The Durham City Council will vote to appoint someone to the vacant council seat, but the People’s Alliance political action committee had made its choice clear.
There are seven finalists for the council seat vacated by Durham Mayor Steve Schewel when he was sworn in in December. His at-large council term ends in the fall of 2019.
Monday night, the People’s Alliance PAC endorsed Javiera Caballero for the appointment. She is on the Durham Open Spaces and Trails Commission and the PTA president of Club Boulevard Humanities Magnet Elementary School.
Caballero, 39, moved to Durham from Chicago in 2010. Her family moved to the U.S. from Chile when she was 9. She became at citizen at 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.
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Caballero said she arrived a little late for the endorsement meeting because of a PTA meeting with a presentation from Durham Public Schools’ first head of Equity Affairs. She brought her mom, who joined the People’s Alliance Monday night.
The council applicants were asked to leave while the meeting was going on, she said.
“The debate was robust as always,” said People’s Alliance PAC coordinator Tom Miller. “In the end, Ms. Caballero won the members’ support by a sizable margin. There was a very strong sentiment in the meeting that the City Council should not pass up this rare opportunity to appoint a qualified and passionate progressive Latina to the council.”
Both Schewel and Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson encouraged the Latino community to apply. Twenty-three people did. Among the seven finalists are three Latinas: Caballero, Pilar Rocha-Goldberg and Sheila Arias Abonza.
The other four finalists are Pierce Freelon, Shelia Ann Huggins, Kaaren Haldeman and Carl Rist. Freelon and Huggins are African-American, and Haldeman and Rist are white.
Milo Pyne, one of four PA PAC coordinators at the meeting, said Freelon and Rist also had a lot of support. Annual dues for the People’s Alliance cost $35. New members could join and speak at the meeting, but only those in the PA for 30 days could vote, Pyne said.
“Caballero was way ahead. She had almost two thirds of all the votes cast,” Pyne said. Supporters talked about her inspiring work with the Club Boulevard PTA, he said. She has also worked with the Durham Association of Educators.
“A lot of speakers from the Hispanic community spoke on her behalf, how she reaches across lines of documented and undocumented people, and all aspects of Hispanic and Latina community,” Pyne said.
Durham’s population is 13.4 percent Hispanic/Latino, but there is not a Latino council member.
Caballero said there hasn’t been uniform Latino organizing locally, but there has been a lot of conversation around it.
If don’t get, it’ll be disappointing, obviously, especially as a [Latinx] community, because this is a real opening for us. But it’s happening one way or the other. Those conversations have started.
Javiera Caballero, Durham City Council applicant
“If don’t get, it’ll be disappointing, obviously, especially as a community, because this is a real opening for us. But it’s happening one way or the other. Those conversations have started,” she said.
At the peak, there were more than 200 people at the People’s Alliance meeting, but by the time they voted after 10:15 p.m., about 150 people remained, Pyne said.
In August, the People’s Alliance PAC meeting for endorsements for the fall election also lasted several hours. Three of its endorsed candidates won – Schewel, and current council members Vernetta Alston and DeDreana Freeman.
The People’s Alliance PAC suggested that its members vote for a dual endorsement of both Caballero and Rocha-Goldberg, but the membership only wanted one endorsee.
The PA endorses appointees according to its bylaws, and endorsed previously council appointee Don Moffitt, who first took office in the former seat of N.C. Sen. Mike Woodard.
At least one person from PA will address council at the special meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 10. At that special meeting, each of the seven finalists will get 15 minutes for supporters to address council members. Then at 5 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 11, the finalists will be interviewed by the council. The Durham City Council will then hold another special meeting, at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 16, to make its final decision. The new council member will be sworn in that night.
There were about 1,200 People’s Alliance members in 2017.