Mayor: Steve Schewel (inc.)

Confidence Level: Very high

Other Candidates: Sylvester Williams

It won’t surprise anyone familiar with this paper or its history that we’re endorsing Steve Schewel’s re-election. Schewel, of course, founded the INDY in 1983 and published it for three decades, and while he’s no longer financially staked in the company, his values are encoded in our DNA. It would take a heck of a challenger to turn our heads. Sylvester Williams isn’t it.

More important, Schewel has done an excellent job amid difficult circumstances, and his leadership speaks for itself. With the collapse of light rail and the uptick in violent crime this year, as well as recent tensions between segments of the city’s black and brown political communities, it would have been easy for the Durham City Council to become fraught with backbiting or get bogged down by picayune matters. Instead, the council forged ahead with initiatives big (a potentially transformative housing bond) and small (an innovative participatory budgeting exercise). 

There are problems Schewel and company need to address in his second term. He identifies violent crime, disparities in economic growth, and affordable housing as his top priorities, arguing for a holistic approach in which the city builds trust in overpoliced neighborhoods while focusing its resources on violent criminals and creating wealth in lower-income communities. 

He also says the city needs a “beautiful phoenix to rise from the ashes of light rail,” perhaps a commuter rail system in conjunction with Wake County and/or a bus rapid transit system that could capitalize on some of the work the city did in preparation for light rail over the last decade. 

Schewel deserves a chance to see his vision through—and we’re not just saying that because we wouldn’t be here without him. 

City Council: Javiera Caballero (inc.), Jillian Johnson (inc.), Charlie Reece (inc.)

Confidence Level: High

Other Candidates: Joshua Gunn, Daniel Meier, Jacqueline Wagstaff

We endorsed the Bull City Together slate ahead of the primary, and we’ve seen no reason to change our minds since. As we noted, the council has not been without missteps, but it has fashioned itself into the most unabashedly progressive local government in the Southeast—willing to confront systemic racial inequities, embrace urban density, and push for a smart affordable housing plan. 

Of the three remaining challengers, we’re most inclined to support Joshua Gunn. But while, in a vacuum, Gunn has made a pretty good case for himself, he has not, in our view, made a good-enough case for why he should replace one (or all) of the three incumbents. 

Housing Bond: Yes

Confidence Level: Off the charts

More than the council races, this is the most important item on Durham ballots, and it’s vital to the city’s future that it passes. The proposed $95 million housing bond would be the largest in the state’s history, but it’s about more than simply throwing money at a problem; if that were it, we’d be reticent to lend it our support, given the inherently regressive nature of the property taxes that will fund it. 

Instead, the bond is part of a multifaceted approach to tackling an extraordinarily complex issue. And while it won’t solve the housing crisis or singlehandedly mitigate the market forces driving it, it will go a long way toward preventing Durham from becoming, as Mayor Steve Schewel puts it, a “Disney version of itself.”

Explaining the totality of how the bond works requires more space than we have here—it’s not a simplistic or dumbed-down remedy. But the gist is this: Between fiscal years 2020 and 2024, the city plans to spend about $160 million on affordable housing. Roughly $65 million of this is “non-bondable,” expenses the city has to cover from existing local or federal funds. From the bond, about $59 million will go to the much-needed redevelopment of Durham Housing Authority properties downtown, renovating them to be more mixed-income than typical “projects.” 

With the bond, the city estimates that it will be able to assist about fifteen thousand residents with housing—from people experiencing homelessness to lower-income homeowners who will see their housing stabilized. The cost for the median Durham homeowner will be about $37 a year. 

To our minds, that’s a hell of a deal. 

If you’re concerned that the devil lies in the details, the good news is that the program looks even better upon closer inspection. It’s full of small ideas that thread together in brilliant ways: $3.4 million for an emergency homeless shelter and rapid rehousing; $4.6 million to help low-income homeowners pay for repairs like leaking roofs and broken air conditioners and keep their houses from falling victim to we’ll-pay-cash vultures; $25 million to build and preserve multifamily housing; $3.5 million to build accessory dwelling units; $2.3 million for eviction diversion; $6.3 million for a down payment assistance program; $2.5 million for an employment training so that low-income workers can compete for jobs on bond-financed construction projects, and so on. 

We’ve covered housing plans for many years, and we’ve never seen one as thoughtfully prepared or as holistic as what Durham has put together. Combined with the city’s recent push toward density through Expanded Housing Choices, we believe the bond could not only help alleviate the city’s housing crunch, but it could also serve as an example for other Triangle cities. 

Some things will go wrong; others will come in over-budget. It’s a bold, ambitious plan, and bumps in the road are inevitable. 

But it deserves your support. We enthusiastically endorse the bond, and for Durham’s sake, we hope you vote for it. 

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