By Nana Asante-Smith
Vernetta is one of the most brilliant and thoughtful people I have ever had the honor of knowing. I remember first encountering Vernetta in October of 2014 when I was a second-year law student. She served as one of three panelists at a school sponsored event to discuss their respective roles in the process to secure the exonerations of Henry McCollum (formerly the longest serving death row inmate) and Leon Brown, two men wrongly convicted of a brutal murder in 1984. Vernetta was Mr. McCollum’s post-conviction attorney. Her humility and humanity were awe-inspiring. She humanized the practice of law in a way that is not always as common as it should be. By the time I left the panel discussion, one thing was clear: if I ever had to fight for my life, freedom, or an opportunity, I would want Vernetta fighting for me.
Serving as an advocate for those who have been wrongfully convicted is not a commitment that many of us can make. The fortitude required and taxing hours are undeniable. Yet, even in the midst of such grueling professional demands, Vernetta has managed to also serve the Durham community as an advocate for LGBTQ, immigrant rights, and beyond as a GED tutor at TROSA and a member of Durham’s Citizens Advisory Committee.
By Tom Miller
A lot of candidates claim that they will be a voice for the voiceless in the community. In my long experience, only a few have proved it and one of them is John Rooks. He has backed his claim with the testimony and the support of folks in Durham’s public housing communities. At our PAC endorsement meeting in August, a number of these folks joined PA and spoke for John. As brand new members they could not vote, but they told the larger PA membership how John has worked for them – how he is a regular presence in the community, –how he has worked to provide their kids with the things they need for school, – how he worked to bring the police and the community together in an atmosphere of mutual respect. The speakers trusted John Rooks. The connection was personal and deeply felt. They wanted John to represent them on the city council. I was impressed. Here was a guy who really was what he claimed to be.
Over 400 people attended that meeting. The interview committee had recommended another candidate but had praised John Rooks and identified him as “one to watch.” As one of the chairs of the meeting, I had the advantage of being able to look into the faces of everyone in attendance. When Rooks’s supporters spoke, I could see our members making up their minds to support him. This is what happens at PAC endorsement meetings. People come to persuade and be persuaded. I had liked John on the occasions we had met before the endorsement meeting. During the meeting, I, too, was persuaded that he would be the best candidate for the ward 2 seat.
Real estate and development interests have been pouring money into electing Farad Ali as their mayor. Over the last few days, the Greensboro-based “NC Property Rights Fund” has sent out three major direct mail cards supporting Ali. The NC Property Rights Fund is “super pac” affiliated with the NC Realtors Association. Unlike candidate committees and regular pacs like PA PAC which operate under strict fundraising limits, super pacs have no fundraising limits. In addition to the support of the Realtors’ super Pac, the organization’s regular pac has given Ali several thousand dollars directly. Local and out of town developers have also made large gifts to Ali’s campaign. Alex Mitchell, a principal in the controversial 751 South development next to Jordan Lake in Durham County has given Ali the maximum gift of $5,200. Raleigh developer John Kane has also made large cash gifts to Ali. Kane is the developer of several large projects at North Hills. Ali’s donor list includes the names of other builders and developers. The real estate industry cares about local city council elections because the city council makes important zoning and development decisions which can mean big profits for developers. So far, the Ali campaign has raised well over one hundred thousand dollars and that does not include the money the Realtors’ super pac has spent on his behalf. According to the INDY, approximately half of the money Ali has raised has come from sources outside of Durham.
Concerning City Council Candidate John Rooks, Jr., and the Equality NC Questionnaire
The People’s Alliance Political Action Committee has endorsed John Rooks, Jr., for the Ward 2 City Council seat. In his responses to PA PAC’s questionnaire, John declared himself to be firmly in favor of laws to protect members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodation, and access to government services and processes. He further declared that Durham should be a sanctuary for all those who seek to live here. In recent days, the PAC has learned that John’s responses to Equality NC’s questionnaire were inconsistent with his responses to PA PAC’s questionnaire as it relates to the rights of members of the LGBTQ and immigrant communities. After many hours of meetings – both with John by himself and with John and stakeholder members of the directly affected community - PA PAC continues to support John Rooks for the Ward 2 City Council seat.
During our meetings, John explained that he enlisted a friend to assist him in completing the Equality NC questionnaire and that he allowed the questionnaire to be submitted without reviewing it first. The questionnaire contained responses which were hurtful and substantially at odds with John’s own views as reflected in his responses to PA PAC. John has assured us again that his response in the PA PAC questionnaire accurately reflect his positions - that he supports equal rights for members of the LGBTQ community, that he will support legislation at every level to combat discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community, and that Durham should be a sanctuary for everyone.
Concerning the Equality NC questionnaire, John informed us that he would address the issue head on and take responsibility for the error knowing that in doing so he might lose votes in the upcoming primary election. On his website, John has posted a restatement of his support for LGBTQ rights and an explanation of the error his campaign committed in the preparation and submission of the Equality NC questionnaire. With his explanation, he posted his responses to the PA PAC and Equality NC questionnaires. John also reached out to Equality NC, to PA PAC, and to his supporters to explain the situation and take ownership of the error.
PA PAC is impressed by the straightforward and open manner in which John has responded to this unhappy problem. It confirms to us that John is a man of honesty and integrity and the best candidate for the Ward 2 City Council seat. If John is elected, we will remember well his promise to join the People’s Alliance in its support of the LGBTQ and immigrant communities and we will hold him to that promise.