N E W S R E L E A S E
August 26, 2015
At a meeting held Tuesday evening, August 25, nearly 200 members of the People’s Alliance PAC came together to debate and vote on who the PAC will endorse in the upcoming Durham Mayor and city council races. By the end of the meeting, they had voted to support the re-election of Mayor Bill Bell and council member Steve Schewel. The PAC also voted to endorse newcomers Jillian Johnson and Charlie Reece for the two other at-large council seats. PAC Coordinator Tom Miller stated “These candidates will support and advocate for policies that will ensure we have a Durham that works for everyone.”
The PAC strongly supports the re-election of William V. “Bill” Bell as the mayor of Durham for his eighth two-year term. No one in Durham can match his record of selfless public service. PA PAC is proud that its members were among those who convinced Bell to run for mayor the first time 14 years ago. He has been an effective, business-friendly leader of Durham’s city government and has been a consistent voice for downtown revitalization, public transit, public amenities (including parks and sidewalks), wise land use, and safety. Bell is a practical progressive. He is unafraid to confront difficult problems in the community head on.
When he was chairman of the Durham Board of County Commissioners, he pushed through the merger of Durham’s largely segregated city and county school systems. As mayor, Bell has led the fight against poverty and inner-city decay.
PAC leader and housing advocate Lorisa Seibel said “We agree with Mayor Bell that reducing poverty, increasing affordable housing, and revitalizing distressed neighborhoods are the top issues facing Durham at this time. However, the challenge for Durham is how to work with neighborhoods on revitalization that avoids wholesale displacement of current residents.” During the meeting, PAC members applauded Mayor Bell for launching a “Neighborhood by Neighborhood Anti-Poverty Initiative,” recommending that the Human Relations Commission study the issue of police-community relations, and his decisive vote in favor of the 15-501 “road diet.”
Long-time PAC spokesman Milo Pyne stated that “in his interview with us, Bill expressed unequivocal support for legislation designed to protect gay, lesbian and transgender people from discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodation, and access to government benefits and services.”
Tom Miller concluded that “Bill Bell has our unqualified endorsement to continue serving as Durham’s mayor. Durham should count its blessings to have had the gift of Bill Bell’s lifetime of service.”
At-large City Council (three seats)
In the at-large City council contest, PA-PAC endorses incumbent Steve Schewel and newcomers Jillian Johnson and Charlie Reece.
Incumbent Council member Steve Schewel is most concerned about how to respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by Durham’s rapid growth. He will continue to work to ensure prosperity for all and to support growth that enhances rather than diminishes our small-city quality of life. Schewel came to Durham many years ago to attend Duke University. In his time here he has been a small business owner, a journalist, a teacher, and a youth soccer coach.
Steve will continue to support an affordable housing strategy that works; strong council oversight of our police force; a mobility strategy for the next 50 years; $15 million worth of sidewalks; Improving our trails, bike lanes, parks, ballfields and tree canopy; attention to the needs of our Hispanic residents; continued attention to basic City services and infrastructure; and support for the Mayor’s anti-poverty initiative in East Durham.
“Schewel’s leadership and forward thinking on affordable housing is unparalleled.” said Jade Brooks, the newest PA PAC leader. “Just look at the affordable housing plan he provided in his answers to the PAC questionnaire. He is also very clear that Durham needs effective, community-led accountability of the police force to end racial profiling and bias-based policing.”
Carl Rist served on the committee that interviewed this year’s candidates. He stated that “There has not been a more consistent progressive voice on the city council than Steve Schewel. Steve’s grasp of the details of virtually all aspects of city government is remarkable.”
PA-PAC supported Steve Schewel for city council four years ago. He has justified the PAC’s trust in him.
Charlie Reece is an attorney and businessman. He has been a Durham resident for nearly nine years. During his career he has served as a prosecutor and as a member of the Attorney General’s staff. He knows government and the important role it plays in the lives of ordinary people. He has proven himself to be an informed and persuasive community advocate. Recently, he played an especially important role in forming and articulating the FADE (Fostering Alternatives to Drug Enforcement) Coalition’s position on recent serious police-community issues. The FADE recommendations were endorsed by the People’s Alliance and other community groups.
Milo Pyne said “Charlie’s most important issue is managing the recent surge in development in in a way that maintains what is so special about Durham. For him, this means ensuring that Durham continues to be affordable for working families and that the boom in downtown development results in prosperity that is broadly shared by all.”
With regard to some of PA’s key issues, Reece supports the proposal last year to earmark a penny of the property tax rate for parks, the council’s resolution calling for more affordable housing near planned transit stops, the 15-501 road diet. Charlie opposes paying for essential city services with regressive fees. On council he will expect developers to contribute directly to efforts to develop more affordable housing. Reece supports effort to insure that those who live and work in Durham receive a living wage.
Concerning Reece, Carl Rist stated, “The family business that Charlie and his wife, Laura, own was one of the founding businesses in the Durham Living Wage Project and has offered domestic partner benefits to gay and lesbian employees for many years.” That business, Rho, Inc., employs nearly 400 people.
PAC coordinator James Hill added that “Charlie would be a consistent progressive voice on City Council, is eager to serve, and would bring a progressive understanding of the issues and an important legal background to the council.”
Jillian Johnson currently works as the Director of Operations for the Southern Vision Alliance, a youth leadership and civic engagement program, and previously worked for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. She is making her first bid for elective office and serves on the adult board of iNSIDE oUT, an organization that supports LGBTQ youth in the Triangle.
The single most important issue for Johnson in this election is confronting the ongoing process of gentrification and displacement of low-income families. Jillian will work to provide more affordable housing by bringing together city and nonprofit housing resources, by demanding more from developers that seek city funding or significant zoning changes, by involving members of the community in the process, and by ensuring that race equity is addressed in affordable housing plans. Her thoughtful compassion for those for whom prosperity has been illusive is compelling to PA PAC members.
Jillian is committed to high-quality open space and public facilities and would fund these through property tax revenues. She supports the recently adopted resolution calling for more affordable housing near planned transit stops. She also supports the 15-501 road diet and would be an advocate for bike and pedestrian travel. Finally, she will urge continued close oversight of the police department, given ongoing concerns about eroded police-community relations.
Jade Brooks said “Jillian would bring a strong progressive voice to the council, a voice from the social justice community who is deeply accountable to those who rarely have a voice in city politics. Johnson is just the kind of candidate Durham needs now: someone committed to meaningful, courageous policies to support affordable housing, real racial equity in our city, and meaningful mechanisms for community accountability from our police and police department leadership.”
About PA PAC
For nearly 40 years, the People’s Alliance Political Action Committee has been a vital part of the political life of Durham. PA-PAC takes the business of candidate endorsements very seriously. Candidates are asked to submit responses to questionnaires designed to test their political positions and their understanding of important issues. Candidates are interviewed by PAC leaders. At the PAC’s endorsement meeting, every member stands on an equal footing in the debate, and everyone who wishes to be heard is given the opportunity to speak. Endorsements are decided not by a small committee, but by a vote of the whole membership. To learn more about the People’s Alliance and its PAC, visit www.durhampa.org and click on the PA PAC button. The candidates’ responses to this election’s PA-PAC questionnaire are posted on the PAC webpage.