City candidates discuss CAN light rail agenda

Oct. 27, 2013 @ 08:15 PM

Candidates for city council faced questions from Durham Congregations, Associations & Neighborhoods at the group’s general assembly meeting Sunday afternoon at Judea Reform Congregation. CAN is a multi-faith, multi-racial nonpartisan citizens’ organization. It doesn’t endorse candidates, but candidates can endorse it. Nearly 300 delegates from Durham congregations, associations and neighborhoods attended.

Durham CAN’s questions focused on planned light rail transit and affordable housing at proposed transit stops. Candidates, including incumbents for city council and mayor, lined up to answer yes or no questions and were given two minutes to elaborate and discuss their platform.

Everyone running for election or reelection was there: Durham Mayor Bill Bell and his challenger Rev. Sylvester Williams; Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden running unopposed for Durham City Council Ward One; candidates Eddie Davis and Omar Beasley for Ward Two; and incumbent Councilman Don Moffitt and challenger Pam Karriker for Ward Three. They all answered affirmative that they would go on a two-hour retreat with CAN leaders to discuss the group’s agenda within 90 days of taking office. On two questions about joining CAN and the Triangle Transit Authority to co-sponsor and support community meetings around proposed light rail stops, all answered yes except for Williams. Williams said the trickle-down theory of giving money to downtown Durham is not working and that other areas are lacking. He said Durham is not dense enough to support light rail and that it displaces poor black people.

Williams said that like CAN’s agenda, he is for affordable housing, but “not for light rail that will displace people and put them out of their home.”

Durham CAN also asked candidates if they would vote for the city to use its own money to replace $84,758 that the Durham County Commissioners removed from the planning department’s budget. Candidates answered mostly yes, with a few caveats.

Davis said he felt pushed to answer yes or no, because as he is not on city council he hasn’t been in budget meetings or seen the budget. He said he didn’t want to make a commitment about the city budget without seeing it.

Karriker said she agrees with the $84,000 but needs more information and to see the budget. Karriker, who served an appointed time on the Durham County Board of Commissioners, said she is in a good place to help with “that situation,” referring to conflict between Durham City Council and Durham County Commissioners.

“It’s not a partisanship issue because they’re all Democrats, it’s ideology,” said Beasley, who said youth is what’s missing from board diversity, and said he would provide that.

CAN also asked Councilman Steve Schewel, who is not up for reelection this year, if he would use city money to pay for the county budget cut in planning. Schewel said that it’s complicated.

“We have a lot of issues between the city and county,” he said, and officials need to sit down and talk about them.

Moffitt said that he was an early delegate to Durham CAN for his neighborhood, Watts Hospital-Hillandale, and that he supports affordable housing, job training and rental inspections.

Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, who also attended the assembly, was asked if she too supported CAN/TTA meetings around proposed light rail stops, and she does.

“The bottom line is we need to avoid gentrification,” she said.

Durham CAN announced it will train its members by Get Covered America to go door-to-door to provide information about the Affordable Care Act to targeted communities in Durham. CAN will hold an Interfaith Service of Lament, Hope and Commitment at 3 p.m. Sunday at Monument of Faith Church, 900 Simmons St. in Durham.