Durham County

Will Durham’s next City Council member be Latino?

Left to right: Latina and Latino applicants for the vacant Durham City Council seat include Javiera Caballero, Ricardo Correa and Yesenia Polanco.
Left to right: Latina and Latino applicants for the vacant Durham City Council seat include Javiera Caballero, Ricardo Correa and Yesenia Polanco.

The city’s population is 13.4 percent Hispanic/Latino, but none serve on the Durham City Council.

That could change when the council appoints someone to finish Mayor Steve Schewel’s now vacant at-large council seat. Applications are now being accepted for the open seat.

During the mayoral campaign, Schewel said he hoped his council seat could be filled by someone from Durham’s Latino community.

At least three intend to try:

▪ Javiera Caballero, member of the Durham Open Spaces and Trails Commission and Club Boulevard Humanities Magnet Elementary School PTA president.

▪ Apostle Ricardo Correa, pastor of United Nations Worship Center/Centro de Alabanza Naciones Unidas and a member of the Durham Human Relations Commission.

▪ Yesenia Polanco, who works with the Latino community and immigrants as a volunteer and as an attorney.

Polanco, Caballero and Correa aren’t the only people seeking the city council’s appointment to finish the two years left on Schewel’s at-large council seat term.

Former mayoral candidate Pierce Freelon announced his intent to apply the day after the November election, and supporters have been contacting the new city council members urging them to appoint him.

Carl Rist of the People’s Alliance also has supporters asking the council to appoint him.

Javiera Caballero

Caballero, 39, moved to Durham from Chicago in 2010.

“Right now currently there isn’t a perspective for the immigrant community and Latinx community, and I think there’s a gap and there are a lot of pressing issues for the city,” she told The Herald-Sun. Issues include affordable housing, policing and fear in the immigrant community.

“I’m an immigrant. I came when I was really little from Chile,” Caballero said. “To me, that’s something that’s near and dear to my heart.” She said the 2016 presidential election elevated the conversation about immigration.

Caballero’s family moved to the U.S. when her dad was in graduate school. She lived in Oklahoma and South Carolina before moving to Charlotte at age 9. She has been a citizen since she was 14 and is a graduate of Appalachian State University. Caballero is a project coordinator for Chicago-based Alma Advisory Group. She is also a mother of three and is in her second year as PTA president at Club. At the school, she has been active in outreach to Latinx families, she said.

Ricardo Correa

Correa, 41, is pastor of nondenominational church the United Nations Worship Center. He moved to the Triangle in 1997 from Puerto Rico, and to Durham in 2000. He said he was inspired to seek the at-large council seat after hearing Schewel encouraged Latinos to apply.

“If it’s God’s will it will happen. I want to have the opportunity to be able to serve,” Correa said.

“I want to emphasize this: I will be a voice of the Latino community, but I am representing the entire community, anyone who is a resident of the city. I hope they don’t feel pity because it’s a Latino but that we are actually qualified. Our job is for the entire community,” he said.

“Durham is at a very pivotal point, which is to continue on the efforts of the previous administration, and deal with consequences of [it],” Correa said. “Affordable housing is important, and crime as well. I’m involved with Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, and a big promoter for peace.”

Yesenia Polanco

Polanco, 34, has lived in Durham since she was 10. Her family moved from Los Angeles. She went to Neal Middle School and Southern High School.

I think I’d be a really good representative of what Durham is and where we want it to go.

Yesenia Polanco, who is seeking the vacant Durham City Council seat

“I think I’d be a really good representative of what Durham is and where we want it to go. I’ve been through public school in Durham. I’ve also become a working professional. I’m a small business owner – I own a law firm. I work hard and I’m active in the community – in the Latino community and issues around organizing for many years,” Polanco said.

“That’s what Durham is about, people who work hard and like to listen to differences and discuss differences and really want to grow,” she said. “We really want to grow but also want Durham to be what it has been for us. We love Durham as it is and want it to grow at the same time,” she said.

Polanco went to UNC-Chapel Hill as an undergraduate and to law school at the University of the District of Columbia. Her law firm, Polanco Law PC, works with immigrants.

“I’ve been very active volunteering at El Centro Hispano. As an attorney, I have really collaborated with the Latino Credit Union ... My work is around protecting rights so I do a lot of speaking in community. Workshops around know your rights issues, from criminal and immigrant perspectives,” Polanco said.

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


Durham City Council will appoint someone to the vacant at-large seat. The term expires in November 2019.

Candidates for the position must be:

  • At least 21 years of age
  • Live within the corporate city limits
  • A registered voter with the Durham County Board of Elections
  • Current on city and county taxes at the time of application submission

Applications may be obtained from the Durham City Clerk’s Office on the second floor of City Hall, 101 City Hall Plaza, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, or on the City’s website at http://durhamnc.gov/237/City-Clerks-Office.

Applications must be received in the City Clerk’s Office by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 19.

For additional information, contact the City Clerk’s Office at 919-560-4166.

Source: City of Durham