Durham County

New Durham City Council member is 1st Latina

Watch as Javiera Caballero is sworn in as Durham's first Latina city council member.

Durham City Council appoints Javiera Caballero to open seat vacated when mayor took office.
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Durham City Council appoints Javiera Caballero to open seat vacated when mayor took office.

The City Council has its first Latina after members voted to appoint Javiera Caballero on Tuesday night. The council is now majority women.

Caballero is a program coordinator and PTA president of Club Boulevard Humanities Magnet Elementary School who immigrated from Chile as a child.

Just after the vote, Caballero told The Herald-Sun that she was shocked in a good way.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, and a place at the table for everyone,” Caballero said.

Less than an hour later, Caballero was sworn in at the start of her meeting as a council member.

“This has been a historic moment for Durham ... and I look forward to fighting for all of us,” Caballero said.

The newest member of Durham City Council, Javiera Caballero, is also the first Latina. She was appointed on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. From left to right: Council member Charlie Reece, Council member DeDreana Freeman, Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson, City Manager Tom Bonfield, Mayor Steve Schewel, City Attorney Patrick Baker, Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton and Caballero. Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan dvaughan@heraldsun.com

Durham Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson said she believes Caballero “is the leader we need at this moment in our city’s history” and would fight for a city “we all deserve.”

Johnson said Caballero shares her belief that policing and public safety are not the same thing and that they also both believe housing is a human right. She also said she and Caballero both supported Durham Public Schools by working in its PTAs.

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

Ivan Almonte said that after living in Durham for more than 20 years, Caballero’s appointment will finally give him “a voice I feel comfortable representing me as a Latino and immigrant in Durham.” He said that as a community organizer, it gives him motivation.

“This is awesome,” Almonte said.

Castilda Jaimes said she has high regard for Caballero’s social justice work.

“This is an achievement. I think it’s important to have a woman. When a woman is at the front, it’s a sure victory,” Jaimes said. She said she has the confidence the Latino community will have a warrior who will fight for their rights.

Caballero’s friend Alexandra Valladares is a fellow PTA leader and parent at Club Boulevard. Valladares said she thinks participatory budgeting for the city is key, and that Caballero will bring input from the community.

The council’s first vote split 3-3 for Caballero and Pilar Rocha-Goldberg, who moved to Durham from Colombia for work and now runs El Centro Hispano. Caballero’s supporters in the first round of voting also included council members Charlie Reece and Vernetta Alston.

Reece said Caballero has “shown she can reach out across all lines that exist in our community.”

Newly appointed Durham City Council member Javiera Caballero, right, talks with Durham City Council member Charlie Reece about the upcoming council meeting where she was to be sworn in less than an hour after being appointed. Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan dvaughan@heraldsun.com

Council members Mark-Anthony Middleton, Mayor Steve Schewel and DeDreana Freeman voted for Rocha-Goldberg in the first round. Schewel and Middleton voted for Caballero in the second vote.

The other finalists were Sheila Arias, Pierce Freelon and Kaaren Haldeman.

When Schewel was sworn in as mayor on Dec. 4, that left his former at-large council seat empty. The term ends in fall of 2019. According to city rules, the council had 60 days to appoint his replacement. The last time they appointed a council member was when Mike Woodard won election to the state Senate.

The day after Schewel won the mayor’s race in November, Freelon declared his interest in applying. Many more followed, with 23 people submitting applications in December for the open seat. That list was narrowed down by council vote to a final seven, then two dropped out. The five finalists were interviewed in a public meeting Jan. 11 by the council. The public was able to tell council members who they wanted for the seat through another public comment meeting held Jan. 10 along with emails and calls to individual council members.

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