

We need to address affordable housing. That doesn’t mean cheap houses and apartments, it means that wages exceed living expenses. We will address that through supporting unions, paying living wages, encouraging responsible development of mixed income neighborhoods, healthcare, education, and even fighting greedflation where possible. 

Included in livability is the costs of transportation, climate change, and stress. Safe bike routes, walking routes, and sustainable transportation are huge in helping make cities more enjoyable, affordable, and in encouraging local business.  

2) What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective as a member of the city council and as an advocate for the issues that you believe are important?

I have a degree in physics with minors in business, math, and Spanish. I took research into zero gravity with NASA. I was the technical director of 2 non-profits including one that had me on the ground in Ghana doing power generating playgrounds in off-grid villages. I lived on 4 continents enjoying the cities of Europe to visiting refugee camps to remote villages. I sailed on two tall ships. I trained dolphins. I’m an Eagle Scout and former Scoutmaster. I was a corporate scientist for a fortune 500 until shortly after my daughter was born when I became an at home dad to support my wife with her MD/PhD. I am still at home, but I earn a good living doing private investment. I am active on the PTA and just joined our schools SIT. I am good with numbers. I am great at problem solving, especially when creative solutions are needed to get past the unpassable. I understand the need to listen first and to seek consensus. I have my own ideas, but I have learned that it is usually better to help those who are on the ground get their own ideas going because buy in is more important than my ego. 

3) What’s the best or most important thing the city council has done in the past year? Alternatively, name a decision you believe the council got wrong or an issue you believe the city should have handled differently. Please explain your answer.

We have a budget surplus. That’s generally a good thing, except for two major problems. One, we have city employees who can’t afford to live here. Two, we aren’t actively engaged in investing that money to take advantage of compounding interest. I’m not saying we need to act like Wall Street, but utilizing the tools of the wealthy to make Durham more prosperous is responsible administration.

4) The city has seen an uptick in shootings since last year, including recent tragic homicides that claimed the lives of children. Gun violence is obviously a multifaceted problem with no simple solution at the local level. But, in your view, what can or should the city be doing to stem the tide of violence that it isn’t doing now?

In my travels, particularly in the Middle East, I have generally found that violence comes from two major forces coming together. There are exceptions, but in most people it requires a loss of hope combined with too much futile time. Loss of hope is not despair, it is when you realize that there is no clear path to give your kids a better life than your own. At the most extreme it is when you can no longer see a path to even provide for them. It particularly applies to young men who don’t yet have kids. Futile time is not down time or lazy time, it is anxious time that would be spent striving if it could find pursuits that would yield reasonable returns.

 This won’t solve the problem today, but over time if we have accessible education and entertainment (such as community centers, finance classes, recreation centers, and parks) that give people a light at the end of the tunnel we will see a lot fewer people willing to risk giving up that light. In the meantime, we need to keep making sure that basic needs are met. Hunger and exposure are vicious masters.

5) What can or should the city be doing to support people who are not in control of their own housing (including renters, the unhoused, and those whose homes are owned by banks) as costs of living skyrocket?

That’s a lot of different groups to lump into one question. My immediate thoughts are to lower all the costs of living and encourage building new housing affordable to the lowest paid city workers. Inexpensive, accessible, healthy food is first. Second is to connect the city well enough that people can ditch their cars (and all the expenses that go with them). Third is creating mixed income neighborhoods by encouraging and supporting people developing on their own properties if they are willing to make a percentage of the units affordable. 

However, I’m a scientist, and I’m going to go to the experts and the people who have been working on this problem for years and I expect that I will change my mind.

6) Describe your vision for sustainable growth and development in Durham, including your view of how Expanding Housing Choices has impacted Durham’s communities and built environment since the policy’s passage in 2019; your thoughts on SCAD and the extent to which developers should be involved in shaping the city’s zoning codes; and an example of a municipality you believe has made smart decisions related to growth and development that could be similarly implemented in Durham.

Every city I’ve lived in has had their good and their bad. I prefer the cities with fewer cars and more bikes and transit. Local businesses thrive since they don’t need to worry about catching your eye at 50 mph. Pollution is less. People know their neighbors. Neighborhoods work together and play together. The communities tend to look better too. In other words, deprioritizing cars will lead to more sustainable and affordable growth.

As for SCAD, I have yet to see a developer price a unit based on the cost and not on the price they think the market will bear. I am all for simplifying and streamlining regulations if the developers are willing to be transparent with their profits and are willing to pay their fair share.

7) In August, the city released a report showing lead-contaminated soil in several parks in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods in Durham. What can or should the city be doing to address existing environmental injustices and prevent further environmental racism as Durham expands?

Ideally we’d clean it up and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Since we don’t live in an ideal world I would go to the experts, the communities, the other council members, and the city manager and I would listen. Aside from equitable infrastructure investments and creating a social safety net I don’t yet know how to address environmental injustice.

8) What are the city’s most pressing transit needs?

Connect the bike routes, start working on dedicated bus lanes, and build protected bus stops.

9) What can or should the city be doing to uplift low-wage workers? To uplift small businesses?

I hope to eventually, probably through investing so we don’t have to raise taxes, have a safety net for everybody. I grew up poor enough that my mom often went hungry to feed us. By the time I got to college I was privileged enough to have a safety net that let me explore. I firmly believe that my success and my drive to leave things better than I found them stems from those two experiences. This doesn’t mean a safety net for the business, but it does mean that the people will all have food, shelter, clean clothing, education, and healthcare no matter what happens.

In the meantime, supporting unions for the low-wage jobs and mentors and networking for small businesses.

10) How do you currently, or how do you plan to, engage with constituents across all of Durham’s demographics? Building on that response, how do you currently, or how do you plan to, weigh differing insights from constituents, fellow council members, city staff, and advisory committees when coming to a decision on a vote?

First of all, I will actively listen, research, and seek experts. Second, I will implement an electronic system whereby everyone can vote on my decisions. It will be transparent and non-binding, but everyone will know when I, or the other elected officials, forgot who is supposed to be in charge.

11) How should Durham’s city council address first responder vacancies? 

I dream of a Durham that is not only the best city in the triangle, not the best city in NC, but the best city in the USA and maybe even the world. To do that, we need to treat our people like that is our goal. 

12) If there is anything else you would like to address, please do so here. 

Over the years of being an at home dad I found that there was one phrase that inadvertently became our family motto. “Because people are more important.” A lot of decisions are a lot easier when we keep that in mind. 

Vote for JJ.

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