There are no white people on the ballot for City Council.
Don’t read that as an anti-white statement. It says something about Durham.
In Ward 1, it comes down to two black women. Two black men square off in Ward 2, and two black women compete in Ward 3.
Farad Ali, a black man, opposes Steve Schewel, a Jewish man, to replace Bill Bell, a black man, as Durham’s mayor.
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Race doesn’t matter in Durham, and neither does religion or gender.
Sexual orientation doesn’t matter. Age doesn’t matter as much as in other municipalities. Pierce Freelon, 33, made a strong bid to become mayor and may have a chance to land on the council as Schewel’s replacement if he becomes mayor.
If race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and age don’t matter, what does matter?
What is it that qualifies a person, in the mind of voters, to serve as a Durham official?
It helps if candidates support Durham’s love for diversity. Those with alt-right leanings are doomed to fail. Messages aimed at “making America great again” don’t work here.
When people in Durham talk about being progressive, they mean taking care of the earth, transparency in government, grassroots organizing and providing for the people most affected by public policies. In Durham, you can’t abandon poor people, people of color, women, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community, the physically and mentally impaired, senior citizens or millennials.
This election is about ensuring everyone is heard.
When residents of the McDougald Terrace community felt the need to speak, they made their way into the People’s Alliance endorsement meeting. When John Rooks Jr., the candidate they supported, came under criticism for his answers on an Equality NC questionnaire, members of the PA pressed him further. They determined Rooks’ answers reflected a bad mistake, not an agenda that opposes gay rights.
When Freelon felt the need to consider the voices of his black ancestors, he embarked on a campaign that reflected his desire to control gentrification, support the poor and include the voices of youth. LeVon Barnes, and other millennials, challenged us to consider the work of the city beyond what older people think.
This election is a reminder of what makes Durham different.
Black candidates have been endorsed by the People’s Alliance. The Durham Committee has endorsed a set of different black candidates. Both PACs are passionate in their support for the people they endorsed. This is a statement regarding the significant black voices in Durham. It matters that there are too many to limit endorsements to one PAC.
In Ward 1, Cora Cole-McFadden is a veteran of city government and DeDreana Freeman a neighborhood organizer. In Ward 2, Rooks is an engineer who volunteers in McDougald Terrance and Mark-Anthony Middleton is a pastor and community organizer for Durham CAN (Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods). Vernetta Alston and Shelia Huggins, the candidates in Ward 3, are attorneys with loads of experience in local government. If Alston wins, she will join Jillian Johnson as the second openly LGBT person serving on the City Council.
As for Schewel and Ali, both have served on the council. Both have experience in promoting affordable housing and economic development.
This reflects the good news about Durham. There are no bad candidates. No matter what happens, Durham wins. The election brings attention to who we are and what we believe as citizens in community.
Some will say the election is a battle to determine the supremacy of competing PACs.
But, more important, is what the election – and those running in it – says about Durham.
In Durham, the people matter. Not because of their race, gender or sexual orientation. But because we want our leaders to serve all citizens, and to see beyond the things that don’t matter.
Maybe we can teach the rest of the nation what matters most.
Carl Kenney is the co-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