Durham County

Durham Mayor Schewel’s ‘progressive beacon’ era begins

Durham will be a progressive beacon for the South and the nation,with refugees, immigrants, Muslims, gender-nonconforming and transgender people all welcome here, new Mayor Steve Schewel said Monday night.

Schewel said people often ask him how they can help. Advocate and serve, he said. “Find a way to do that,” Schewel said, from marching in protest to fundraising to taking a PTA job to registering voters. And he urged Durham families to send their children to Durham Public Schools, too.

In an evening of Bull City-style of pomp and circumstance, the city’s new and outgoing leaders were welcomed with a rally and reception. City Council member Jillian Johnson, two years into her first term, was elected mayor pro tem by her council peers, including new members Vernetta Alston, DeDreana Freeman and the Rev. Mark-Anthony Middleton.

After an hour of tributes and comments from departing Mayor Bill Bell and council members Eddie Davis, Cora Cole-McFadden and Don Moffitt, the three new council members were sworn in, followed by Schewel.

“Thank you for making Durham such a rip-roaring democracy, a place where every voice is heard,” Schewel said.

Alston said, “Durham should be the standard bearer for real progress in this state and in this country.”

Freeman said she’ll push the city as hard as she can to make Durham more equitable for everyone.

Middleton called the council chambers the city’s living room and said it would not be an echo chamber.

“For now Durham, this is our time and this is our season,” Middleton said. “Let’s get to work.”

Before the meeting, Durham for All, a new grassroots political organization, held a rally. Its “10K Strong” campaign aims to get 10,000 Durhamites involved in a Durham that’s for everybody.

Speakers included Michelle Burton of Durham Association of Educators. Burton is a Durham Public Schools librarian.

“We showed up, and we voted,” she told the crowd of about 50 people. “Y’all need to stay engaged ... These are people too, who love the city like you do. That is your homework. Show up and be willing to help.”

“We can win,” she said. “We are winning.”

Bell called his last meeting to order in a chambers with every seat filled and people standing in the back.

Schewel presented Bell with a gavel, and called Bell “one of the greatest Durhamites who has ever lived.”

The council will talk Thursday about how to fill Schewel’s at-large council seat, which he vacated to run for mayor.

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