Monday, April 16, 2012

The 751 South development is not about race or jobs

Someone needs to say it. The 751 South project is not about race. It’s not about jobs. Underneath, around and in between all the political maneuvers to push the development project, is something more critical. When will people stop playing games with black voters?

The outcome of the impending election for members of the Board of County Commissioners hinges on positions taken on the plan to build 1,300 homes and 600,000 square feet of commercial space on the 167- acres at the intersection of Fayetteville Road and NC 751. Durham’s three political action committees (The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, People’s Alliance and the Friends of Durham) have endorsed based on the stance taken on the project.

The obvious disconnect between the DCABP and the PA surrounds assumptions made related to expansion. Members of the DCABP, along with the black incumbents on the County Commission, has contended that growth correlates to job creation and the expansion of economic growth ultimately benefits the black community. The PA argues on the side of careful consideration of consequences of land usage. It’s a fight that has pitted the black members of the Board of County Commissioners against the white board members.

This political split broadens the supposition that the 751 South project is a black versus white issue. Black voters are fed a party line that connects the development of 751 South as a pro black initiative. It’s a message that took hold among the three black incumbents – Joe Bowser, Michael Page and Brenda Howerton. A vote to re-elect this pro-growth trinity is paramount, according to the message delivered, to endorsing an effort that advances the lives of unemployed blacks in Durham.

We should be careful with making that assumption.

What is clear is the insistent mind-set of those positioned to make a profit on the project. That truth took center stage on Friday when the aspirant developers formed a political action committee of the own, called the Durham Partnership for Progress.

The new political action committee has already invested $2,600 for a telephone survey aimed at measuring voters opinions related to growth. Critics of the new political action group contend the survey is being used to gauge the best way to spin their message. The group will announce their endorsements for the County Commissioners race soon.

Alex Mitchell, president of South Durham Development, says the “mission is to foster a political environment in Durham that encourages equal opportunity, job creation, small growth, new business and industry, affordable housing and education while protecting property rights.”

The hitch with this new political action committee is its relationship with 751 South. Mitchell and business partner Tyler Morris are behind the project. In endorsing candidates, and shaping an agenda that promotes growth, they are pressing a political message for the purpose of personal gain. It’s a serious conflict of interest that demands public scrutiny, and forces an even deeper discussion regarding the credibility of the endorsement process.

There is no doubting the tight bond between supporters of 751 South and the Friends of Durham. Did those who support 751 South recuse when the vote to endorse was cast with the Friends of Durham? If not, can those endorsements be taken seriously if they are tainted by the potential of personal gain?

Voters should also consider the matter of campaign financing, and how cash impacts those important votes taken by members of the Board of County Commissioners. Neal Hunter, co-founder of Cree Inc and the cousin of Alex Mitchell, poured $8,000 to support Bowser in his bid to unseat Bill Bell as Mayor. How glued are politicians to those who feed their campaign coffers?

The forming of this new political action committee could be viewed as a split from the Friends of Durham. Those with more keen vision may regard it as a way to reposition the message of the Friends of Durham. The 751 South project exposes common ideologies linking the DCBP and the Friends of Durham. Sadly, the two groups have more in common than shared by the DCABP and the PA.

The formation of a new political action committee sheds the Friends of Durham of the baggage that has splintered relationships with the DCABP. By posturing a work viewed as a pro black agenda, the message of the Friends of Durham can be embraced by those who denounced the Friends of Durham due to their conservative outlook. The conservative political agenda is given a pro black spin, and thus a union is formed between Durham’s conservative political group and the committee charged with the task of promoting the concerns of black people.

The progressive PA is recast as a group antithetical to the concerns of black people, while the conservative message of the Friends is regarded as a message in common with that of the black community. The end result is a partnership that pits the PA against the Durham Committee, and the beginning of a new day that lifts economic development above a social agenda.

The door was opened when the race for County Commission became about race. The PA failed to recognize how race was being used to obliterate the natural bond with the DCABP. The Friends of Durham seized an opportunity. The forming of a new group to build on that natural bond between conservative minded folks and the black community. Those conservative want to make money, and black people want jobs.

To that I say, don’t believe the hype. Growth may not result in more jobs. This may be a case of being used to pitch a message. At the end of it all, the black vote is used by both ends to promote an agenda that fails to address the needs of black people.

This may not be about race. It may not be about more jobs. It is about liberals using black people and casting them to the side when they fail to dance to their music, and white conservative using black folks to help them make more money when the opportunity presents itself.

It’s time to retreat and talk about what all of this means.

It’s certainly not about race.


  1. I don't see a lot of "liberals" using black people, democrats, absolutely, but liberals are defined by their bleeding hearts in trying to assist and help others in need, with often unknowing reverse consequences because the types of assistance programs were not thought through.

    I think clean water trumps jobs, as death (and without water death comes very quickly) knows no race.

    Marc Dreyfors

  2. My concerns about 751 have always been about attempts to remove citizen participation from development. In my opinion, and in the zoning code of Durham City/County, good development comes when all parties work together. Whether that is Fayetteville St or 751, neighbors need a place at the table and zoning regulation has an important role in all our lives.

  3. I agree with Susan. But I think we can all agree, the 751 South development is far less important than a dozen other issues our county is facing. It's a shame the issue has taken over the conversation.

    This year could be the greatest turnover on the commission in a decade. Next year will almost certainly be the greatest turnover on the council since it was reformed. Collectively, those two changes will be the biggest change Durham has seen since '94.

    This election is about the entire future of Durham, and not just about one politically charged development project.

    When did we forget about poverty?
    When did we forget about the future of our school system?
    Better infill development in South East Durham has more to do with protecting our watershed than 751, but who is talking about that?

    1. Developments like 751 South only hurt prospects of infill Development in Durham.

      It's not just a 'politically charged' issue. This is about letting private interests -- who don't even LIVE in Durham-- thwart Durham citizens' input in their county government.

      And it's about further disregard for the health and preservation of water resources in the Triangle.

      Will our local government provide clean, bottled water to low/no-income residents when the water in our county is unsafe to drink?

  4. Howewrton has also received a significant amount (if not majority) of her campaign funding from the 751 developers. Why has she been omitted from scrutiny in this regard?

  5. I think your accusations with regard to the PA are unfair and unfounded. Though her heart is in the right place with regard to many issues, it is hard not to question Howerton's support of the 751 project, especially in light of her previous involvement in the soil and water conservation district (which should imply her concern for our natural resources, particularly our water supply). The PA doesn't know enough about the new candidates to endorse them...until they get involved publicly, none of us will. I respect their decision not to endorse people they don't feel they know. As for Page...there is the matter of the 'Page Rage', to which even his previous supporters have been subjected when they disagreed with him this term. And you, yourself, question the campaign financing of Joe Bowser.