What divides Durham’s political groups, and why we must come together – Carl Kenney

Carl Kenney
Carl Kenney hlynch@newsobserver.com

Let the healing begin.

Now that Durham’s municipal election has ended, the newly elected mayor and members of the City Council have the tough task of mending wounds. Feelings have been hurt. For some, this was a battle to define Durham’s progressive agenda.

This was not an election aimed at protecting the influence of blacks on the council. It is true that, for the first time in 16 years, Durham will not have a black mayor, but black people in Durham have no need to prove they belong in public office.

Everybody loves Steve. Steve Schewel, who replaces Bill Bell as mayor, Mark-Anthony Middleton, DeDreana Freeman and Vernetta Alston will be supported by those who voted for their challengers. The wounds aren’t about any of the people elected to serve.

This election wasn’t about the people running for office. It was, and is, about the people who endorsed the people who ran for office. This election was about the power of the groups who control who gets elected: the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the People’s Alliance (PA).

Depending on who you talk to, this election was a watershed moment for differing reasons. Members of the Durham Commitee talked about protecting black institutions. They offered a slate of candidates who would support and protect the interest of black residents. They judged the PA’s endorsements as a backlash response to Bell’s legacy. They perceived the PA’s endorsements as a rebuke against black economic development and the call for black residents to share the wealth.

The PA pressed an anti-growth agenda. Schewel, and the candidates endorsed by PA, advocate on behalf of affordable housing. They emphasize transparency in government, community participation, accountability, diversity in leadership and protecting the rights of all citizens.

The values that sway the agendas of the two groups have much in common. Both are guided by principles of justice and unity. Both celebrate diversity and the need to protect the most vulnerable. Both groups claim a commitment to progressive ideologies.

So, what is behind the divide?

It is rooted in policies fought long ago. Some members of PA are still fuming over the Durham Committee’s support that paved the way for the development of New Hope Commons and Southpoint mall. Many blame Bell for persuading state lawmakers to pass legislation that supported the development of 751 South.

Members of the PA fought 751 South due to its proximity to Jordan Lake and the impact it will have on traffic and the watershed of the Lake which provides drinking water to Research Triangle Park, Apex, Cary, Morrisville and Chatham County. It wasn’t enough to stop Southern Durham Development from gaining approval from the Durham County Board of Commissioners.

The Durham Committee supported 751 South after Southern Durham Development promised 3,000 permanent jobs. That moment established the terms that divide the two groups understanding regarding what it means to be progressive. For members of the Durham Committee, it’s measured by creating jobs for black people. For members of the PA, it’s an agenda that limits urban sprawl.

Moving forward may require a solution that considers the concerns of both groups. The success of our newly elected mayor and council members will not be determined by siding with one of these groups but by implementing public policies that reflect the concerns of both.

This is a watershed moment, but not because of how most people think.

We have elected progressive thinkers. Now, they have the obligation of helping us redefine what it means to be a progressive-leaning community. The truth involving what that means is not in the agenda of one of these groups – it’s somewhere in the middle.

Like I said, let the healing begin.

Next up, who will be chosen to replace Schewel on the City Council?

Carl Kenney is the executive producer of “God of the Oppressed,”an upcoming documentary that explores black liberation theology. He is the author of “Preacha’ Man” and “Backslide.” He can be reached at Revcwkii@hotmail.com