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Durham Mayor Schewel on schools, statues and that policing statement that cited Israel

Durham City Council members Javiera Caballero, left, and Mark-Anthony Middleton, right, speak with Mayor Steve Schewel, middle, ahead of a City Council meeting on Monday, August 6, 2018. The council voted 5-2 to reject a charter school financing, with Schewel and Caballero voting down the financing and Middleton supporting it.
Durham City Council members Javiera Caballero, left, and Mark-Anthony Middleton, right, speak with Mayor Steve Schewel, middle, ahead of a City Council meeting on Monday, August 6, 2018. The council voted 5-2 to reject a charter school financing, with Schewel and Caballero voting down the financing and Middleton supporting it. jwall@newsobserver.com

Will Durham’s 150th anniversary include a Pauli Murray statue?

Why aren’t more parents sending their children to Durham Public Schools?

What does the mayor think of the newest council members?

Mayor Steve Schewel spoke with local government reporter Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan on Facebook about his first 10 months, and more, like the City Council’s controversial policing statement. Here are the highlights:

Charter vs. traditional Durham Public Schools

“I deeply believe our kids going to school together is what’s going to make us come together as a society. We have retreated as a nation from school integration, and that’s hugely problematic,” Schewel said. “And that’s also been true here in Durham. Our schools are not as integrated as they were once. And that’s really a challenge.”

Schewel, a former school board member, wants progressive families in Durham to seriously consider sending their children to Durham Public Schools.

“One of the problems with charter schools is that they allow the uncoupling of neighborhoods from schools, and so they encourage gentrification,” he explained. Instead of enrolling children in the school assigned to their neighborhood, residents can apply to publicly funded charters.

Too many seem to think “I’ll move into the neighborhood, buy that house that I can afford cheap, support the gentrification of the neighborhood and then I can send my kid to a school anywhere I want to throughout the city,” Schewel said, adding, “I think that’s problematic.”

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Policing statement

In April, the Durham City Council endorsed a statement opposing militarized policing that included a reference to Israel in a memo from the police chief. The controversial decision brought international attention, and some community members have asked the city to take the word ‘Israel’ out of the statement.

“I’m Jewish. I can understand anybody who’s worried about anti-Semitism in this country or elsewhere. But this has nothing to do with that. This is all about policing,” Schewel said.

He said he recently spoke with his synagogue, Judea Reform Congregation, and is looking forward to attending a discussion at Beth El Synagogue about Israel and Palestine issues.

But the city won’t be taking the reference to police training with Israel out of the statement.

“We’re not going to be revisiting this,” he said. “This issue is something we’ve dealt with. It’s settled. But I know there’s still concern in the community ... and I’m always happy to talk to people.”

Durham_City_Council_01.jpg
Durham Mayor Steve Schewel speaks to students before a City Council meeting at City Hall on Monday, August 6, 2018. Julia Wall jwall@newsobserver.com

Inexperienced council

Schewel, who served on the council before being elected mayor, said the current members have not been in office long but are smart and dedicated.

Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson and council member Charlie Reece are three years into their first terms. Council members Vernetta Alston, DeDreana Freeman and Mark-Anthony Middleton were elected this past fall. And council member Javiera Caballero was appointed in February.

How he thinks they’re doing:

Johnson, his former Duke University student: “She is passionately devoted especially to people in Durham who have been disenfranchised and not sharing in our current prosperity.”

Reece, whose latest priority was rules for electric scooters: “Charlie gets way down into the policy. He does a great job. He went over to Raleigh and rode a scooter.” Schewel has not, but said he will ride a scooter, with a helmet, when they arrive in Durham.

Freeman: “DeDreana passionately cares about racial equity.”

Caballero: “She is a great voice for our Latinx community ... but that’s not all she does.”

Alston: “Let’s just say she reserves judgment. As you know, she doesn’t jump fast like some of the rest of us are wont to do, and I really think she does a great job making wise decisions.”

Middleton: “Mark-Anthony has racial equity and racial justice at the top of his agenda. The whole council does, but I think he’s really eloquent on that subject.”

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A Pauli Murray statue?

The city will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2019.

“We’ll kick it off this year with a Holiday Parade,” he said, and a big event in April.

“I know a couple things — I’m not going to say because there should be surprises,” he said.

The city will celebrate heroes from Durham’s past, including those who have overcome injustices.

“We don’t want a Confederate monument to be the main way that we are memorializing people here in Durham,” Schewel said. “What we do want instead is the kinds of people that we do want to be honored. How will they be honored? Some of them may be honored with a statue. Some of them may be honored with a mural. Some of them may be honored with a song. Who knows the kinds of commemorations that we can come up with.”

Does that mean Pauli Murray, the Episcopal saint, late attorney, women’s rights, civil rights and human rights leader will be getting a statue?

“She would be the top of my list, but I’m not on that committee,” he said.

Watch the Facebook Live video to see Schewel’s full comments along with conversation about economic development, affordable housing, property taxes and more at: facebook.com/theheraldsun

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan
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