Top Durham council candidates skeptical of 751 job claims

Jan. 04, 2013 @ 08:31 PM

The top two candidates for the City Council’s Ward 3 vacancy both voiced skepticism Friday about claims that the controversial 751 South project would create the sort of jobs likely to alleviate poverty.

Former Durham Planning Commission Chairman Don Moffitt tied his doubts to the site’s location on the edge of Durham, away from city transit routes, and to the failure of county officials to secure binding, legally enforceable pledges from the developers.

Without those pledges, 751 South could wind up being another in a string of projects where “10 years down the road there’s deep disappointment about” the lack of obvious effects on inner-city unemployment, he said.

Fellow contender Anita Daniels, meanwhile, said she has hasn’t heard much to suggest 751’s commercial component would spin off jobs paying enough to be the sole source of income to those holding them.

“If the jobs will produce the salaries people need to live comfortably in our community, then that makes sense to me,” she said. “If it’s more Walmart [or] Target, I don’t have anything against those companies, but I know the hourly wage they pay and people will have to work extra hours or work second jobs.”

The extra work low-income breadwinners have to put in to make ends meet winds up straining families and children because there isn’t enough time left in the day to properly attend to their needs, she said, adding that officials in sizing up a developer’s promises should look at whether new jobs are likely to pay $38,000 a year or more.

The comments from Moffitt and Daniels came Friday as the remaining six council members interviewed would-be appointees to the seat that former Councilman Mike Woodard vacated earlier this week.

Woodard is about to become a state senator. The council will appoint a replacement for him on Monday, the winner serving until the current Ward 3 term expires in December.

Daniels has received support for the job from two of Durham’s big-three political groups, the Friends of Durham and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. Moffitt has backing from the third, the People’s Alliance.

Both have also run previously for elective office. They’re facing newcomers Edward Kwon and Jason Melehani, both of whom showed up for their interviews on Friday and remain in the running.

Friday’s session also established that all six remaining council members will participate in the selection. Ailing Councilman Howard Clement, an infrequent presence at meetings over the past year, was feeling well enough to attend Friday and made it clear his voice will be heard.

Clement wasn’t happy with the responses either leading candidate offered to his questions about 751.

When it comes to reducing poverty, “we can be long on rhetoric and short on reality,” he told Daniels. “We need to get long on reality. To me a job is a job. Living comfortably is relative.”

Council members and candidates in the interview also delved repeatedly into the issue of affordable housing, as an adjunct to how to deal with poverty.

Moffitt said Durham officials should address both rental and owner-occupied units, for the latter following Chapel Hill’s example by working with groups that would hold title to the land under a project in trust.

That way, the houses on a site could be sold to buyers without the first ones to buy reaping an unfair windfall when it comes time to move on, he said.

Daniels focused mainly on rental units, supporting Durham’s traditional approach of knocking down dilapidated structures and replacing them with new units. In answer to a question from Mayor Bill Bell, she said she’d be open to using city funds to subsidize tenants’ rent payments.