Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Bill Bell leads City Council in alluding discussion regarding race

Mayor Bill Bell should teach a class on how to lead when the potential for division lurks.  Bell handled the vote to replace Mike Woodard on the City Council with class.  I hope members of the Durham Board of County Commissioners are taking notes.

The remaining members of the City Council selected Don Moffitt to serve out Mike Woodard’s term which ends in December.  Moffitt, the former chairman of the Durham Planning Commission, won in a 3-2 vote over Anita Daniels. Eugene Brown, Diane Catotti and Steve Schewell, the three white council members, voted for Moffitt.  Bell and Cora Cole-McFadden, the two black members on the council present at the meeting, voted for Daniels. 

Absent was Councilman Howard Clement. Clement’s health has kept him away from meetings over the past year.  If present, the vote could have been split based on race.  A split vote would have made it difficult for the council to declare a winner.  Clement’s absence helped Bell slay the elephant in the room.

Bell quickly moved for a second vote to make Moffitt’s appointment unanimous.  End of conversation.  Controversy deflected.  No headlines involving division among members of the City Council.

No one was shocked by the maneuver.  Bell prepared members of the council by informing them he would call for a unanimous vote early in the process.  Pressing the importance of a united decision is further evidence of how Bell understands the importance of keeping race out of Durham politics.

The selection of Moffitt was a tough call.  Moffitt’s appointment to the council maintains the white majority, but most agree that Mike Woodward transcended race.  The allegiance between Brown, Catotti, Schewell and Moffitt could be perceived as a problem among those concerned about the affairs of black people.  Given Clement’s inability to attend meetings, the council is left with two blacks they can depend on to fight their agenda.

Bell’s swift move to declare a unanimous winner reflects a radical difference in the management of city government versus the county.  The potential for a 4-2 advantage would be big news if this was county government.  It’s not news today due to how Bell and the members of the council have worked to place the needs of the city above racial politics.

Bell refused to elaborate on his reason for backing Daniels.  Cole-McFadden talked about the need for another woman on the council.  She didn’t mention race.  “It’s important that we consider the population of women who live in Durham,” she says.

No one on the City Council mentioned race as a factor in appointing Moffitt over Daniels.  The absence of race talk is the result of the hard work to place policy and procedure above the type of race trap that has hindered the Durham Board of County Commissioners.  Add it to Bell’s legacy as an advocate for unity when the norm is to fight old battles.

How soon we forget that it was Bell who championed the cause to merge the former Durham and County school systems.  Bell, then chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, endured criticism from both whites and blacks, yet stood firm in ending a long history of separate and unequal education systems.  Some may contend that the merger began the demise of Durham’s public education.  Others submit the merger helped mend race relations in Durham.

Bell insight on the vote to replace Woodward is another classic example of his keen sense of what matters most in Durham.  As passionate as many are about race matters, Bell keeps the politics on the backburner so that the council may focus on what matters most.  A simple unanimous vote made it clear that this council refused to get trapped into making a decision that would pit black people against whites, and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People against the People’s Alliance.

The council silenced the critics.  No games will be played with the City Council.  It’s time to move on and get back to the business at hand.  Moffitt will serve well.  Daniels would have done the same.  Both options were good for Durham.  It’s a gift to the city when we’re presented with two highly credential options.

Bell and the City Council have raised the bar on how to function above the politics of race.  All minds are clear. Everyone agrees.  There is no room for contention.

Way to go Mayor Bell.  Does everyone agree?




  1. Bill Bell is a fine example of what a leader is suppose to be.
    I agree.....wtg Bill!
    Don will A-OK as well.

    Always remember Carl, their are no permanent friends or enemies in politics. :0)

  2. The absence of race talk is the result of the hard work to place policy and procedure above the type of race trap that has hindered the Durham Board of County Commissioners.

    This statement if from the article above. There is only a "race trap" when you take as your starting point that anyone who even brings up the issue of race is trying to be disruptive of the smooth flowing process of the City Council. There are those who interject race for partisan purposes but we live in a society where the schooling you get, your chances of being incarcerated, and your life expectancy are all related to race. So, I applaud the discussion of the role race and prejudice play in our society and in our politics.

    Bill Bell's agenda is corporate. He is supported by big business in this community as someone who can deliver "business friendly" laws, ordinances, and regulations. That's fine if you're a Chamber of Commerce type but if you're working at Burger King at minimum wage Bill Bell could be from another planet. I don't buy the trickle down economics that the right has been selling and that Mr. Bell has championed. To be fair he is only one member of the City Council but he has more power than most as Mayor. The city, under his long years in that position, remains divided, poor, and violent. More of the same coddling of the wealthy so that the rest of us can fight over crumbs isn't very appealing. The addition of Don Moffit to the City Council assures the People's Alliance that it will have more pull when it comes to saving trees on the city periphery. But the PA has proven that it has no interest in spending what political capital it may have in support of jobs for poor (many of them black) folks without advanced degrees. High Tech start-ups at American Tobacco don't provide jobs for high school drop outs in NECD. I will say one thing - the plan that has been implemented in recent years is working. Downtown is gentrifying nicely. Discussion of race as an issue has been properly vilified. The DPD is well on it's way to a recording breaking year of brutalizing the community. I apologize for not being able to get on board with the celebration of another white liberal being "selected" for the City Council or the lack of racial animosity with which it was accomplished.