Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A sip of coffee and reflections on the next city council election

I’m sitting at the Beyu Café sipping coffee. It’s one of my local hang outs. I don’t go to the Beyu as much as I would like. You only get one hour to park on the street. That’s an issue for the city council to tackle.

I’m sitting a few tables away from Donald Hughes. Hughes made an unsuccessful bid to serve on the Durham City Council during the last election. Everyone I’ve talk to regards Hughes as a rising star among the countless other political wannabes. His biggest political liability is his mother Jackie Wagstaff, who gets a bad rap for being too outspoken. Many are unwilling to forgive her outburst when she served on the school board.

Hughes was there too. I’ll never forget his rants at school board meetings. He was a high school student at Hillside High. I loved his passion. I loved his courage. I loved his intelligence. Dang, I couldn’t wait to see what would happen after he found a way to channel all of that talent in a constructive way.

After taking the most recent sip of coffee, I fought the urge to ask him if he plans to run for office in the next election. The word in the streets is he will sit this one out. It’s also rumored that his mother has her eyes on one of the three council seats. That hasn’t been confirmed, but Victoria Peterson has announced her intention to run this fall. Bill Kalkhof, president of Downtown Durham, Inc, has been mulling a potential run for city council since 2009. That could stir an interesting conflict of interest debate.

This falls election speaks to the failure of Durham’s African American community to prepare a credible candidate to present to voters. Farad Ali’s decision to leave Durham for work in Durham may shift the demographics of the council from a 4-3 African American majority to a 4-3 white majority. History has proven that Durham functions best when the politics of race are taken off the table, and that normally happens when there is a majority of highly competent African Americans serving on the council.

Steve Schewel, former member of the board of education, is a serious contender to assume the spot occupied by Ali. It’s safe to conclude that Peterson, who has run unsuccessfully for the council three times and for county commission once, is a long shot to win. Those who have lost in the past normally don’t fare well when attempting to prove they are worthy after being defeated before.

Eugene Brown and Diane Catoti face minimal opposition to reclaim their seats on the council. Defeating the incumbents will require a candidate who won’t require being sold to voters. Sadly, the political leaders in Durham are aging fast, and there aren’t many prepared to step on the scene with a resume of strong consistent public service.

There are many who would be phenomenal council members-Carl Webb, Chuck Watts, Sterling Freeman, Anita Brown-Graham and Lois Deloatch come to mind as African Americans who I wish could serve. The problem is the limits based on the work they do and potential conflicts of interest. It’s too bad. A person who holds office in Durham has to be either independently wealthy, have a job that allows flexibility to stray away for those meetings, have a partner that pays the bills while you cut back from work, or be so disconnected from work and other responsibilities that you have nothing better to do with your time.

There aren’t many who trigger an aha moment. Durham has failed at locating, developing and nurturing people for civic leadership. It’s a community that quite frankly kills its youth with power play, manipulation and division. Hughes is one among many who could have served well in political office. I’m hoping he gets another chance. What he and other young leaders need are older, seasoned politicians to teach them. They need the support of our local political action committees.

I would love to see someone elected from the Hispanic community. I would celebrate the election of a person who is openly gay or lesbian. Wouldn’t it be affirming to elect an Asian American or someone who has transcended the scars of incarceration? When that happens we will know that Durham has truly become the diverse community we all say we love so much.

Until then, we are facing another election with the same players. No fresh voice has emerged on the political canvass. There’s a graveyard filled with those who died in elections from the past. Maybe some should rise from the grave. Most of them lost for good reason and should stay in the grave.

I still can’t get over a one hour limit for parking in downtown Durham. One more sip and a prayer for more faith in the next election

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