PA PAC Endorses Steve Schewel, DeDreana Freeman, John Rooks, Jr., and Vernetta Alston

On August 29, over four hundred members of the People’s Alliance attended the People’s Alliance PAC’s meeting to determine which candidates would receive the PAC’s endorsement in the upcoming mayor and city council ward elections.  The record turnout was a reflection of PA’s swelling membership and the growing importance PA and its PAC play in the political life of the Durham community.  Members came to persuade and to be persuaded.  Few members came with their minds made up on every contest.  Each contest was marked by difficult choices between candidates with real progressive values.  The debate was robust.  It is PAC’s long tradition that everyone who wishes to speak gets a chance to speak and the meeting ran for several hours as members argued respectfully, back and forth.  PA PAC’s endorsement meetings are democracy at the grass roots level.

In the end, polling delivered solid majorities for these candidates:

The People's Alliance PAC Endorses STEVE SCHEWEL for Mayor of the City of Durham.  

170831_schewel.jpgSteve Schewel stands out in the field of candidates for mayor as an effective, collaborative leader.  Steve founded a successful business, the North Carolina Independent, and ran it for thirty years.  He is an educator.  He has taught and mentored youth in the classroom as a teacher and on the playing field as a coach.  Against the advice of some of his politically wise friends he sought election to a deeply troubled school board.  There he mended old wounds and moved public education forward.   With nearly six years’ experience on City Council, Steve has a strong track record on the full range of issues important to Durham.  Again and again, has risen to the challenges facing Durham, such as affordable housing, economic inclusion, the welfare and stability of neighborhoods, police-community relations, and fairness for all.  Steve’s responses to our questionnaire read like a blue print for real progress - action plans to make a growing Durham better for all its citizens.  Steve is smart, compassionate, and thoughtful.  He has a broad progressive vision and a head for practical results.  He seeks no celebrity.  He is beholden to no special interest.  His selfless passion for the welfare of all of Durham’s people is sincere and unquenchable.

Steve works constantly to solve the problem of affordable housing in a growing Durham.  He led the council on doubling the “penny for housing” to provide public resources for those who are homeless or struggling to pay rising housing costs.  Steve took the lead in persuading his council colleagues to use public land near the bus station downtown and at Fayette Place for affordable housing.  He supports grants to offset rising property taxes to enable lower income property owners to stay in their homes.  Steve expects developers to do their part by including affordable units in their projects and he has backed that expectation with his vote.  In planning and zoning cases, Steve seeks out and listens to the voices of ordinary citizens.  He does not treat every development proposal like its Durham’s last chance.  Durham can afford to be choosy and Steve will choose what’s best for the community.  Count on Steve to employ the city’s planning resources to stabilize and protect neighborhoods, guide revitalization sensitively, and resist displacement from gentrification.

To expand economic inclusion, Steve fights for living wage raises for city employees and Duke University.  He has taken the lead in arguing for minority and women’s business participation in city projects.  He supports free savings, income tax, and financial programs for low-income citizens in North East Central Durham.  On the question of essential fairness for every Durham resident, Steve seeks to change the “them-us” culture in the police department and to improve trust in the community.  He has argued for racial equity and de-escalation training for police officers, written consent before police search cars, and recognition of the faith ID for undocumented residents. Steve will work to make Durham a safe and welcoming place for immigrants, refugees, and everyone who wants a better life for themselves and their families.

Steve supports the equitable distribution of quality of life resources - parks, trees, trails, bike lanes and open spaces - to neighborhoods long underserved by such amenities.  He supports completion and expansion of Durham’s trail system.  He is an advocate of the redevelopment of the abandoned Belt Line rail loop into a linear park.

Steve Schewel faces every challenge head-on, forthrightly, with wisdom, patience, courage, and skill - and he overcomes. He advocates vigorously and persuasively but without rancor.  His enthusiasm is infectious.  In 2001, Bill Bell was the mayor for Durham.   That Steve Schewel is the mayor for Durham today is obvious.

Steve’s principal opponents in the race are Farad Ali and Pierce Freelon.  Ali served one term on the city council from 2007 to 2011 and did not seek re-election.  During that time he did not display  strong leadership.  He is the CEO of The Institute, a worthy organization that advises businesses and governments on expanding minority businesses and employment.  His questionnaire and interview responses demonstrate a knowledge of Durham and the issues, but contain little in the way of real solutions to problems.  He has raised a significant amount of money to fund his campaign, nearly half of it from sources outside of Durham.  Large contributions from development interests cause us to worry about his independence.  Freelon is a musician and entrepreneur in the arts.  He is a relative newcomer to Durham politics.  We share his concerns about race equity, poverty, and policing, but his record is somewhat short.  Like Ali, Freelon has raised a lot of money - nearly half of it is from non-Durham sources.  By contrast, Steve Schewel’s campaign money has come almost entirely from small donors who live in Durham.  Furthermore, Steve has pledged to accept no more than 25% of his campaign money from non-Durham sources and he has pledged to accept no large money gifts from developers (photo credit: Jenny Warburg).

PA-PAC endorses DEDREANA FREEMAN for the Ward 1 City Council seat.

170831_freeman.jpgIn a contest among three genuinely progressive candidates, DeDreana Freeman is the one candidate who, by her knowledge of the issues, record of real service, and support from the community, rises above the others.  In her day job, DeDreana is a special assistant to the president at the East Durham Children’s Initiative. She has been a tireless advocate for low-income residents in Durham in both her professional life and as a volunteer.  Her volunteer work in Durham is impressive.  She currently serves on the Durham Planning Commission.  She chairs precinct 17 for the Durham Democratic Party.  She is in her second term as president of the Durham InterNeighborhood Council.  She is chair of the Northeast Central Durham Leadership Council, and she is also a past People’s Alliance board member.

DeDreana’s grasp of the issues and her passion for change really came through in her interview with the PAC.  She identified a lack of race equity in Durham which is reflected in our affordable housing challenges as the single most important issue to her.  She supports PA’s positions on everything from living wages and fair taxes to affordable housing, wise land-use planning, and support for rail-based transit.  In addition to a solid grasp of all of the issues facing Durham, DeDreana also has a unique ability to engage a broad range of stakeholders, including city staff, community members, and elected officials.  As a member of the planning commission, DeDreana has been a forceful advocate for affordable housing and stable neighborhoods.  She has negotiated successfully with developers for commitments to affordability.  As a leader and advocate for underserved neighborhoods in East Durham she has fought to redirect planning resources to the area and to involve ordinary citizens in planning decisions in a meaningful way.  DeDreana is concerned about displacement due to gentrification. In East Durham, she has been working with a coalition of community groups to secure an affordability land trust of over fifty homes.  Few things bring Durham’s people to city hall as much as planning and zoning issues.  In a growing and changing Durham, DeDreana’s experience in this area and the store of trust she has built up among Durham’s most vulnerable people will serve the council well.

The two other contenders for Ward 1 are serious candidates, but they did not receive the support of our membership.  Cora Cole-McFadden has been a faithful public servant for many years and has been elected to her council seat with PA PAC’s endorsement, but PA and Ms. Cole-McFadden have not always agreed on the issues.  Brian Callaway is a trained urban planner and currently works to promote sustainability in the public schools.  He submitted a strong questionnaire and interviewed well, but he lacks the deep experience and community connections his opponents possess.  We will be watching him in the future.  In this contest among three progressive candidates, the best choice is DeDreana Freeman.

In the Ward 2 City Council contest, PA PAC endorses JOHN ROOKS, JR.

170831_rooks.jpgThere are six candidates vying for the Ward 2 City Council seat being vacated by Eddie Davis.  All of the candidates can reasonably claim to be progressive. Each brings different strengths and skills to the table.  Of the six, however, John Rooks, Jr., stands out.

John Rooks is an information technology professional and thirty-year resident of Durham.  In that time he has been an indefatigable advocate for interests of young people and residents with no effective voice.  His approach is personal and hands-on.  Some people seek public office for personal prestige.  Not John Rooks.  His is a mission of service.  He serves on the city’s Human Relations Commission.  He is a co-founder of Love Over Hate NC, a much-praised organization that sponsors effective communication and greater trust between the Durham’s police and the communities they serve.  He has been active on behalf of PAAC USA, a national youth advocacy organization and, here in Durham, John works with a youth mentoring program called R.E.A.L. Kids United.  He has organized and led drives for clothing and school supplies for underserved youth.  

John’s values closely align with PA’s.  In his questionnaire he identified affordable housing as one of the most important issues facing Durham.  He is committed to greater public funding for affordable housing and will put his vote behind the city’s policy in favor of 15% affordable housing near transit stations.  In planning and zoning cases, he promises to protect the interests of residents most affected by proposed changes.  He supports a larger tax circuit breaker to prevent rising property taxes from driving lower income homeowners from their homes.  He helped organize regular “Community, Cops, Coffee, and Conversation” meetings to bridge the gap between law enforcement officers and community members.

Perhaps more than anything, what persuaded our members to endorse John Rooks for the Ward 2 seat was the support he received from the residents of McDougald Terrace, a 60-year-old public housing  community located in the heart of Ward 2.  Among all the candidates in this contest, it was John they spoke up for.  It is John they trust. They want John to represent them.  

For the Ward 3 City Council seat, PAC endorses VERNETTA ALSTON.

170831_alston.jpgIn this contest, PAC members had to make a difficult choice between incumbent Don Moffitt and Vernetta Alston, two genuinely progressive candidates with strong connections to the People’s Alliance.  In the end, the members decided to support Vernetta Alston.

Vernetta was born and raised in Durham.  She is an attorney with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation and has worked tirelessly for those incarcerated on death row. She is a strong advocate for criminal justice reform, particularly an end to racial bias within the legal and prison systems.  She has served on the board of the People’s Alliance.  She also serves as a member of the city’s Citizens Advisory Committee which, among other things, advises the city on the use of federal funding for housing, first-time home buyer programs, and community improvements.

Vernetta’s values are aligned with those of the People’s Alliance.  She is committed to racial and economic justice, LGBTQ rights, promoting affordable housing and equitable development, and creating living wage jobs.  During her interview, Vernetta spoke to her plans as a council member to enhance partnerships with community anchors like NCCU that would mirror the high-level investment Durham has with Duke. She wants to lessen the disparity between white and black owned businesses by shifting city resources for entrepreneurship. Vernetta would hold city government accountable for the five-year affordable housing plan. She was the only candidate to mention expanding bilingual access – offering more Spanish-English translation and interpretation of city meetings – to provide Spanish-speaking residents better access to Durham’s political and government processes.  We like the idea of having another attorney on council to help the council use its planning resources to address the complicated issues of displacement from gentrification.

PA PAC is deeply grateful to Don Moffitt for his service to the city. He is hard working and takes his duties seriously.  His principles are progressive, but when it comes to cases, Don’s votes have not always been consistent with PA’s positions.  In this contest between good people and good candidates, PAC believes Alston will be a more effective advocate for PA’s values.  Another candidate in the race, Shelia Huggins, is also an attorney.  She knows city government, having worked for the city for nearly a decade.  We respect her experience, but we felt her answers to our questionnaire did not reflect strong alignment with PA’s positions.


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